Performance analysis and taking the role of the other



Last week, I researched Allan Roth‘s work as a baseball statistician.
Andy McCue’s article about Allan included this observation:

In December 1940, Roth wrote to Leland “Larry” MacPhail, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, seeking an appointment to discuss work as a statistician. He tried again in June and August of the next year. He met MacPhail in the Mount Royal Hotel in Montreal and explained his ideas. MacPhail was, at best, noncommittal.

Four years later, Allan:

wangled a meeting with Rickey at the Dodgers spring training site in Bear Mountain, just north of New York City. It was a disaster, Roth said. The dinner included Mrs. Rickey and was in the main dining room of the Bear Mountain Inn, the premier hotel in the region. Rickey was constantly being interrupted by well-wishers. Roth despaired of making a coherent presentation. Finally, Roth told Rickey he didn’t think he was getting a fair shake. Asked what he wanted, Roth responded, “Ten minutes of your undivided attention.”

Charles Reep was having similar conversations with football managers in England (and had been doing so in the 1930s).
Allan and Charles had insights they wanted to share. The difficulty was to be taken seriously. Both were keen to augment the tacit knowledge of baseball and football managers and to do so as ‘outsiders’.

Messages and Messengers

Whilst I was researching Allan’s career, Rob Carroll published a post ‘You want to be a performance analyst?‘.
Rob has some excellent, hard-hitting advice for aspiring performance analysts:

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.

In sharing his insights, Rob raises some vital issues for performance analysis as a craft and the work ethic that is required to grow into the role … should you be fortunate to be offered an opportunity. Like Rob, I do not see an MSc as the entry requirement to the craft guild.
Oliver Gage posted at the same time too. Oliver was equally frank in his post.

Whilst the coaches and GM’s are playing in front of thousands of fans and signing autographs, the analysts are at school studying economics, algebra and learning essential programming and data viz skills. They have very little in common with each other and if they met at a social function, the conversation would probably not get past awkward questioning and painful silences.

Oliver includes in his account some powerful insights as to how messages and messengers might find ways to connect with coaches and players.
Taking Rob’s insights and Oliver’s observations, I think if we are fortunate to be employed in a club or sport, then there is a lot to be said for ‘being around‘ and able, as they say in sociology, to take the role of the other.
I have a matrix in mid to propose about ‘being around’ and role taking.

Taking the Role of the Other

Many years ago I was introduced to the works of Wilhelm Dilthey, Max Weber, Georg Simmel and George Herbert Mead. Their discussions about the self and the possibilities of understanding other people’s perspectives have made a lasting impression on me.
George Herbert Mead proposes that “anticipatory experiences are fundamental to the development of language”. We can place ourselves in the positions of others “—that is, to anticipate their responses—with regard to our linguistic gestures” . This enables us to take the role of a generalised other and make social interaction possible.
In their discussion of role-taking and role-making, Dennis Brassett and Charles Edgley (2006:86) make the following point about orienting our behaviour to others:

Roles “exist” in varying degrees of concreteness and consistency, while the individual confidently frames behaviour as if they had unequivocal existence and clarity.

They add:

in attempting from time to time to make aspects of the roles explicit they create and modify roles as well as merely bringing them to light; the process is not only role-taking but role-making. (2006:86)

These observations seem particularly apposite in the context of Rob and Oliver’s conversations about performance analysis. They connect too with the experiences of early analysts like Charles and Allan.
For some time now, I have been thinking about the personal skills performance analysts might bring to their chosen vocation. I am hopeful that this matrix may help in framing our “anticipatory experiences” with coaches and managers.
I think that the nine relationships present enable conversations that affirm role-taking and start that wonderful process of role-making.
The terms ‘beginner’, ‘developer’ and ‘advancer’ are relative terms not absolutes.
Each of us has created our own personal learning environments. So where we locate ourselves within this matrix is negotiable. We can be honest as well as modest.
I am hopeful that I have managed to experience all nine of these cells and in doing so have been fortunate to take and make roles as an analyst. I trust that the matrix conveys the entanglement of analysis and coaching.
I have found Rob and Oliver’s posts very powerful triggers for my reflections. I am sure they would empathise with Charles and Allan too.
I wonder if the matrix might help us construct narratives as examples of practice at a time when the integration of analysis and analytics is becoming an everyday experience in high performance sport settings.

Photo Credits

Wilbert Robinson, coach, New York NL Giants (Library of Congress, no known copyright restrictions)
Dr Julius Neubronner’s Miniature Pigeon Camera (jwyg, CC BY-SA 2.0)
New York Subway Illustration


  1. Hi Keith,
    I really like the concept of the matrix. There are a world of words and dynamics which could fill those boxes.
    The issue of a very experienced analyst working with a developing coach – the coach is theoretically in charge but would benefit hugely if they are secure enough to be open to the insights of the analyst.
    Thought provoking, thank you.

    • Hello, Denise
      Thank you for finding the post.
      I agree entirely. I think that security and trust is hard earned.
      I keep thinking that the security you mention is characteristic of exciting learning organisations.
      Thanks for posting your comment. I hope you are well.


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