Ali Pearson has just completed the MSc in Performance Analysis from Chichester. He was in the first cohort of students to finish this MSc and below he shares his experience of the course and what he got out of it. You can also read the review of the MSc’s at Middlesex University by Eanna Kennedy and Cardiff Met by Mike Haines
Rob: What made you choose Chichester Uni?
Ali: Having completed a year as an academy analyst at Portsmouth FC during the final year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Portsmouth, I was looking at doing an MSc in Performance Analysis. I applied for the course at Chichester quite late and after going down to Chichester and meeting Matt Robins (Programme coordinator and lecturer), I knew it was the right choice for me enrolling on the MSc Sports Performance Analysis programme.
The course was very applied in nature which allowed us to gain exposure to a considerable number of software and technology products. We also benefited from practical tasks in-class which taught us some key fundamentals of the discipline. The small group also gave greater intimacy and involvement in lectures, and opportunity to see Matt one to one and improve the learning environment with us all moving in the same direction. The work placement unit was of great importance, not only in gaining experience in industry, but also with assessments such as a job interview which prepared you for what the process of applying for a job may be like.
Rob: What did you cover during the lecture hours?
Ali: The PA lectures covered a wide range of theoretical areas within the discipline. Having the opportunity to cover such a breadth of information gave us a great knowledge base, as well as allowing us to discuss and debate many areas and journal articles. These sessions were sometimes conducted by guest lecturers, such as Professor Mike Hughes and companies like Prozone, Sportstec and Catapult, which were always enjoyable and insightful. We also had Research Methods lectures which covered an extensive range if statistical testing. Again, these lectures were hands on where we could use SPSS to conduct statistical tests on different data sets so we could apply the theory learnt in the session.
Rob: How is the course structured in terms of contact hours?
Ali: The idea at post graduate level is to conduct a great deal of work away from university. Lectures on Thursdays, 3 hours each with the morning dedicated to PA and the afternoon Research Methods. For me, this was ideal as working full time at Brentford FC took up every other day in the week for me. Having the work placement module and the extra days meant we could all apply ourselves fully to the clubs we were working at. The units involving individual research, such as the dissertation project, did not have any designated contact time but having the opportunity to see Matt pretty much when you wished was extremely helpful. The support Matt provided was unbelievable really and I think we all were very lucky to benefit from that.
Rob: Being a brand new course what were the PA facilities like?
Ali: Chichester is very much a sports university. They have pumped masses of money into the facilities and development of those facilities. Considering the size of the campus, the quantity and quality of laboratories, sports pitches, astro turf, gyms, sports halls, rock climbing walls (if that’s your thing) and the new sports dome are very impressive. From a PA perspective, the programme was new to the 2013/13 academic year. The university has a partnership with Sportstec so we all had a MacBook Pro with SportsCode Elite for our personal use for the year. This was used in some way or another by all of us and considering the price of the MacBook and the software. Matt had also invested in the Catapult outdoor system so we had practical sessions with the software, which we could also use at our respective clubs should we wish. We also received training using Focus X2 (which I used throughout the year at Brentford FC) and also were fortunate enough to complete the Prozone Level 1 course which was included in our course fees.
Rob: Did the University help with work experience or was it necessary as part of the course?
Ali: We all completed a work placement unit which required us to complete a placement at a sports team. I decided to accept my offer on the MSc programme after starting my position at Brentford FC so this acted as my placement. Matt did help out some of my course mates in getting their positions for the year. I think the work experience gave us all the chance to work in our respective sports and was beneficial. I was U18 and U21 analyst at Brentford and believe that the combination of both has left me in good stead. Brentford don’t have endless pots of money but the set-up of the analysis department is incredible when considering the tight budget.
That really is testament to the Head of Performance Analysis and First Team Analyst at the club and the brilliant work they do, and also how well the first team and academy coaching staff have bought into the analysis process. Having the chance to use Focus X2, build comprehensive match and individual reports from scratch using Microsoft Excel has taught me how the whole process works from start to finish and that good analysis doesn’t have to be that expensive. Also being left to my own devices and being able to implement my own methods was a really useful experience. It was a lot of hard work but it is a great club and to be involved with the success of the U21’s and how excellent the first team did was a fantastic experience.
Knowing the club were successful in gaining Category 2 status in the EPPP audit is also excellent and well deserved by everybody at the club who worked so hard to get that status. It’s also satisfying to know that I was part of that process. The skills I learned at Brentford have become all the more important for me now as a consultant, where I have had to source software and technology affordably, and manage myself, for my work with the rugby teams at Wellington College.
Ali: One of my undergraduate lecturers told me “The job may require an MSc, but the MSc doesn’t get you the job”. I feel the combination of the MSc and the working in industry alongside is very beneficial. Having the academic understanding and knowledge of key practices allows you to go and apply those that you believe in. For me, being able to prepare a research project for journal publication is also a great experience and something I never expected to do. The quality of the academic side is testament to Matt and his unwavering belief and support.
I won’t lie, working and studying full time is extremely tough. Ultimately, you need to make the most of your opportunities and do the best you can in each situation. With the quantity of “analysts” there are now, having an MSc on your CV may help separate you from the crowd and is a “requirement” on most job specs. It shows you’ve committed to studying and worked towards securing a job in the industry. The job however is no guarantee, so doing all you can to give you the best chance is imperative. I believe the opportunities aren’t closed to just professional clubs, institutes etc and people looking for a job in performance analysis shouldn’t feel constrained to that. There’s teaching, lecturing, research, application of knowledge into business/office type settings, and consultancy work to name some possibilities. I decided to approach the consultancy work avenue as I feel it’s a new challenge for me and analysis provision in private schools is pretty rare. It’s just a matter of believing in yourself, trusting what you do, working hard and you’ll fall into the job that’s right for you.