#Abbotsthon17: visualising patterns – Alan, boxing and Sankey


During last Thursday’s #Abbotsthon17 conversations, we were discussing pattern recognition. Alan Swanton suggested sharing some of his boxing data to exemplify some of the ideas we were exploring.

I suggested we defer the sharing given the flow of conversation that was occurring. With Alan’s permission, I am sharing two of his slides here that I think make a very important contribution to the wider discussion of how we share data stories with audiences.

The first is a matrix of data:

The second is why I suggested we did not share at the time Alan proposed it.

I think this second visualisation, a Sankey diagram, could have taken us on a fascinating journey that might otherwise have been constrained towards the end of a long day of concentration. It is one I am keen to explore now.

Transforming Data

Alan has been working with the Irish boxing program for some time. He has been very assiduous in his collection of performance data and has been keen to share these data in ways that provide coaches with actionable insights.

I think his Sankey diagram transforms the descriptive data shared in his matrix. I am intrigued by Alan’s choice of this visualisation.

A Sankey diagram is a flow diagram in which the width of the arrows used is shown proportionally to the flow quantity. Perhaps because it is such a powerful way to visualise energy, it is a ‘natural’ way to present energy flows in a combat sport.

I wonder what you think as you compare the two images (repeated again here):

I do not have access to Alan’s original diagram. My attention in visualisation 2 (Sankey) is triggered by the Jab route in successful attack phases. I imagine this has led to very powerful conversations with coaches and athletes.

This embodies for me the role of the analyst in an informatics age: data rich actionable insights shared in an elegant way.

Henri Poincaré wrote of this kind of elegance:

What is it that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution or a demonstration? It is the harmony of the different parts, their symmetry, and their happy adjustment; it is, in a word, all that introduces order, all that gives them unity, that enables us to obtain a clear comprehension of the whole as well as of the parts. But that is also precisely what causes it to give a large return; and in fact the more we see this whole clearly and at a single glance, the better we shall perceive the analogies with other neighboring objects, and consequently the better chance we shall have of guessing the possible generalizations. Elegance may result from the feeling of surprise caused by the unlooked-for occurrence together of objects not habitually associated. In this, again, it is fruitful, since it thus discloses relations till then unrecognized. It is also fruitful even when it only results from the contrast between the simplicity of the means and the complexity of the problem presented, for it then causes us to reflect on the reason for this contrast, and generally shows us that this reason is not chance, but is to be found in some unsuspected law. Briefly stated, the sentiment of mathematical elegance is nothing but the satisfaction due to some conformity between the solution we wish to discover and the necessities of our mind, and it is on account of this very conformity that the solution can be an instrument for us.

I do hope Alan has forgiven me for not pursuing his data analysis on Thursday. I am delighted that he has now shared his analysis with all thirty attendees at the hackathon.

I do see this as the start of a whole new conversation … that will take us from Irish boxing back to Charles Minard‘s Map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812.

Charles Minard's Map

It is a conversation about narratives and how we transform their content into powerful messages.

Photo Credits

Olympic Women’s Boxing (Ian Glover, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Minard’s classic diagram of Napoleon‘s invasion of Russia, using the feature now named after Sankey. (No known copyright restrictions.)

Reflecting on #abbotsthon17 and #HPX17

#HPX17 Conference Image


An intense three days has come to an end at Sport Ireland’s High Performance Knowledge Exchange Conference (#HPX17). I was fortunate be part of a pre-conference workshop (#Abbotsthon17) as well as the main event.

I had started a conversation about the workshop with Alan Swanton, the performance analysis lead at the Irish Institute of Sort,  in January this year. I am immensely grateful that he and Daragh Sheridan took the bold decision to invite me. When I saw John Rudd‘s slide in his Saturday presentation at the conference, I thought about the trust Alan and Daragh had placed in me.

This encouraged me to reflect on the three days on the Sport Ireland campus and the opportunity I had to meet a global cohort of presenters. I am fascinated by the opportunities we have to come together and explore the optimisation of readiness to perform and the delivery of performance as athlete, coach, support staff, family and friends.

I took to heart Tanni Grey-Thompson‘s caution in her keynote and shared by Matt Dossett:

Unmeetings, Hackathons and Conferences

Alan and Daragh getting ready for the conference.

One of my biggest take aways from #HPX17 is the cultural capital available to Irish sport. I am fascinated by the vision Daragh had for the conference. I do see enormous opportunities for the expansion of the role that Daragh has at the Sport Institute. He is Head of Capability and Expertise at the Institute. He holds this position at a time when, as Mark Pesce (2017) suggests:

We’re in the midst of the most important shift in civilization since the invention of the steam engine — the pervasive application of intelligence into every aspect of the world.

I do think that if Ireland can take a connectivist approach to this pervasive application of intelligence then the system will flourish.

The form this sharing can take is the set piece, themed conference. The theme of #HPX17 was Lessons Learned from High Performance Sport: The 2020 Evolution. It can take place in much less structured ways too. That was my first suggestion to Alan when we first started discussing the workshop.

I wanted to flip all the content for the workshop and set about creating some autoresponder opportunities to share content so that our meeting on 5 October could follow the interests of participants. I reposited resources throughout my cloud storage and started a # to aggregate Twitter feeds, #Abbotsthon17.

The theme we agreed was:

A picture of the front slide page for the workshop

Alan did his best to organise me and I really appreciated his guidance around a framework for the program. As with all good unmeetings and hackathons, we did wander but I am hopeful we did so in a sensitive way. One of the big successes of the day, for me, was Alan’s inclusion of Denise Martin and Johnny Bradley. The day ended with a panel that included Alan, Denise, Johnny and Vinny Hammond (who has just flown in from a conference in Boston, USA).

A picture of panelists at the workshop: Vinny, Denise, Johnny, Keith and Alan.

I am hopeful there are many outcomes from this workshop in terms of evolution. We had thirty analysts in the room from a range of sports. I am profoundly grateful for their patience with me. I trust that we have made enough of a connection within and between sports to have a sustainable community of practice open to sharing and able to bring a mutual appreciation to the occupational culture of being an analyst.

I though one immediate step might be to have a Friday Letter From Abbotstown. We have lots of volunteers to write each Friday’s letter. I have found such letters are a great asynchronous resource. No one has to reply or engage unless they choose to do so. But in that memorable line “we read to know we are not alone”.

Are We There Yet?

Camera set up to record the presentation

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to present some ideas about performance analysis and data analytics. Our session included Alan, Johnny, Ireland’s men’s hockey coach, Craig Fulton and myself. I thought Are We There Yet? might be an appropriate title. I did share my presentation in advance but made some late additions after hearing Joe Schmidt start the conference and finding a link to Australian Netball.

Just prior to the talk, I tweeted this:

We held the talk inside the indoor track. I was very apprehensive about this. I did not want to be fixed to a microphone and I was conscious the audience was trapped on some basic seats.

Alan managed the session beautifully. I presented first, then Alan and then we had a discussion with Craig Fulton. I cannot say enough how big a treat it was to share the session with Craig. I admire what he has done immensely. Johnny worked with Craig on the World League circuit so we ended up discussing the relationship between coach and athlete.

Johnny, Colin and Alan in the panel discussion

My concerns about presenting in the indoor arena evaporated when I heard Craig talk about the thirty-four players he had used in one hockey season. His account of coaching took me off to believe that we are here now when we work with coaches like Craig.

During the day I was left pondering on this Seneca quote from On Tranquility:

In money matters, the best measure is not to descend to poverty nor yet to be too far removed from it … We shall be content if we have learned to be content with thrift, without which no amount of wealth can satisfy and with which any amount suffices.

That for me is the evolutionary headline message of the conference: become a sport system that learns to adapt. (We do need a funding cycle greater than one year to help us with our planned thrift.)

Secondly, take time to appoint the right people particularly as head coach.

Thirdly, fund sport in a way that is appropriate to Irish culture with its rich textures.

What a prospect!

Daragh and Alan on the morning of the Conference.

Photo Credits

All photographs (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Tweets captured from Twitter

#Abbotsthon17 at #HPX17 is on

Picture of National Indoor Arena, Dblin, with Gaelic title

After months of conversations about a performance analysis hackathon in Ireland, #Abbotsthon17, the day has arrived as part of #HPX17.

Laura is on her way to join thirty other colleagues for our day at the National Indoor Arena as part of #HPX17.

Kevin and Brian are on their ways too.

I am profoundly grateful to Alan Swanton and Daragh Sheridan for the opportunity to be here. It certainly adds another set of experiences to those back at home in Australia.

A picture of a fire truck on a track in the Australian bush in NSW

Photo Credits

Keith Lyons (CC BY 4.0)