Sports analytics is a growing career field that has captured the attention of students, and the University of New Hampshire is getting into the game.
The UNH Sports Analytics Lab, a club launched in spring 2023, is currently offering an independent study and plans to introduce an associated two-credit course in spring 2024. The lab will collaborate closely with the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics Center for Business Analytics to provide students with field experience in sports analytics projects while helping UNH athletics and outside sports organizations with tactical game planning and strategic insights using modern data science methods.
These new offerings stem from a multi-semester effort by Peter Zaimes, a decision sciences lecturer at UNH Paul College, along with a group of students.
“I always thought a course in sports analytics would be useful for students and there was clearly a gap. But what really got to me was when I was an advisor for the senior capstone project and I read multiple post-project surveys from students and would see comments like ‘Hey, it would be cool if we had a sports analytics client,’ or ‘How about we try a sports client?’” Zaimes recalls. “I heard it repeatedly, and once you hear something enough, it’s time to act.”
Sports analytics clients were subsequently incorporated into the capstone projects. Teams of students engaged in various projects with the UNH hockey teams.
One project examined college hockey programs that invested in facility renovations and tracked the performance of those teams in the years that followed. The project found an uptick in performance for programs that had made investments in upgrading their facilities, according to Zaimes.
An additional project with the hockey team broke down a decade of recruiting classes, including average player height, weight and where players were recruited from. Zaimes said the goal of that project was to give coaches a wider view of recruiting efforts, including trends and patterns.
Another team of students worked with 603 Evolution, a baseball training facility in Exeter that specializes in player development, to provide in-depth pitching and hitting metrics across multiple age bands. This allowed trainers to have a better understanding of player strengths and weaknesses, and view player performance relative to the age group to see if players may be exceeding performance expectations for that group, according to Zaimes.
These projects proved successful and served as proof of concept for the valuable services students could offer to athletic clients, leading to the establishment of the club and the forthcoming course.
Zaimes is in communication with UNH athletics and has lined up multiple projects. Future projects include tracking heart rate data to measure running performance for the soccer team and projects with the hockey and women’s basketball teams.
UNH has a real opportunity for students and the athletic teams to benefit equally from these analytics projects, according to Zaimes.
“A lot of Power Five conferences don’t utilize students because those schools have full-time analytics departments,” Zaimes says. “Because we’re a larger state university and have Division I sports, but don’t have the Power Five conference resources, I think we’re in a unique position for students to have more of an opportunity to make a difference.”
Jake MacInnis ’24 helped launch the club with Zaimes in spring 2023 and is hopeful that the work they are doing now will lay a foundation that will eventually put UNH on the map for its sports analytics program.
“I see such a bright future for this. I know a lot of people are interested in sports from an analytical standpoint,” MacInnis says. “I’ve never been more excited about something when it comes to school. It’s a blessing to be able to combine my interest in analytics with sports, something that I have participated in my entire life and love.”
MacInnis is a Paul Scholar and former UNH football player majoring in business administration: information systems and business analytics. He will be pursuing a master’s degree in business analytics and would like to find a career in sports analytics.
“I would love to help any team on campus be the best it can be for the future because all the numbers are there, we just need to do something with them,” he says. “Students are there to learn and would love to work on anything the teams are pursuing. Might as well put them to work and get them some real-life working experience.”
Being there for the start of Sports Analytics Lab has been a surreal experience for MacInnis, especially when he looks around and sees others who share his passion.
“When we had our first meeting it was like ‘Wow!’” MacInnis says. “It was real and not something we just talked about. We were able to get all these people that believe in something as much as we do, that was very exciting.”
The Sports Analytics Lab course and club will operate concurrently. The course will be capped at 30 students and be project-based, with 5-to-7 teams working for a client on an assigned task, according to Zaimes. The students will have a semester to research and collect data before presenting their findings to the client.
The club has already hosted guest speakers from the sports analytics departments of the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers and intends to continue seeking out speakers and planning educational opportunities and activities for students, including the 2024 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Zaimes said the club will have an executive team of upperclassmen who will help lead the student projects in the course. The club will also work with the UNH Sports Careers Club to help get the word out about the lab.
The goal is to have enough clients, internally and externally, to line up projects for future semesters and build a reputation for high-quality work, according to Zaimes.
“We have to satisfy the clients and make them want to come back,” Zaimes says. “And I have to do my job and keep it interesting so we can keep getting new cohorts of students that want to take the course.”
If the course proves successful and interest continues to grow, Zaimes envisions the possibility of UNH offering more courses and establishing sports analytics as a minor, although he acknowledges that such discussions are still several years away.
Anyone interested in discussing a sports analytics project can contact Peter Zaimes at firstname.lastname@example.org