Building a playbook for elite-level sports | MIT News

“All I did was swim,” Jerry Lu said recalling his teenage years as a swimmer. “From the age of 12 to 19, I was training close to 30 hours a week.” Although Lou no longer competes in person, his understanding of the dedication and impeccable technique required for elite sport continues to shape him as a The path of a master’s student at the Sloan School of Management of the Provincial Institute of Technology.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Lu majored in systems and information engineering and economics. He has stopped competitive swimming, but remains connected to the sport as a technical performance consultant for the university’s national swim team. Under the tutelage of his mentor, Ken Ono, Lu built a method for analyzing data from sensors worn by swimmers to improve their individual performance. By looking at an athlete’s propulsion and drag data during a race, Lu can suggest where they can shave off tenths of a second by simply adjusting their strokes to improve efficiency.

That experience inspired Lou to pursue careers in other areas of the sport. At MIT, he’s working on a master’s degree in finance to develop the analytical skills necessary to achieve sustainability in sports that haven’t yet achieved significant commercial success, such as football or basketball. This is a particular challenge for Olympic sports such as swimming, which have struggled commercially outside of the Olympic year.

“The focus of my work in swimming is the performance of an athlete to win a race, but the definition of victory is different for a sport and an organization,” Lu said. “Not only do you need to win medals, a big part of that is how you spend your money because you also need to develop your sport.”

At MIT, Lu is writing scripts for high-performance sports from both athletic and financial perspectives. He gained exposure to more elite sports through a collaboration with the MIT Sports Lab led by Professor Anette “Peko” Hosoi. His work there was not a requirement for his master’s program, but Lu appreciates that the program’s flexibility allows him time to pursue research that interests him alongside the required courses.

“I am very lucky to be here because MIT is known for producing great people in engineering, science or business, but also for producing people with unique passions,” Lu said. “People who love football drafts, people who understand how you throw a curveball — they use their knowledge in very unexpected ways, and that’s when innovation happens.”

Lu’s research in the Sports Lab focuses on strategies for optimizing aesthetic sports, such as figure skating or snowboarding, which are judged in a very different way than swimming. Instead of figuring out how to move faster, athletes are interested in building routines that get the most points from the judging panel. Modeling techniques help figure out how to put routines together to maximize an athlete’s ability, as well as predict how judges will distribute points based on how or when skills are demonstrated. Optimizing sports performance and refereeing psychology is a challenge, and it’s this kind of innovation that excites him. He hopes more sports organizations will adopt similar data-driven strategies in the future.

When asked where he would most like to go after finishing his studies, “the sports industry was a natural choice,” Lu said. Although he is sure his career will eventually lead to sports, he remains open to exploring new avenues. This summer, he will work as a trading intern at Citadel Securities to apply concepts learned in his degree program. He also took up sailing and has reached his highest amateur level in less than a year since coming to MIT. Lu always strives for excellence, both for himself and for his colleagues.

Since graduating from UVA, Lu has worked with swimmers, including national champions and Olympic medalists, as a technical performance consultant. He also dabbled in another Olympic sport – triathlon. Lu describes it as a part-time job, but he puts a lot of energy into the athletes he works with, even traveling to the Olympic training center to collect data and help them develop strategies for improvement.

“The most fun part is actually interacting with the athletes and getting to know what they think,” Lu said. “It’s easier for me than it is for others because if you’ve never swam before and you’ve never trained as an elite athlete, it’s hard to understand exactly what you can and can’t do and how you can Those things get communicated to other coaches or athletes.”

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