Six Sigma in Sports

Lean systems and Six Sigma have had so much success in the manufacturing and service that many people are considering their usefulness in other areas, such as sports. Using in-depth statistics is not an entirely new concept, as seen in the Major League Baseball organization, the Oakland A’s. The used non-traditional measurements to compete with teams that had much higher salaries. The story of the Oakland A’s was made famous in the book and movie Moneyball.

 

As we have learned, the steps in Six Sigma are define, measure, analyze, improve and control. This roadmap could be very helpful to sports teams because it would force a more specific review of errors and areas for improvement. As one article points out, one strength of Six Sigma is its scalability, which is applicable to sports because the data can be about one player or scaled up to the entire team.

 

Another important aspect for athletes is the idea of continuous improvement. As the previously mentioned article says, “One of the most common mistakes made by professional players is to become complacent with their current skills, not realizing when everyone manages to sweep past them because they have not been striving for improvement.” Football is a great example of a sport that would benefit greatly from Six Sigma because of the amount of statistics that can be recorded for each position. The following chart is an example of how the blocking abilities of defensive linemen would translate into raw data that could be used to improve:

 

 

After analyzing the data, the team and players now have a clear picture of the key issues. From here, they must improve and be sure to continuously improve throughout the season. The rest of this article, which provides additional examples of how Six Sigma can be applied in football, can be found by clicking here.

 

These Six Sigma techniques have been used in sports before, however they have not yet hit the mainstream. One example is an organization that evaluates high school football kickers, punters and long snappers. They examine the athletes’ accuracy from all over the field, which gives college recruiters a better idea of the athlete before they try to bring them to their college program. Another great example is tennis professional Steven Falk, who wrote a book titled, “Six Sigma Tennis.” In his book, he outlined how he used Six Sigma to train players to their maximum potential ability. In tennis, there are many ways to analyze the performance of the player based on forehand or backhand, returning serves or even getting his or her first serve in the court. I highly recommend taking a look at the rest of this article as it outlines other practical uses for Six Sigma in sports. This website is from the UK, so it is no surprise it discusses Six Sigma in tennis, soccer, rugby, snooker and darts.

 

Six Sigma in sports is a fascinating subject and seems to have many practical applications. Do you see a future for Six Sigma in sports? Have you heard of Six Sigma already implemented in any other organizations? Is Six Sigma in sports even practical? If you are interested in Six Sigma in sports, I recommend reading one other short article that can be found here, in addition to the two already mentioned in the blog post.

8 thoughts on “Six Sigma in Sports

  • March 9, 2018 at 2:04 pm
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    Brain,

    As we have discussed in class, six sigma has a wide range of applications beyond just supply chain management. I think you commentary about these applications is very interested and I would like to explore it further.

    Companies that demand perfection in the products they produce use six sigma to achieve that level of success. When thinking about products that need such attention to detail, the textbook mentioned GE and their production of jet engines along with companies in other industries like pharmaceuticals, food processing, and medical devices. Like you said, athletes are very similar. The constant struggle for perfection is ever present in their profession and the direct measure of their performance. The struggle for improvement is what makes each athlete better, while helping teammates around them.

    In baseball specifically, I think there are many applications for the Six Sigma process. To pick one, as some other mentioned, pitching is one of the most technical, physically demanding, and competitive positions not only in baseball, but in all of sports. The attention to detail a pitcher must have in order to compete at the highest level is incredible. Each single motion can be the difference between a “ball” or a “strike” or an 85MPH pitch or a 95MPH hit. A few of my good friends in high school were highly recruited pitchers and the amount of time they would spend focused purely on the technicals of their position I found very interesting.

    The use of statistical measures in baseball in the late 90s and early 2000s also completely changed the sport and the way players are evaluated. These specific measurements helped coaches and recruiters better analyze the performance of their players and more accurately build their teams around the weaknesses they were able to identify.

    Processes such as these should continued to be pushed and used outside of the conventional ways. Six Sigma has the potential to be applied to so many different processes and make impactful imrpovements but only by thinking out of the box can real changes be made.

  • March 8, 2018 at 8:46 am
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    Brian,

    I appreciate that you used an example of the statistic analysis we have been cover, but in an area outside of a traditional business form. It is a growing trend for sports organizations to use statistics in recruiting and handling their current players. I found an article outlining different statistical applications being used in sports. For example, Talent Tracker is a system that was originally designed in Ireland for rugby. Multivariate statistic modelling tool which allows them to compare players using a specific set of criteria.

    The idea of applying these statistical measures, such as Six Sigma, to humans as opposed to a manufacturing process is intriguing. The element of human error and all the various components that must be added to incorporate the human element complicates processes as opposed to simple machinery.

    SOURCE: http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/08/09/game-changer-statistics-sports-analytics/

  • March 7, 2018 at 9:40 pm
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    Brian,
    It’s funny not many people think about applying six sigma outside of a typical business environment. I sure never did. But as you pointed out, it is just as prevalent in the sports world. The example of the Oakland athletics particularly resonates with me due to the movement they started. As you said, Moneyball was about the A’s and their idea that flew in the face of traditional scouting. This idea later became sabermetrics. Sabermetrics basically boils down to teams and their scouts breaking down the game of baseball into empirical data to draft players. You could say that this idea was a product of six sigma. The A’s defined that they wanted to be able to compete with teams that had a larger payroll. They measured the players that people were scouting versus other players that were being looked over. They analyzed the data that they found and improved on the scouting process. They then controlled this process so that they did not take a player that would not benefit their club. After the A’s first showed the success of this process in 2002, other teams began to adopt this idea that RBIs, stolen bases, and batting average weren’t the only things that showed a player was successful. As the years went on the A’s initial idea underwent the six sigma process by the other teams, looking to get the edge on everyone else. This is how sabermetrics was born, and likely is how it will improve. Teams in any sport are always looking for ways to get the edge on others, which means they are always looking for ways to improve their processes.

  • March 7, 2018 at 9:26 pm
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    I am very glad you brought up this interesting topic of statistics in sports. You and Daniel both started to discuss statistics in baseball. The name for very in depth statistics that baseball uses is sabremetrics. Sabremetrics are incredibly specific statistics that make sure every player is noticed for their specific contribution to the team and the game as a whole. It is similar, in that, it it involves the depth required to find useful information. You brought up Moneyball, the story about Billy Beane. He used sabremetrics to do what he did with that historic team. Classic baseball statistics are very simple statistics, such as batting average (percentage of the time the player gets a hit to outs) or earned run average (the amount of runs the pitcher will give up per 9 innings on average). However, sabremetrics are much more complicated, but are so important. For example, there is WAR (wins above replacement). According to the article posted at the bottom, WAR is ¨is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.¨ It is incredibly complicated, but very important. These are the type of statistics that make a difference.

    https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/sports/2017/05/29/filling-out-baseball-lineup-card/102052042/

    https://www.fangraphs.com/library/misc/war/

  • March 7, 2018 at 9:18 pm
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    Brian,

    Without doubt, there is absolutely a future for Six Sigma in sports. One of the best things about Six Sigma is its reach and influence on so many different organizations. From sports to bakeries, there is room for Six Sigma to better any organization. Two fascinating industries that utilize Six Sigma on an everyday basis are the music and airline industries. With music, we always hear about artists working late hours in the studio to make sure everything is perfect. What are they doing? They’re using Six Sigma to figure out which nuances of a track need to be shifted or altered in order to resonate with the most amount of audience members! As the first link below states, they want to keep audiences “coming back for more”, and in order to do that, they need to hit every step of the six sigma process.

    When it comes to airlines, companies like Southwest or SAS need to practice six sigma at every second to ensure customer safety and satisfaction, correct takeoff time, maintenance, and more. To dive even deeper within the industry, consider customer satisfaction and how airlines use six sigma within this area of business. Companies must first define their target market and potential problems this market might have with their company or with airlines in general. They will then conduct interviews, focus groups, and surveys to confirm or disprove their hypotheses and measure the results. Next, the airline will study and analyze the generated data to see how they could improve customer satisfaction. Finally, the airline will implement their improved strategy and monitor it to see whether or not it’s working (control). From there, the process repeats! Customer satisfaction is only one aspect of the industry. Just think about the six sigma involved in customer safety. To answer your question Brian, six sigma is more than practical, and I don’t think it will be going away any time soon.

    Music: http://www.articlesfactory.com/articles/hobbies/the-six-sigma-music-business-keep-your-audiences-coming-back-for-more.html
    Airlines: https://www.villanovau.com/resources/six-sigma/how-six-sigma-can-affect-aviation-industry/#.WqCU0-jwbIU

    • March 8, 2018 at 1:48 am
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      Nick,

      I thought it was very interesting how you brought up the use of Six Sigma in aviation, because to me, the airline industry is one that can always be improving itself. Especially nowadays, with so much negative buzz surrounding airlines and their customer service, there is no better time for them to be focusing heavily on continuous improvement.
      The first thing that came to my mind on this topic is the major airlines’ use of twitter as a customer service mechanism. This became a popular way to connect with satisfied and dissatisfied customers only a few years ago. Airlines felt that it was a quick and direct method to hopefully appease a customer. Further, it truly shows the personalized attention that the company is willing to give to a customer, which is always a bonus.
      I’m sure in the development of this new extension of customer service, some form of Six Sigma or another improvement model was used. I think the foundation of this new development was based on the duality of an increasingly tech savvy customer base combined with a string of successive events in the aviation industry that were viewed negatively by customers. Through an improvement process, the aviation industry decided twitter would be the best solution to monitor their customer base going forward and mitigate risks of social media slander. At this link below you can see a comparison of the online customer service department among airlines, JetBlue sporting the #1 spot with an average response time of 4min 50 secs. Impressive!

      https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/best-airline-social-media-customer-service-twitter-response

  • March 7, 2018 at 8:05 pm
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    Brian,

    I really appreciate the creativity associated with this post. Most of the time when I am thinking of “Six Sigma,” I only think of business operations such as an assembly line or a manufacturing process. I rarely think about other, “outside the box” applications. Six sigma could be used for just about anything if you really think about it, which really makes the concept that much more interesting. Also, you are correct in saying that athletes should always strive for improvement. Without improvement, another teammate will get better than you and take your position. Without improvement, the other team will get better and beat you. Without improvement, an athlete will never reach their true potential. As an athlete, I can personally attest to this. In college baseball, the fall semester is the time that every player gets the chance to prove themselves to the coaches. It does not matter if you are a returning player that played every day last year, a returning players who sat on the bench, or a freshman coming in. Each player has to prove themselves once again. Therefore, the fall is a very important time for the players as they have to consistently improve and show the coaches that they should be in the lineup every single day. This is where I see the Six Sigma process working in college sports. Whether it be for the coach to evaluate his players more accurately or for the athlete to see in which areas they should improve, a Six Sigma process would be extremely beneficial in the world of sports.

  • March 7, 2018 at 5:12 pm
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    Brian,

    Your post was a creative interpretation and application of the Six Sigma principles that we have discussed in class. I’d like to offer my own commentary of some potential applications of Six Sigma in sports.

    Six Sigma has traditionally been adopted by companies and industries that demand perfection, often for process and product quality concerns. For instance, the textbook highlights GE’s contributions to adoption of Six Sigma. Consider the products that are the foundation of GE’s business–products such as jet engines–that demand an incredibly high level of performance and fail-safe, defect-free quality. Other industries where six sigma principles have been widely-adopted include automotive manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.

    When I think about sports, and the similar need for making perfection a routine, the pitching position in baseball is one of the first applications that comes to mind. Pitching is a great example of a process that demands perfection because baseball is a sport where one bad pitch could be the difference between winning and losing a game. Furthermore, the five principles of Six Sigma align quite well with the process of pitching a baseball.

    For the large part, a pitcher must “define” their own wind up. Decisions such as the angle of their arm as they throw, the way they choose to grip the ball, or the speed of the wind up are often personal and unique. However, the remainder of the six sigma principles (measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling) can be applied in a similar manner to all pitchers.

    Once a pitcher’s wind up is defined, it can be measured. The wind up’s length, the angle of their arm as they throw the ball, can all be measured. Once a target or average set of measurements is determined, a pitcher can be analyzed. For instance, if the pitcher targets to release the ball six feet in front of the mound, we can analyze one hundred throws and determine the pitcher’s actual performance. This could including finding the average distance at which the ball was released, or finding the range of distances at which the ball is released.

    Using this data, a coach, or the pitcher themselves, could work to improve deficiencies in their throwing motion that cause undesirable results (e.g. throwing the ball down the middle of the plate when their goal was to throw it low and inside).

    Lastly, establishing a target values can help pitchers and coaches control the process of pitching. For instance, let’s say a manager sets up a control chart for Pitcher A. in this chart, the pitcher’s average release point is six feet in front of the plate with a normal range of 5.5 feet and 6.5 feet. When the pitcher starts to become fatigued, his release point slowly creeps toward 5.5 feet. If a manager had access to the pitching process data for Pitcher A in real time, and he saw that the pitcher’s last 15 pitches had created a trend line downward toward the bottom of the pitcher’s range, he could see that the pitcher is showing signs of fatigue and replace him with a reliever.

    This is example is quite an oversimplification of the six sigma process, but shows that six sigma principles are surprisingly applicable to sports.

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