You Want to be a Performance Analyst?

I am writing this post more to save me time but also I have answered this, I want to be a Performance Analyst question, in much shorter versions hundreds of times over the last few years. So here is 10 years + of my experience. Take it for what it is. One persons opinion.

You love football [or insert sport of choice here], your passionate and you spend all your free time watching football.That’s great and all but I’m not sure anybody pays any attention to that. Is that what you say to all the girls/boys?!!

Disclaimer

Before you read my advice here is what is ahead of you should you be one of the lucky ones to get inside a club. Unsociable hours, working in one of the most volatile industries in the world. You will undoubtedly have to spend some time working for free before you get paid around £16-18k for your first few years, if you can get a paying job. You can expect to work 60+ hours a week and sometimes for managers who don’t really know what you do or understand why you do it. But everyone has analysts so they have to be seen to be modern and keep you around in case someone asks where the analyst is.

Competition

There are approximately 15,000 people studying sports related courses in the UK each year. You are competing with them. So even if you are brilliant and do everything right you sill still need a bit of luck just to get in the door. By the way I’m not really sure you need a MSc but employers will ask for one because nobody has managed a better way to screen time wasters, but surely there must be a better way. There are even a few unpaid internships that require an MSc just to apply. For an unpaid job!!!

Hey, if this blog is still around by 2020 and you are reading this you might need a PhD!

Some good jobs that are advertised here will receive over 100 applicants. How will you stand out from that?

Strength & Conditioning Parallels 

Performance Analysis is in much the same place that S&C was in a few years ago. Analysis, in all it’s forms, is just a few years behind. There is a great post here: [Why Strength Coaches Quit and Why the People that Hired them Don’t Care]. Swap S&C for Analysis and many of the same problems exist. One particular paragraph really stood out to me.

This is the formula that has been adapted from Lencioni’s 3 Signs of a Miserable Job. The problem with the profession is strength and conditioning coaches Performance Analysts are not valued for their efforts and impact they have for numerous reasons. The multitude of reasons can be condensed to two major factors.

Over-Saturation. How many coaches would take your job for less no money if you left?

+

Immeasurement. How do you know whether you are doing a good job or not?

=

Devaluation. When administrators feel anyone can do the job and the job does not have an significant enough impact on the outcome.

Ok, last point before I move on with some advice. If this is really your passion and you just have to get involved and will stop at nothing the great, read on. Life is short and it will suck to do something you don’t want to do for 40 hours a week for the rest of your life, I don’t want to put anybody off their dream, just want to lay out what is ahead.

So if you’ve read all that and still feel this is a career you want to pursue here is some advice. Make of it what you will. A bit like football itself there are many different ways to win the game.

Most people want a qualification when they really need an apprenticeship

Academic Qualifications: Do you need one? Look there is no shying away from this. The answer is probably yes. You look at almost every job advertised and it will ask for one. But here is the thing, I don’t think employers care that much. I think it’s just a very easy way to do some initial screening of time waters. I would be amazed (and I’d love you to get in contact) if employers really care about this. You will have to find other ways to impress them and show your value but I honestly believe it doesn’t matter half as much as people think.

Recently we have seen other industries move away from the minimum of a degree to apply. Sport could follow suit.

Also don’t restrict yourself to sports qualifications. You know those other 15,000 sports graduates every year. You need to be different to them. Studying a non-sports course has two great advantages.

  1. You have something different to everyone else.
  2. You have a backup plan. Undergrad or Postgrad you can hedge your bets. Something that the real world needs while also keeping your sports option open. There is no reasons why Economics (and there are a few) or data science or programming course wouldn’t be just as useful in sport.
  3. Bonus option is that your parents might be happier that you are doing a real ‘course’ while secretly you are still interested in working in sport.

Non-Academic Qualifications: The most important qualifications.

A question I have for you, and something I would ask all potential new employees; ‘When is the last time you learnt something for your own sake?

Sure you might be a great student in school or uni, but when is the last time you actually thought yourself something? This is vital if you want to work in this competitive industry. And, I will sound like a grumpy old man now, but I really don’t see that much of it about. I see people who say they want to be an analyst but don’t act like it. If you are willing to go and learn new things how can anybody take you seriously?

Excel: I shouldn’t even need to put this on the list but it still utterly baffles me how poor people are on this.  Go and learn excel. Not the baby stuff like graphs and charts. Get stuck in and learn Excel until you realise why you shouldn’t use Excel. This is a decent video to start. But give over a few weeks of your time to this channel; Excel Tricks for Sport.

SQL/R/Python: Marek Kwiatkowski (@statlurker) but together a few tips in this blog. Go and learn them, you might find it difficult, but employers won’t mind if you’re not the finished article, they want to see you give things a shot, a willingness to learn. For SQL I would recommend you enrol on Sabermetrics 101 . You don’t need to know anything about baseball. They have some great tutorials and a nice practice environment to play about with. It’s free!!! There is another slightly more advanced course that I recently did and found very good. Querying with Transact-SQL

Edx is a site I have used for Online courses a few times and generally found them great. They have courses on R and Python.

Data Visualisation: There are a few good books on this, but the only way to get better at this is to plagiarise other people work until you get good enough yourself. Obviously plagiarise in a nice way, but it’s how I learn most things. Copy first then make it better. Tableau can be a great place to start and you can start for free; https://public.tableau.com/en-us/s/download . There is a large community of experts that hang out on Twitter. Go see what they say.

Do the Reading: I absolutely love this blog post from Seth Godin – Did You Do The Reading?

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven’t done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?

Why expect to treated as a professional indeed. Here is a somewhat out of date reading list. Tom Worville, now of Opta has but together ‘500 words on getting involved in Analytics‘ and ‘What’s the best Football Analytics piece you’ve ever read?

Do The Work: You have to do the work. If that means getting involved with your local Rag Ball Rovers team so be it. If you want to work in a club – borrow a camera and start videoing games, analysing games, interacting with players, coaches, software, excel. Get yourself in a dressing room. You are not going to know any more than theory if you spend the next 5 years sitting in classrooms. Get out and meet people at any level at all and get experience. There is free software and apps that will be good enough to get you started.

If you are more interested in the data side that’s fine. [You will still need to meet people at some point]. But get hold of data. Not sure how, here is a very useful guide – DIY Fanalytics‘. Don’t be moaning about how hard it is to get data, there are ways to get some to get started. Why not collect some yourself. Every match is on TV these days. Sit down with pen and paper, an App or some software and get logging. You will learn about event definitions, how hard/easy it is to do, what are the limitations of data, how video can help.

Stand Out: Even if you do all of the above it still might not be enough. So my last bit of advice is stand out. There are 4 people that have really stood out to me recently. Sam Jackson, Joel Salamon, Tom Worville and Sam Gregory. There are others out there but these guys are young and in some cases not even finished college. For the last couple of years they have been extremely active on Twitter, they have produced regular interesting work, built contacts, presented at OptaPro and now have jobs in the industry. These guys might be the outliers, I don’t know. But it seems to me that if you want the dream job that’s the sort of level you have to get to.

It’s your dream to work in Pro Sports. Great. But go and do the necessary work.

7 Comments

  1. Sam September 24, 2016
  2. Ron Smith September 26, 2016
  3. thabo September 26, 2016
  4. thabo September 26, 2016
  5. Denise Martin October 19, 2016
  6. Jonathon Murphy March 12, 2017

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