The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for it: Early Years Career Development in Performance Analysis

In our previous blog we explored the accuracy and reliability of screening for injury in youth sport. Given the limitations around sensitivity, specificity and predictive ability, our tendency was to promote the implementation of injury risk reduction strategies and particularly those centred around movement skill, strength development, proprioception and explosiveness. In this blog we focus our attention on the field of performance analysis. We offer insights for early years performance analysts and those with ambitions to enter the field on how to optimise their development in the competitive world of analysis in sport.

Our Performance Analyst at Millfield has provided a series of responses to the following key questions:

Do I need to go to university to become a sports analyst? 

A highly debated question and a difficult one to answer. I appreciate that there are many pathways into the sports analysis industry. I would promote the value and benefit of an undergraduate degree. This belief is also supported by the majority of sports clubs/organisations that advertise analysis jobs listing a degree as an essential requirement for any applicant. I believe that gaining an undergraduate degree offers an aspiring analyst the opportunity to network with other likeminded sports enthusiasts, along with offering the opportunity to gain the necessary theoretical knowledge to help kick start their career.  

From personal experience, I undertook an undergraduate degree in sports coaching and performance before moving onto a more specific sports analysis masters later in my career once I was 100% sure a career in analytics was what I was aiming for. I believe this was the right move for my own personal development and offered me a wider perspective on the sport industry.

With regarding to a master’s degree, I personally don’t believe this is essential for many analysts, but I did a masters after taking a year out of education as I honestly believed it would make me a better analyst. For example, the ability to understand and be able to perform deeper levels of critical thinking, to think more openly about sports research and to justify my workflows with stronger academic rigour.

How important is gaining experience?

Again a very difficult question to answer, as mentioned above I believe university offers a theoretical learning environment to gain enough knowledge to help kick start your career, however I don’t believe universities can offer the practical exposure you’ll require to fulfil the role of a modern analyst. This can only be achieved, I believe, through getting involved within a real life sporting environment.

My advice would be to try and work under someone who’s got a good background in analysis as opposed to taking on a position where you’re the only one at the club. This will offer you the opportunity to ask questions, see how others lead an analysis program and to gradually take on more roles and responsibilities.

From a personal perspective I started out in an unpaid position which was fine with me as it gave me the opportunity to work within a professional rugby team working under some really good mentors. I’m glad I took this route as opposed to the route of getting a few quid filming and analysing a lower level team. Eventually once I’d learned the trade a little more, I was able to start getting some part-time paid roles and my career progressed from there.

What are the top skills needed to be an analyst?

From my experience people who become analysts are often extremely hard working and passionate about what they do. The analysis industry is tough and we often forget about the need to sit back, relax, reflect and rewind on occasions. This is something I’ve certainly needed to learn over time and I’m still guilty of the odd late night analysis session.

One skill that I feel has often helped me during my time as an analyst is the ability to work well under pressure. As mentioned above, the analysis industry is tough and not only do the coaches want you, but also the players and when you work across multiple sports that pressure increases. I’m very fortunate to naturally be a relaxed person, but I do believe this is a skill you develop and improve over time.

Organisation skills are incredibly important, the role of the modern analyst is busy and you need to be in control of what you’re doing to help benefit the over-all environment you’re in.

Attention to detail is a must for an analyst, not only to ensure no mistakes are made but also this skill helps significantly in the day to day role of the analyst.

Finally, attitude is the single most important attribute that makes or breaks an analyst. i.e. showing the teams your willingness and motivation to provide a good service, staying humble and embracing others views and input and showing gratitude and respect to others around you whilst also showing the confidence and strength to embrace yourself and promote your values and input is a skill that will help any analyst become a valued member of the team.

What advice would you give to an analyst for his/her first interview?

The industry is over-populated and analysts who interview for a role are usually against a high volume of other applicants which means your chance of getting the job is always slim. 

Someone once told me that ‘interviewing is an art’ and it is. It’s a skill you can only develop by going through the process a few times, leaving the interview kicking yourself on what you didn’t say or how you answered a question is not a bad thing. 

I think attempting to oversell yourself and your skillset can be an easy trap to fall for when nervous at an interview. You need to be able to present what your current skillset is and how you think it can have an immediate benefit to the team/organisation you’re applying for and how overtime, you hope to develop and progress that impact.

I also think you need to understand the organisation you’re applying to work for, understand their history, understand their values and culture, try and find out about who works there, what their backgrounds are etc. The more you can find out, the more you can understand what they’ll be looking for, what type of person they’re hoping to attract and what impact you believe you’ll have on that environment. I also believe that if an interviewee has done their homework it really does show they care about the role. 

In summary, academic rigor will provide a foundation for future development in performance analysis. Build a wide range of practical experiences and tap into networking opportunity as these will service you well when you are applying for jobs. Be conscientious with your work and commit yourself to becoming a better analyst every day. When you get the opportunity to interview for your dream role, make sure you have done your homework on the organisation and use that knowledge to your advantage.

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