When I was 16 there were two things I distinctly disliked; PE lessons and maths lessons. Therefore, it is odd that for around eight years now I have made various amounts of a living writing about stats in sport. It wasn’t that I hated sports, far from it, I was obsessed by any sport I could watch or play. The problem was I was only really good at two of them; cycling and rugby and in my Northern school we barely played rugby and of course would never cycle. Maths though, I really did hate. It was abstract, there seemed to be no everyday application and I was rubbish at it. I often wonder what would have happened if just once a teacher had put something in the context of a sport, any sport!
I had been into baseball in a casual way for a while. When I was 13 I went to the US on a family holiday and badgered my dad to take me to Shea Stadium to watch the New York Mets play. Neither me nor my dad knew what was happening really. But I loved it. I still love that first time you watch a new sport and try and decipher exactly what it is that you are seeing. A year or so ago, before we heard the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ every day, I got really into netball thanks to Sky Sports excellent coverage of it. More recently I have done the same thing with ice hockey.
I was lucky enough to return to the US two years later and once again I went to see a baseball game, this time the San Francisco Giants. I was hooked once again, tried to watch as much as I could during the rest of the holiday and devoured everything about the sport. When I returned to the UK I brought a few books which just happened to be Sabermetric focused ones. For those unfamiliar, Sabermetrics is the catch all term for the number led analysis of baseball. It wasn’t intentional to get those specific books, but it felt like I had stumbled on treasure. This was a way of seeing exactly what was going on in the game. I had always felt the commentators were wrong when they said player X was better than player Y but I had never had any evidence to the contrary. Now I did. I decided to try and do my own analysis.
My dad had told me that he didn’t think Danny Cipriani was a good defender. I had that impression as well, but I wanted to confirm or deny that myself. I decided to look at Cipriani’s tackle success rates for each match and compare them with the opposition fly-half. In hindsight there is plenty wrong with this method, not least because tackle success rate isn’t necessarily a good measure of a player’s defensive ability. But at the time it seemed perfect. I unearthed that Cipriani was basically an average Premiership defender. From that point on I kept doing these independent analysis articles and ingesting as much information about analysis as I possibly could. Including from this excellent website of course.
In 2015, soon after an injury that looked like it was going to prevent me from playing rugby again, I took up a role as the Head of Analysis at Blackheath Rugby Club in London. There was no budget and I had to do everything on paper, but I learnt a huge amount about how to work with coaches and players. From there I bounced into writing analytically focused articles in rugby publications, something I have been doing for almost six years now.
More recently I have co-hosted a performance analysis podcast, alongside Mike Hughes, formerly an analyst with the RFU and Lions, called Running the Numbers. On that podcast I very much represent the keen amateur. Which is what I am. I have no formal analysis training. More recently I have taught myself both R and Tableau, I am still very much a keen amateur analyst. That will be my role in these articles as well. Hopefully, you’ll agree that I know enough to write
these articles and provide illuminating insights but, I’m still just a keen amateur!
It is probably about time I talk about what these articles will be. The answer is they will be a whole host of different things with the only consistent thing that you will get two a month. Some will be interviews with people or companies within the sport, some will be book reviews, some will be original work, including my own work, some will be discussions with students, some will be news. This is really where you come in. Is there something you want to know more about? Do you have some insight that you think the analysis world should hear? Then contact us and let us know. This is your article, I am just the writer.
I hope you enjoy these articles and, as always, any comments are gratefully received. Enjoy and here’s looking forward to the rest of 2021!