At StatsBomb, we work with teams at all levels of the footballing pyramid, in dozens of countries around the world.
We've seen teams using our tools go from strength to strength, and have watched budding analysts progress from using our free data to having superb careers at the top levels of the game. It's a core part of our identity to help people climb the ladder and support those wishing to get into analytics, develop their careers or simply advance their knowledge of the subject.
What we usually do here is point you towards our extensive free data releases and user guides, our comprehensive but affordable courses, our Hub of analytical content, or even our annual, open-to-all Conference.
But, this time, we thought we'd get in touch with the people that have already been on the journey and pose them one simple question:
What do you wish you knew before you started your first job working for a team?
We got so many answers to this that it's difficult to know where to start. But, there were several themes that shook out in amongst all the responses we received. Here are the key takeaways.
Efficiency is important
One of the key learnings that came back was the importance of understanding how to make an impact quickly, efficiently and effectively. As these respondents put it:
“Be prepared to show results fast because football needs fast answers - doing simple things can sometimes be more effective than elaborating too much.”
A desire to “have had a better understanding of how clubs use data on a daily basis” from one analyst was backed up by another who remarked that they “had very little prior knowledge of how football clubs work internally, and as a result, a lot of my early ideas for impacting those processes with a data-driven perspective either didn't make sense or weren't truly impactful.” The same analyst went on to say that they “had to spend a lot of time learning football and learning how everyone worked before I had any good ideas of my own for adding value.”
Another analyst: “Time is the biggest drawback for any analyst. Processes are time-consuming, and the football schedule is relentless, so any way in which time can be saved without sacrificing the quality/amount of work is crucial. Things like databasing, organisation and time management are key.”
Some of the answers we received in some ways made getting your first job in football appear to be the easy part. Actually making a success of it requires buy-in throughout the organisation. The key to this seems to be in the level and manner of communication between the management, coaches, and other performance staff. Or, as one analyst put it:
“Coaches and scouts that never worked with a data-minded person won't buy your fancy new metric if they don't need it. Instead of digging into solving football, talk to coaches and scouts, try to learn how they see the game and how you can translate what they consider a great play or a player's mistake into a metric. Learn from them as much as you can.”
And the importance of understanding other people's backgrounds and perspectives also came to the fore in this feedback from a couple of other analysts:
“The role of an analyst will always rely on effectively communicating what the data suggests, but there can be a massive difference between showing people your work who have prior experience with data versus someone who hasn't been exposed.”
“I'd come from an angle of communication and buy-in and how to turn insights into actions, because at first you won't be trusted and the decision makers will stick to their usual routines. I suppose I'd wish I'd known it's not really about the skill and ability of the person in the job because everyone can do player scouting combined with data – that’s the easy part. But getting a Chief Scout, CEO, or Head Coach to believe you is hard.”
On a similar theme, there was a consistent thread around making sure that you build and develop strong connections and relationships with others within a club. As these analysts put it:
“One of the biggest steps that gets overlooked is the ability to connect and show interest in the club staff. Take the extra time to watch a game as a group, and have a cup of tea or a pint together. Get to know each other a bit more on a personal level. That care and trust will set the foundation for effective use of analytics, especially when times are tough and the xG is bad.”
“One thing I've learnt is that by simply asking questions and provoking discussion with coaches/managers/board level members, you're able to quickly find questions or scenarios they would love to see evidence of but haven't come across before.”
And on a similar note: “Listen to what they are asking for, listen to their ideas, and deliver what's been requested before trying to insert your own thoughts and questions.”
The technical work is still important
It's notable that many of the comments were around personal relationship and people management skills. However, some respondents were keen to stress the value of bringing technical skills to the table, and understanding how to translate technical ability into genuine impact. For example, this analyst would have started by asking:
“What programs or software are currently used to conduct analyses? Particularly in terms of how data is stored and accessed. Does the club have cloud-based storage, or is it a more minor operation? Do all departments use similar programs?
Is the analytics roles between departments (recruitment, first team, medical, physical) connected or do they operate as separate entities? Are the roles and responsibilities of the analyst clearly defined, or is it a matter of what I can provide and what the club wants to see?”
Or, as stated by this respondent:
“Nothing is ever black and white, and organisational needs are always changing. Writing reproducible code and creating automated checks and balances ensures you are never a step behind and are always pushing the organisation forward.”
On a similar note:
“...build fundamentals for your data platform to automate all the scripts and calculations. If you can get them something useful quickly after the match, or if you can feed opposition analysts with the insights, they don't need to spend hours to collect when watching videos.”
“I guess I would say I wish I knew how to code! I would say that a lot of what I learned came from having the data in the first place. The first time you see it, it blows your mind, and then you have to work your processes around it.”
So there you have it. The uptake of data and analytics within clubs continues to increase year on year and, with it, the demand for quality analysts to support clubs in their performance, opposition, and recruitment analysis. We’ll continue to do what we can to give you all the tools and education you need to make sure you’re as ready as you can be to enter the world of professional football.
And, of course, a special thanks to our customers who took the time to answer these questions and provide a window into their professional journey.
The StatsBomb Team