Over 3 years ago Hannah Thomas wrote a guest blog on this site called ‘From House of Fraser to Performance Analyst’.
This time a year ago I worked as a Beauty Merchandiser at House of Fraser HQ. I was good at my job and had a lot of love for my beautiful, beauty obsessed colleagues – but that aside I was pretty disillusioned with the retail industry and this time a year ago I handed in my notice and said farewell to the comfortable life of merchandising to start a career as a Performance Analyst within sport.
It still remains one of my favourite pieces on the site. Not long after the post appearing, Hannah landed a job working in the Manchester City Academy. A dream job for many and after spending 15 months there is now a performance analyst with the Lawn Tennis Association. I asked Hannah to write a follow up, 3 years on, and some of the key things she has learn along the way.
Guest Post by Hannah Thomas
Over the last three years I have worked within a high performance sport environment. There really is nothing like it – it’s exciting, it’s challenging, and at times it’s unbelievably brutal. I know people who have lost their jobs at the drop of a hat due to a sudden change in direction of a club or organisation. I also know people who have worked at the very top of their sport and seen success like you wouldn’t believe through their athletes and coaches.
When Rob asked me to do a follow up on my original article from a few years ago I was trying to think about the most important things that I’ve learnt over the last few years. I’ve also loved reading the articles from the ‘Secret Analyst’ over the last couple of weeks and can identify with some of the issues and frustrations faced, especially from working in football.
High performance sport is an intense environment and you do really have to love it to work successfully in it. In my opinion technical, sport specific knowledge can only get you so far. For me, the most important thing I’ve learned is that success is hugely attributed to the relationships you build with people and the soft skills you possess. Whether that is with a coach, an athlete or another practitioner, it’s not about being the whizz at software, writing complicated data codes or having the sport specific knowledge of a coach – it’s about taking the time to understand the varying personalities of people who impact your daily working life.
Over the last few years I’ve worked with the biggest variety of coaches that you can imagine. Coaches who embraced PA from the start and were a dream to work with, and others who were a downright pain in the backside. I’ve had times where I’ve built relationships really well and times where I’ve truly messed it up royally and it’s taken a long time to build trust.
In my opinion one of the best skills you can develop as an analyst is understanding the personalities and traits of the varying people you are working with – how best to communicate with them, how they respond to feedback, what they like/what they don’t like. By succeeding at communicating effectively with them and in turn building a trust-based relationship, they will want you around and allow you to learn from them.
I read an interesting quote a while ago which was not even from sport, but from Keira Knightley when she was promoting The Imitation Game. She was playing a woman in a male dominated industry during the Second World War. When talking about her character she said “It wasn’t a question of screaming and shouting and trying to knock down walls: it was more recognising that, to get into a room nobody wanted you in, people had to like you, like being around you and enjoy you being part of the process”
For me this is particularly relevant to our industry. Some coaches are still quite reticent with regards to PA. They don’t fully understand its purpose, maybe they are scared of it and think they can do better and because of this I’ve had experiences of coaches “not wanting me in the room”. I still have that now sometimes, however if you have taken the time to understand the person, built those relationships and develop the soft skills that sometimes get forgotten about, they are more likely to be inclusive and utilise your skills.
As someone who left a previous career in business to work in sport, I think I always reassess whether I made the right decision. Performance Analysis does have its downsides – the hours are long and unsociable, the pay is not great (if you get any at all) – and it’s not as glamorous as people think. You normally aren’t the one sat on the bench or in the players box like the rest of the staff. You are normally the last in the team huddle after losing or the team celebration after winning because you’re packing up a camera and a tripod.
However, it does have its upsides. My absolute highlight so far was travelling to New York last summer to support one of our elite GB players at the US Open. However the majority of my experiences are more akin to many hours spent at Birmingham’s training ground in the pouring rain so it all balances out!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that every job has its upsides and downsides. High performance sport is extreme in every way so the ups and downs are naturally more extreme than a ‘normal’ job. But whether the frustrations of it lead us to step away from it or stay in it, I believe we are most likely to remember the relationships we form with other people. That’s been my focus so far and it will continue to be my focus when pursuing my (hopefully) lengthy career in performance analysis.
Hannah is on twitter here.