Advanced data analytics has been used across the whole sporting spectrum to improve scouting, coaching and fan engagement. Baseball, football, and even ice hockey teams have got in on the act. The NBA themselves are no strangers to data analytics– but the latest tech in basketball talent scouting is a bit of an oddity.

In an attempt to pick up the team’s declining performance, the Milwaukee Bucks, hired facial coding expert Dan Hill last May. Dan’s job profile is to read facial expressions of prospective NBA players to pick out the ones with the right set of emotional attributes.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, explaining the context. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Psychologist Paul Ekman had developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) in the 70s which provided guidelines into reading a person’s emotional status through minute movements of 43 facial muscles, movements which reveal “intentions, decisions and actions.” Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

As New York Times reports, Hill had spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks, prior to the 2014 draft.

Unsurprisingly, some have questioned the method and its efficiency. Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania, has her doubts about how well it works.

“It’s not easy to get good evidence, because a player’s performance and teamwork are complex outcomes, and the teams are not run like clinical trials, with coaches and managers blind to the facial coding findings and so forth,” she told NYTimes.

Read more here.


(Image credit: V’ron, via Flickr)

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