How data analysis helped Team Homan triumph at the Scotties

Curling fans might chalk up Rachel Homan's dominance at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts to her team's intense training or brilliant strategizing — but they shouldn't forget about the spreadsheets.

Rachel Homan won 3rd title with thrilling extra-end win over Manitoba

Adam Kingsbury works with a laptop and iPad as the Rachel Homan rink takes on Alberta during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Curling fans who watched Rachel Homan eke out a thrilling extra-end win in Sunday's Tournament of Hearts final might chalk up her team's dominance to intense training, brilliant strategizing, or simply a sheer passion for the sport.

But there's also the team's obsession with measuring almost every aspect of their on-ice performance.

"I think it's really important to just make sure that we're tracking everything that's going on out there," said team coach Adam Kingsbury on CBC Radio's All In A Day, one day after the Homan rink took home its third Scotties title.

"My face is buried in a laptop partially to collect data and, I think, to give me something to do keep the nerves away."

Ice speed, shot selection analyzed

While other sports such as baseball and basketball have been tracking minute in-game variables for years now, it's a relatively new practice in curling.

From the sidelines, Kingsbury uses a laptop and an iPad to keep track of variables including ice speed, shot selection and turn choice — as well as whether or not the shots are made.

From left to right, third Emma Miskew, skip Rachel Homan, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle celebrate after defeating Manitoba in the gold medal match at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

For Emma Miskew, who throws third rocks for the Homan rink, it's important to have someone else tracking that data when the team is so intensely focused on making their shots.

"When we're in our games we don't really pick up on the fact that maybe, one spot on the ice, we're weaker than one other spot," Miskew told All In A Day. 

For instance, the team's data from 2016 showed her out-turn draw (a shot that rotates counter-clockwise for a right-handed curler) was slightly less consistent than her in-turn (which rotates clockwise).

So Miskew decided she'd work on it.

"At the beginning of this season I just focused a little bit more on my out-turn speed and release, so that it would be more even with my in-turns. And I think I've been able to merge the two, now."

Better than using your gut

Shot tracking is only one piece of "a much larger puzzle," Kingsbury said. But the team's data collection practices give them clarity about their strengths and weaknesses, even if there aren't too many of the latter.

"We in general, as people, rely on our gut, on our emotions, to tell us what's happening in a situation. But the fact is multiple observations are needed over time to really give ourselves a better sense of what's happening," he said.

"We're going to look back [on the Scotties and see] that every single thing that needed to be done was done. And it's special."

Ontario skip Rachel Homan delivers a rock against Manitoba in the gold medal match at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in St. Catharines, Ont., on Sunday. Homan's rink would win in an extra end and capture their third title. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)