Sharing Stories

Yesterday, I was on my way to adjudicate a public speaking event at a school in Braidwood.

It was a short walk and on my way my phone alerted me to some exchanges about . Amongst others, Michael Lopez shared this observation:

The quote came from Ted Knutson at the Getting Shots Inside the Box-Cox, Transformational Soccer Analytics session at the JSM’s Section on Statistics in Sports.

I had a quick look at what was going on in Vancouver and then went on to the school to hear pupils speaking on the topic “Every Family Has A Story“. I had the good fortune to listen to Year 5s share their family stories. Each pupil had three minutes to share their story. In the time it takes to play a game of football game I met families with ancestors that:

  • Were on the First Fleet
  • Participated in the cavalry charge at Beersheba
  • Have farmed in Braidwood from the earliest days of settlement
  • Left Braidwood for the WW1 battlegrounds of Europe some to return others to lie in foreign fields
  • Found refuge from persecution in Russia and in Germany

There were contemporary stories too of families moving to the area from cities, other regional towns and other countries.

In all there were 17 stories shared. I was entranced and humbled by their stories. I thought they showed great courage in speaking in public, particularly in the presence of someone called an adjudicator.

It prompted me to think not only how the pupils’ teachers might understand the richness and diversity of families’ experiences and support personal learning journeys. It was a great time, I think, to engage in conversations about the excitement of public speaking and how that differs from public reading (some students were nervous and tended to read out their prompt notes without any eye contact with their audience).

I had turned my phone of during the event. After walking home, I discovered that stories were being shared in Vancouver too:

… that crossed cultures to provide opportunities for connections:

I wondered if the participants in these conversations came up with a consensus about how we might have longer term conversations with coaches.

Perhaps fragments of thought might help us. Mark Upton is up to fragment 12 in his conversation about sport systems. In 12 there is a one-liner that can unlock powerful exchanges:

To think that we get to make a plan and direct the organisation toward a pre-specified outcome is just an illusion… a failure to recognise the complexity of the systems we are dealing with.

Perhaps clarifying what we do might help too. Cassie Kozyrkov notes in the context of data science:

Applied data science is a team sport that’s highly interdisciplinary. Diversity of perspective matters! In fact, perspective and attitude matter at least as much as education and experience.

She identifies:

  • Data engineer
  • Decision-maker
  • Analyst
  • Expert analyst
  • Statistician
  • Applied machine learning engineer
  • Data scientist
  • Analytics manager/ data science leader
  • Qualitative expert/ social scientist
  • Researcher

Cassie concludes her discussion with an analogy of innovating in the kitchen:

… if you personally want to open an industrial-scale pizzeria that makes innovative pizzas, you need the big team or you need to partner with providers/consultants.

… if your goal is just to make standard traditional pizza, you don’t even need all that: get hold of someone else’s tried and tested recipe (no need to reinvent your own) along with ingredients and start cooking!

I wondered if coaches are able to give us time, as an antidote to being too busy, we could start to have meaningful conversations. These are for me Year 5’s public speaking. The alternative is public reading. In the latter case we just provide data and are unable to start a conversation about insight.

In the process of writing this post my mind has wandered from memories of Vancouver, to thoughts of an 18th century sailing ship, a cavalry charge at Beersheba, the horrors of trench warfare for very young boys from country NSW and my recall of moments of close connection with coaches.

I am hopeful that we can in our interactions with coaches make memories and build stories … even difficult ones.

Fifty years ago, W E H Stanner gave the Boyer Lectures. In them, he argued that “Australia’s sense of its past, its very collective memory, had been built on a state of forgetting”.

It is a structural matter, a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape. What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness.

Our occupational culture has a rich array of skills to share in sport.

One of these is as an audience for stories, another is sharer of stories. For me, the exciting one is as co-creator of stories with coaches … that open up whole quadrants of the landscape.

A Wednesday Unmeeting

Most Wednesdays during the year, I host an unmeeting over lunch in a cafe at the University of Canberra.

No one is obliged to come but pizza is on offer in the context of “an informal type of meeting without the rules, format or constraints of a formal meeting”. The general topic of these meetings is the observation, analysis and coaching. Some unmeetings extend to a dozen or so participants, occasionally it is a monologue with myself.

The unmeetings have their own rhythm and by being held in a public place, people join us as they pass by.

My thoughts about the unmeeting approach are informed by the Boot Room at AnfieldMitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, and world cafes.

Last Wednesday was a delightful unmeeting lunch. There were just three of us: Mitch Mooney, Ron Smith and me. What evolved over the next two hours was the epitome of the magic of an unmeeting.

Mitch has been monitoring the Super Netball tournament and Ron was ‘fresh’ from the live coding of all 64 World Cup football games. I have been keeping an eye on both tournaments so was delighted to connect Mitch and Ron’s work.

We started by looking at Mitch’s visualisation of substitution behaviours in the 2017 and 2018 Super Netball tournaments:

We discussed Mitch’s data capture, data analysis and data visualisation approaches before exploring the coaching implications of the insights he was able to share. We spent some time talking about how patient coaches can be in their awareness of game flow but then went on to discuss reactive coaching responses.

I thought one of the great outcomes of Mitch’s work is that we can use longitudinal data to support pre-game planning and within-game decisions in the context of n > 1.

The unmeetings are also BYOD events so I added two charts from my Netball performance tracking to extend the conversation about what kind of tournament 2018 is in the context of 2017.

After crowding around my screen to view these, we started on a conversation about invasive games and the connections between them.

Whilst Ron was sorting out his computer, we talked about Horst Wein and his involvement with hockey, football and other sports. Ron had hosted a visit by Horst to Malaysia and so we were treated to a first hand account of Horst’s coaching.

We then moved on to Ron’s real-time coding of all 169 World Cup goals from the 2018 tournament. He showed us his timeline:

And his csv file:

After Ron’s explanation of his observations we concluded our conversation with contemplation of transition play in football and netball. This involved addressing what I have come to call the Smith Binary.

Ron’s analysis of goal scoring in open play is defined by a profound basic principle: are there more of our players than opponents in front of me? Yes triggers a transition play that results in a shot at goal within 12 seconds. No triggers a decision about possession retention that will ultimately result in a ball played behind a defender to create a goal scoring opportunity.

We discussed how this binary is manifested in netball.

We had also consumed two large pizzas!

I have asked Mitch’s and Ron’s permissions to share this unmeeting. I have done so in part to celebrate their wisdom and also to promote unmeetings as a most convivial way to have inclusive conversations.

Whilst writing this post I thought about one of Morrie Schwartz’s observations shared by Mitch Albom:

The truth is, part of me is every age. I’m a three-year-old, I’m a five-year-old, I’m a thirty-seven-year-old, I’m a fifty-year-old. I’ve been through all of them, and I know what it’s like. I delight in being a child when it’s appropriate to be a child. I delight in being a wise old man when it’s appropriate to be a wise old man. Think of all I can be! I am every age, up to my own.

… and believe that unmeetings give all of us this opportunity.

Performance Data Analyst

Back in 2010, I wrote about the occupational culture of a performance analyst. The post included photographs taken of the video service room at the 2005 Canoe Slalom World Championships held at the Penrith Olympic course in Australia.

The service require a massive amount of hard wiring and included a duplicate system in case of service interruption. Memories of this event were stirred today by an advert for a performance data analyst position in British Canoe Slalom.

In the United Kingdom, canoe slalom and hockey were two early adopters of video technology. In canoe slalom, Alan Edge was at the forefront of this early adoption and some of Alan’s work is discussed by Graham Jones and Lew Hardy (1990).

I thought our work developed Alan’s original ideas twenty years on with the help of some rudimentary digital technologies.

The post advertised this week moves that work on to a different level.

The position description is:

Role and Person Summary

The primary aim of this role will be to leverage existing/new data structures and intel within the British Canoe Slalom program to improve coach-athlete knowledge of factors enhancing or detracting success in “on water” technical performance. To meet this end, we are looking for someone whom is both curious and personally driven and capable of leading video/data support at both international & domestic competitions & training environments. The candidate should have a thirst for seeking knowledge and establishing successful partnerships with key stakeholders. They must have the ability to marry video based technical information with objective numerical data across varying time domains. He/She should have the abilty to display and convey insight using appropriate visualisation tools that captures the appropriate narrative around key performance questions at both the individual athlete and group level. This will include the ability to enhance learning through the coach via ‘insight’ garnered from observational, qualitative and quantitative means.

Outside of this, the successful candidate will form part of a close knit group of successful coaches, athletes and support team which strives for excellence on a daily basis. He/she should be accepting of the need to be innovative without sacrificing the World Class basics already in place within the program.

Working Relationships

  • Head coach and other podium/podium potential coaches
  • Canoe Slalom Performance analyst
  • Canoe Slalom Physical Preparation coach
  • Canoe Slalom athlete cohort
  • EIS Sport Intelligence unit
  • EIS Performance Innovation team/external partners
  • EIS Performance Analysis/S&C teams
  • Head of Performance Support

Main Tasks and Activities

Technical priority:

  • The provision and future development of ‘in the moment’ water side video and race analytics to aid coaching feedback on technical performance.
  • Develop effective data visualisations that impacts performance decisions.
  • Manage and help develop comprehensive performance databases
  • Work alongside Canoe Slalom Physical Preparation Specialist in linking performance intel from land-based programs to on water performance.
  • Provide competition support (video and race analysis) for select international races throughout the year.
  • Assist existing performance analyst in the provision of daily analysis support within the training environment.

This role may involve training, supervising, working with and/or being in sole charge of children and young people. The successful applicant will therefore be required to apply for a disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly the CRB).  A disclosure is an impartial and confidential document that details an individual’s criminal record and where appropriate gives details of those who are banned from working with children. Having a criminal record will not necessarily be a bar to obtaining a position.

The post holder shares with all colleagues the responsibility:

for making suggestions to improve the working situation and contribute to positive employee relations within their area of work and the EIS as a whole;

to cooperate with measures introduced to ensure there is equality of opportunity in employment and sports equity; and in addition for post holders with a management responsibility to encourage their staff to ensure that they comply with all aspects of the equal opportunities in employment and sports equity policies and practices.

for ensuring that the working environment is free of sexual and racial harassment and intimidation and any other form of harassment constituting unacceptable behaviour which is personally offensive.

to comply with all aspects of the EIS Health and Safety Policy and Arrangements and, in addition, for post holders with a management responsibility to encourage their staff to ensure that they also comply with all aspects of these arrangements.

to comply with all aspects of any codes of conduct that might apply by virtue of the EIS having a presence in facilities operated by third parties.

of adhering to any professional codes of conduct appropriate to your profession or other codes of conduct that might be deemed applicable to sports science and sports medicine practitioners in general.


A qualification at degree level in computer science, sports science, biomechanics, performance analysis, engineering or a related subject. (Essential)

Post graduate degree specialising in performance / data analysis or equivalent (e.g. mathematics, computer science, bioinformatics, biomechanics, data science / analytics, engineering). (Desirable)

Essential Experience

Some experience in the provision of performance analysis support or data science to small teams with a portfolio of impacting performance (sporting or industry).

Experience of implementing innovative ‘end to end’ workflows (capture to feedback) on a range of video and data analysis platforms.

Experience of applying the appropriate scientific and statistical approaches to performance analysis and interrogation of questions (data validity, user reliability, normative profiling etc).

Experience in profiling, trend analysis, and managing data sets that systematically track, monitor and objectify performance (sporting or industry).

Experience of using appropriate data visualisation approaches to produce compelling insight to ‘land the message’ and develop ‘narratives’ with the end user.

Experience of project managing, coordinating and collaborating.

Knowledge and Skills


An understanding of the needs of high performers (elite athletes or not) and coaches/managers in a high-performing environments.

Thirst and drive to develop and implementing innovative ideas and putting them into practice, including working in an applied and integrated manner.

Ability to communicate complex data (video and numerical) in terms that are easily understood by a wide range of audiences.

Highly proficient in using data analysis, video analysis & visualisation software (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Tableau or equivalent).

Proficient skills using industry standard data analysis software’s in one of the following: Matlab, R, Python or similar.

Existing skills in fostering productive relationships with performance staff.

Ability to work both independently and within a team environments.

Ability to problem solve, work under pressure and make effective decisions.

Excellent communication and influencing skills that can motivate behavioural change and have a positive impact on performance.


Skills in querying data sets (e.g Microsoft Access, SQL) and programming languages (e.g. R, python, matlab) and understanding of databases in general.

Skills in data cleansing, structuring and manipulating multiple datasets, ‘messy’ and incomplete datasets.

Proficient knowledge and understanding of the statistical analysis of High Performance Sport.

Ability to scientifically validate and interpret the methodology of test protocols and data and other scientific data.

An understanding of the various sports science disciplines.

There is a list of other essential skills too.

An interest in sport and recognition of the importance of promoting and supporting equality, safeguarding and anti-doping within sport.

Ability to work irregular and unsocial hours as required involving work outside normal office hours, at evenings, weekends and Bank Holidays.

Ability to communicate effectively in English.

Be eligible to work within the UK.

Ability to work under pressure and prioritise own workload.

I imagine there will be lots of applications for this position. I wonder what Alan Edge might make of this iteration of his foundational work.