If baseball is a numbers game, who better to have on your team than a true data geek?
For the first time in team history, the Seattle Mariners have hired a Director of High Performance. For Lorena Martin, it’s the next step in a life and career rooted in sports and understanding the physical and mental connections necessary to perform at an elite level.
Martin, our latest Geek of the Week, joined the Mariners this offseason after spending a year as the Director of Sports Performance Analytics with the Los Angeles Lakers. She will be in charge of all aspects of physical and mental training for the baseball team’s players, incorporating data from various trainers, coaches and physicians to improve performance. It’s a skill she developed as a young athlete and then scholar.
“Although I played sports since before I could crawl, I began playing the sport of tennis at the age of 13, too late in the eyes of many tennis experts to become a top professional tennis player,” Martin said. “Regardless, I was pretty determined, I trained six hours a day from the first day that I won a match against a boy at a nearby neighborhood tennis court. I immediately became addicted to the sport.”
Martin pursued tennis relentlessly and eventually reached a No. 3 ranking in the state of Florida and a professional women’s circuit ranking in the top 190.
“While in school, I decided to study psychology with the objective to better understand the psychological and behavioral profile of successful professional athletes,” Martin said.
She received a master’s degree in the psychology and then sought to better understand the importance of physiology and physical fitness variables in sports. She got her doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Miami and went on to obtain three post-doctorates from the University of California San Diego in Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and GIS spatial analysis. She is also the author of the book “Sports Performance Measurement and Analytics.”
“My passion for statistics derived from my desire to just want to answer a simple question: ‘What are the variables that professional athletes must have in order to become a world class athlete in their sport?’” Martin said. “I found that I could answer my questions through research, measurement, statistics, and analytics.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Lorena Martin:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I recently started as the Seattle Mariners first-ever Director of High Performance where I am responsible for leading all aspects of the Mariners physical and mental training for players. I integrate all the data from the physical therapists, the athletic trainers, the strength and conditioning coaches, mental conditioning coaches, nutritionist, primary physicians, as well as from the orthopedic surgeon in order to get a better picture of what’s really going on with the athlete.
“Because of my multifaceted background in several disciplines and my former experience as a professional athlete, I have the ability to generate comprehensive findings that will ultimately enhance performance and reduce number of injuries. Ultimately, I do this because I am authentically passionate about the professional athlete’s health and performance and preventing unnecessary, preventable injuries as well as having them gain the competitive edge, because at the pro level ‘it’s all about inches, and the inches are everywhere.’ For me, it is about solving an equation, each professional athlete’s own customized equation for optimal performance, which I have termed ‘Precision Athleticism.’”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “You have to put the numbers into context. A lot of data scientists just like the numbers. But you have to have a deep knowledge of what the numbers mean, so having expertise in your subject matter is critical for success.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “From within and from questions. I would say observing and then wondering how. As a friend would say, ‘Going down the wormhole,’ and then returning, not just staying there, ultimately seeing things from a broader perspective.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I would say the phone. But I have been able to manage without a phone, so I would go back to simple technology — pen and paper.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I’m in transition now so my office at Safeco Field is a little bare, a desk, my Surface, a phone, a TV on the wall. It will take me a little while to personalize it. I’ll also be spending a lot of time in the weight room and training facility at the ballpark with the players.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “It used to be training, but I’ve been focused more on others’ training instead of mine. I also really enjoy playing chess, it’s kind of meditative. Currently, I would have to say coffee. I love coffee. When I arrived in Seattle, I was informed that I was in the right city for coffee. Coffee is huge for me.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows. I love my Surface.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I don’t watch a lot of TV so I’m not that familiar with the ‘Star Trek’ characters. I’m more of a ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Big Bang Theory’ fan. But if I had to pick one, I’d go with Capt. Janeway. She seems like a strong and empowered female character.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Cloak of Invisibility. Observing is a big part of my job, and there could be an advantage to do that without being noticed so you can really see what’s happening in its natural environment. They say the fact that someone is standing there watching automatically changes what would otherwise occur naturally.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I have a bunch of ideas, but ideally it would be an all-encompassing wearable technology that would be able to capture what’s really going on with the individual measuring not only physical factors, such as speed and distance; physiological, such as heart rate variability, lactate threshold; biomechanical, meaning joint angle, asymmetry; but also psychological variables and provide real-time feedback to the athlete where they can adjust to enhance performance.”
I once waited in line for … “to get Donald Duck’s autograph.”
Your role models: “Jesus, Muhammad Ali, Joan of Arc, and El Cid Campeador (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar) who was known to win battles in life and in death. The opposing armies feared him so, that in his last battle although he was struck, he had asked his men to strap his body on his horse, Babieca, with his sword in his hand, and go back into battle, the opposition was in awe, as a result of being caught by surprise were dispersed and once again defeated by ‘El Cid.’”
Greatest game in history: “Tennis, baseball and chess. Tennis because it’s an individual sport that requires aerobic and anaerobic fitness, a psychological skill set and it takes a long time to develop the technique. Tennis could take 10-20 years to become a professional. Baseball because it’s individual, in a sense, and a team sport as well, it also encompasses an extreme level of complexity because of the technique involved. And chess because you have to think five steps ahead in order to be successful. The only problem is there’s no physical exertion, that’s what’s lacking.”
Best gadget ever: “Apple Watch. The Inspector Gadget watch. That’s what I like to think of it as.”
First computer: “A Dell desktop PC. It was a huge one.”
Current phone: “iPhone and Samsung.”
Favorite app: “An app I developed called Healthy Changes. It helps modify unhealthy behaviors by using a psychological technique called Evaluative Conditioning. It basically retrains your associations through the display of certain images and stimuli at a certain specified frequency. It’s based on the Implicit Association Task. It’s free and it’s designed to help people modify negative behaviors such as unhealthy eating and not exercising, etc.”
Favorite cause: “There are three things I care deeply about: Children without access to medical care; homelessness; children in poverty.”
Most important technology of 2016: “The Apple Watch, although it was introduced in late 2015.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Smart patches that collect physiological data by analyzing sweat.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Do what it is that you are passionate about regardless of what other people think or say. It’s OK to be weird. And ‘Bazinga!’ from ‘The Big Bang Theory.’”