The Science of Team Chemistry #SSAC13


Previously unquantifiable, SyncStrength broke new ground on developing the first objective measure of team chemistry. Team chemistry has been a topic of intense debate by players, coaches, and fans alike for as long as sports have been in existence. Team chemistry is often blamed when the most talented teams lose against lesser competitors or when the “Bad News Bears” overcome the odds. Nevertheless, team chemistry has never been quantifiable. At this point, skeptics question if it is even real and believers cite any number of moving variables as evidence for good or bad chemistry, ranging from the number of passes strung together in a soccer game to the tone of dugout chatter in baseball.

Aiming to put a definitive answer on the question of team chemistry and measure its impact on performance in different sports and game scenarios, SyncStrength has found a way to quantify team chemistry by analyzing the degree of synchrony between players’ heart rates during games. Now, with the patent pending SyncStrength system, anyone can visualize their team’s chemistry evolve in real-time with every play of the game.

The science behind this comes from over 4 decades of research that has measured the strength of synchrony between people’s behaviors and physiological reactions, like heart rate, during heated interactions. This research shows that when people are in sync, they tend to do better together. For example, patients more in sync with their doctors have better health outcomes, marital couples more in sync have more stable relationships, and so on.

At this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC13), Mark Cuban and the Revenge of the Nerd Panel alluded to the fact that team chemistry was one of the uncharted territories of team sports. Daryl Morey used the term, “SYNERGY” to describe this until-now intangible force connecting players.

At SSAC13, in the Evolution of Sports category, SyncStrength unveiled results from their team chemistry analysis. Daniel McCaffrey and I outlined the link between the strength of synchrony between players’ heart rates and the events of games, where stronger synchrony tended to occur during positive game events, like goals or give-and-goes, as compared to negative events, like “shutting off” or letting a mark score.

Across datasets from DI soccer and basketball teams, we displayed animated network graphs that evolve and changed in real-time with every second of the game. You can interact with a demo of these games and specific plays on the Team Chemistry page and read more detail about the science behind our patent pending analysis.

SyncStrength’s team chemistry analysis is the first of its kind both in the sports analytics arena and in science, but its applications have only begun to be realized. Meeting many of you at SSAC13 has been enlightening. You have already begun hatching ideas about the broad reaches of an objective, real-time measure of team chemistry.

On Hardwood Paroxysm, @JPCavan and @Andrewlynch blogged about using team chemistry data to identify when players “check out”, quantify how well specific players gell, or test, “the chemistry between starters, bench units, the bench and the starters, a sixth man and the starters, or even the coach and his team.” And Zach Slaton from Forbes (@the_number_game), Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) from Yahoo Sports, and others who got a glimpse of our SSAC13 talk agree that this is just the beginning of using measures of the game that goes on inside and between players to get a better handle on their performance.

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