Game-changer: PwC brings Belgian national hockey team in-depth data analytics

First-ever use of machine learning in Belgian hockey to help Red Panthers reimagine the possible.

Streaks of red race by in a blur across the green turf, speed and expert stickhandling driving balls across the pitch. Another intensive training session with the Belgian Red Panthers is in full swing.

Aside from the usual rigorous drills, analysing opponents and fine-tuning strategies, our women’s national hockey team has a new competitive advantage: advanced machine learning (ML) algorithms applied to Global Positioning System (GPS) data collected during games - a first in Belgian hockey.

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A winning team: PwC and the Belgian Red Panthers

As a proud sponsor of our national hockey teams, PwC’s pleased to add another tool to the Red Panthers’ kit. Our data and analytics (D&A) experts are providing valuable insights into player and team performance by analysing the data obtained by positioning trackers and accelerometers during matches, and combining it with post-game video analytics.

The perfect match: hockey and technology

We collected the players’ physical data over the Red Panthers’ last 30+ games. Parameters such as distance travelled at high speed, total distance travelled, top speeds and rest time were recorded by the GPS devices and analysed via our custom-designed dashboard.

Advanced ML algorithms were used to cluster and predict data.

The ultimate goal: peak performance

Results were grouped into two use cases: the first determined individual players’ optimal ‘sub-schedule’, or play-to-rest ratio. The second aims to identify the keys to victory: physical parameters like the work rate sweet spot (number of metres ran per minute on the field) per player, and how to best leverage these within the context of the team.

While D&A with GPS tracking devices is an integral part of team strategy in other sports like football, its use with hockey-specific parameters like unlimited player changes is a first in Belgium.

Scoring insights: playing to win

The analysis of player GPS data goes much deeper than the 'traditional' number crunching of post-match statistics. ML can expose patterns and correlations that were previously unknown, which can then be used by coaching staff to help improve individual and team performances.

Optimising the coaches’ decision-making enables them to play the most efficient and effective combinations that are statistically shown to contribute to winning games.

"The data's collected and processed in an easy-to-interpret structure, allowing us to quickly compare game performances of each player and of the team as a whole," explains Red Panthers trainer Hannes Agache. "PwC’s D&A experts enabled us to use artificial intelligence (AI) and ML to help establish an optimal player substitution schedule."

Agache is hopeful the technology will give the Red Panthers a small but valuable edge in upcoming matches. "Other teams use GPS tracking but few, if any, are able to analyse and interpret the data to make a quantifiable link between the players’ physical output and the outcome of the match," says Agache.

Red Panthers trainer Hannes Agache
Aline Fobe, Red Panthers defender since 2012 and Hockey Women’s World Cup veteran

Aline Fobe, Red Panthers defender since 2012 and Hockey Women's World Cup veteran, has the unique position of being an insider on both sides of the story: she’s also a member of PwC’s Management Consulting team.

"Success in sports is mainly feeling and intuition," says Fobe. "But at this level, even the slightest percentage of improved performance that data analytics can bring could make the difference between winning and losing."

PwC’s Digital Services & Innovation Leader and hockey fan Floris Ampe is proud to bring new technology to Belgian hockey.

"As a sponsor of our national hockey teams, PwC’s very pleased to support the Red Panthers not only from the stands, but also in their strategy. Our D&A team used its data analysis expertise to strengthen the performance of our hockey players. PwC and the Red Panthers share a lot of common ground: diversity, working together and passion are of paramount importance in both sports and consulting. With the help of this technology, we’re convinced our national hockey team’s better equipped than ever to face the competition."

Fobe echos Ampe’s sentiment. She believes the values that PwC and the national hockey team share make them ideal partners. "The Red Panthers and PwC are both constantly looking for new ways to innovate to achieve the best possible results," explains Fobes. "We’re all strong believers in the necessity of effective teamwork to achieve peak performance."

 

PwC’s Digital Services & Innovation Leader and hockey fan Floris Ampe is proud to bring new technology to Belgian hockey

Experts in the field

The conclusions drawn from the data PwC collected and analysed will be put into play in upcoming games.
Panthers, PwC’s with you - and tracking you - every step of the way. Go Red Panthers!

Contact us to know how our data & analytics experts can help your business

Contact us

Floris Ampe

Partner, Digital Services & Innovation Leader, PwC Belgium

Tel: +32 2710 4164

Xavier Verhaeghe

Partner, Technology Consulting, PwC Belgium

Tel: +32 2 710 4971

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