Player Insights Scientists

The Football Association has advertised two positions. One is a Player Insights Scientist (link). The second is a Player Data Scientist (link).

Player Insights Scientist

The Player Insights Scientist will support the delivery of Player Profiles across the England men’s pathway and will drive key projects relating to player depth-charting, player pipeline analysis and club insights’ gathering.

The successful candidate will have these key accountabilities:

  • Contribute to the development of a comprehensive, robust and data driven England player profile which is linked to the success criteria for England teams.
  • Support the delivery of player profiles, including the analyses for future volumes of the England Player Book.
  • Assimilation and analysis of data from clubs on England-eligible players.
  • Preparation of dossiers for sharing insights on players.
  • Undertake quarterly analyses of the player pipeline, to understand churn, progression and quality of the England Talent pipeline.
  • Production of compelling insightful reports to assist in the tracking of prospective and established England players.
  • Development and presentation and internal research updates which effectively communicate data insights.
  • Support the delivery of key internal and external research projects which underpin future service development & provide insights to the talent identification process.
  • Contribute to the design and delivery of on-camp assessment processes to enable valid, consistent assessment of all player characteristics.
  • Support the Player Insights Team in the aggregation, analysis, presentation & maintenance of player profiles using information from all departments and external sources to include the creation of depth charts and other visualisations of player status.
  • Execute additional tasks as required in order to meet FA Group changing priorities.

Note that one of the key accountabilities is to produce compelling insightful reports (my emphasis).

To fill this post, the Football Association is looking for:

  • A Postgraduate Qualification in Sports and Exercise Science, or related disciplines.
  • Ability to assimilate and interpret data to answer performance questions.
  • Proven ability to generate impactful reports suitable for multiple audiences.
  • Experience of working in an elite sporting environment.
  • Advanced communication skills with the ability to communicate to various audiences.
  • Ability to work to tight deadlines within a dynamic environment.
  • Experience of working with sports performance related data.
  • Ability to work independently and collaboratively across departments.
  • Knowledge of football and the requirements of international football.

The successful candidate will be offered “an exciting and challenging role within a changing, dynamic and world-renowned sports organisation”. The post carries “attractive benefits and a competitive salary for the right candidate”.

Player Data Scientist

The second post advertised by the Football Association involves “the creation of data driven insights through the development of an advanced data model across the Player Insight department, to support the delivery of a world leading player identification and profiling service to England teams”.

The Key Accountabilities of this role are:

  • Review and development of appropriate data sources and models to support player insight.
  • Analysis and visualisation of data sources using valid robust techniques.
  • Modelling of data to produce predictive maps of future trends.
  • Use data to benchmark English talent against contemporaries in other nations and assist in valid comparisons being made.
  • Production of compelling insightful reports to assist in the tracking of prospective and established England players.
  • Contribute to the development of a comprehensive, robust and data driven England player profile which is linked to the success criteria for England teams.
  • Development of metrics and KPI’s which enable the ongoing monitoring of key aspects of the talent identification process.
  • Close and highly effective working relationships with performance analysts, national coaches and support staff.
  • Support the process of defining the core characteristics and benchmarks of Winning England players at all levels.
  • Contribute to the design and delivery of on-camp assessment processes to enable valid, consistent assessment of all player characteristics.
  • Contribute to the development of technology projects to support the future direction of Player Insight.
  • Support the training of departmental staff in the analysis and understanding of data and visualisations.
  • Support the Player Insights Team in the aggregation, analysis, presentation & maintenance of player profiles, using information from all departments and external sources to include the creation of depth charts and other visualisations of player status.
  • Execute additional tasks as required in order to meet FA Group changing priorities.

In addition to the production of compelling insightful reports there are three explicit mentions of visualisation.

The successful candidate will have these characteristics:

  • Postgraduate degree in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science (similar related disciplines will be considered) or equivalent experience.
  • Strong programming skills (Javascript, Python, R, SQL or similar languages).
  • Proven ability to create meaningful and impactful dashboards for multiple audiences, using software such as Tableau (or similar)
  • Experience working in an elite sporting environment and working with data outputs from multiple providers, e.g. SportsCode.
  • Knowledge of football and the requirements of international football
  • Ability to tailor machine learning solutions to business problems in a cross functional team.
  • Extensive knowledge of statistical principles and modelling techniques.
  • Experience in the use of multivariate statistical methods involving information theory and clustering/network-based community finding algorithms.
  • A record in data analytics with focus on interpretability and visualisation.
  • Ability to work to tight deadlines within a dynamic environment
  • Experience of working with sports performance related data
  • Excellent project management skills.
  • Knowledge of data transfer and ingestion technologies
  • Expertise with manipulating data to form unified data sets for analysis
  • Excellent written presentation skills
  • Good oral communications skills

Both roles advertised by the Football Association exemplify the changes in behaviour now required of analysts. Such opportunities require us to redefine our pedagogy around performance observation and analysis. The opening up of the field to a wide range of applicants is exemplified in the Player Data Scientist role in which an applicant is sought with a postgraduate Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science qualification. There is an expectation that the applicant will be familiar with Javascript, Python, R, SQL or similar languages and visualisation through the Tableau platform.

It will be interesting to see whom the Football Association recruits for these positions. They provide us with a benchmark as to where sport might be going with Insights.

Photo Credit

Walter Winterbottom (FA)

King Power (Dom Fellows, CC BY 2.0)

Head of Football Analytics (Leicester City)

One of those memorable days

The University of Canberra held its graduation ceremony at the Australian Institute of Sport Arena on Wednesday, 9 October 2019 (link). It is a memorable day for everyone concerned and a day for families to celebrate together.

It was that kind of day for Finn, Paul and Robin. All three graduated as Doctors of Philosophy of the University. It was a perfect setting for them. Each of them had spent a great deal of time at the Institute in their professional lives and in a sense I thought the day was about them coming home.

It is a day that lives in everyone’s memory and that is talked about proudly and modestly.

Finn Marsland

Finn’s thesis title is Macro-kinematic performance analysis in cross-country skiing competition using micro-sensors. His research “lays the groundwork for future research and practical applications, which could include daily training monitoring, course profiling, evaluation of sub-technique efficiency, and similar algorithm development for the Freestyle technique”. For me it was a wonderful example of a coach thinking about and transforming performance (link). In the process, Finn produced a number of much-cited papers.

Paul Perkins

Paul’s thesis is titled Can a modified, low-risk form of boxing achieve significant communiity uptake? (Link). The completion of the thesis marked a special journey for Paul. He was able to combine his love of movement with an increasing discovery of academic rigour. Like Finn and Robin the process of becoming a Doctor of Philosophy changed Paul. In partnership with his primary supervisor, Allan Hahn, Paul produced a number of papers that enriched our understanding of movement in general and box tag in particular.

Robin Poke

The title of Robin’s thesis is A Narrative History of Australian Rowing 1770-2016 (link). It represents the culmination of a five decade involvement in rowing in the United Kingdom and in Australia. Robin came to the graduation day after a morning row on Lake Burley Griffin with his colleagues in a Masters’ boat. His thesis is to be developed into a two volume history of rowing to be published in late 2019.

Professor David Pyne took the pictures of the happy graduates. I was unable to be at the ceremony but I was able to doff my hat to each of them in my absence. David and I were delighted to be part of the day physically and vicariously. It is one of those days that stays forever. As do the smiles and joy the ceremony brings to graduates and families.

It is one of those memorable, special days.

Charles, Richard, Neil and Simon: the stories we craft

Tom Fenton and Rob Carroll have published a story about Charles Reep (link). It is titled Football’s Pioneer – The Charles Reep story.

Earlier this year, Richard Pollard published Invalid Interpretation of Passing Sequence Data to Assess Team Performance in Football: Repairing the Tarnished Legacy of Charles Reep in the Open Sports Sciences Journal (link).

Both posts have encouraged me to think about how we craft stories. Tom’s introduction indicates that Charles’ achievements have been forgotten and marginalised (link). Richard suggests that a 2005 paper makes “erroneous and misleading statements” about Charles and that “a basic misunderstanding of how to interpret and assess the effectiveness of passing sequences of different lengths” is at the heart of the issue (link).

Tom concludes:

Whatever you think of Charles Reep’s tactical influence, his legacy on Sport Analytics is not only undeniable, it is simply invaluable, for the industry we see and admire today, would not be the same without him and his priceless notes.

Richard ends his paper with this comment:

The way in which the 2005 paper has been used by others to discredit Reep, while at the same time claiming definitive proof that direct football is less effective than keeping possession, is a salutary warning as to how easily false information can disseminate itself.

Much of my professional life has sought to integrate qualitative observation, the analysis of performance, teaching and coaching. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about ethnography and autoethnography and my PhD thesis completed in 1989 (link) was an ethnographic account of the teaching of physical education in two schools located next to each other.

In writing that thesis, I became very interested in the ways stories are socially constructed. Ctlifford Geerz had an enormous impact on me and once I had read about his work in ‘thick description’ (link) I saw the process of observation, the art of teaching and coaching quite differently. From then on, I took culture to be “a web of analysis” and an interpretive science “in search of meaning”.

This search of meaning led me to see story sharing as a way of talking about practice (link). Stories were built with careful observation and written in ways that embraced language, reader receptivity and poetics. At that time, I was emboldened by the publication of John Van Maanen’s approach in Tales From The Field (link). In looking at different kind of tales, John notes that conveying social reality requires authorial voice. His book explores how this voice is crafted in realist, confessional and impressionist tales.

In an Epilogue to a 2010 print edition of the Tales (link), John wrote:

Our writing is both explicitly and implicitly designed to persuade others that we know what we’re talking about and they ought therefore to pay attention to what we are saying. (2010:147)

Re-reading this after looking at Tom, Rob and Richard’s accounts of Charles Reep took me back to think about authorial voice and how we might construct a life history and a socially constructed account of a very special time in sport analytics.

Richard Pollard

Richard, Neil and Simon knew Charles very well at that point in time and are primary sources of Charles’s life. I have corresponded with Richard and Neil about their experiences with Charles and their own careers as analysts. I have not spoken with Simon Hartley and I think about this absence has on the story I would like to construct about the life and times of all four of them.

Richard, for example, has kept every letter Charles sent him dating back to 1960, and has stored Charles’ match analyses and other documents shared over the years. He also has two years of Simon’s analyses of Watford performance. Richard has kept all his correspondence with Bernard Benjamin about the authorship of both papers on Skill and Chance (link) (link).

Richard completed his thesis in 1989 at the University of the South Pacific. It was titled Measuring the effectiveness of playing strategies at soccer (link). Information about this thesis was contained in a paper written by Richard and Charles that appeared in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society in 1997 (link).

Neil Lanham

Neil has shared some of his experiences with me in email correspondence and these emails have become important insights for me as I try to fit Neil’s story into Charles’, Richard’s and Simon’s stories. Neil’s memoirs were to be published this year. They will make for fascinating reading.

I have written about Neil’s work but have yet to provide an account of his work with Wimbledon, Dave Bassett and Graham Taylor. I have not addressed Neil’s early use of computers in 1985 and the impact this had on his work. I hope to explore Neil’s contact with Charles over a long period of time. In one personal correspondence to me, Neil observes “to know Reep you need to have trod in his footsteps”.

Treading in Charles, Richard, Neil and Simon’s footsteps will be a fascinating journey and one that raises important questions about authorial voice. As an action researcher I am keen to share these stories with them before I post public blogs about them. I see the production of stories as an iterative and participatory process.

Charles Reep

This process will require an understanding of documents. Jean-François Rouet and colleagues (1996) (link) note that historians “must carefully select information from documents and evaluate it in the context of who wrote the document, what type of document it is, and how the document relates to other documents on the same topic”. This requires us to reason about documents and reason with documents.

This reasoning acknowledges, as Sam Wineburg (1998) (link) points out, that “historians do not go into the archive to find carefully excerpted documents, serially presented, each with an explanatory sentence at the top”.

These challenges require the writer to be a critical friend in the story gathering, story crafting and story sharing aspects in the search of meaning. Erin Comollo (2019) (link), amongst others, points out that we can “engage in joint construction of knowledge through conversation and other forms of collaborative analysis and interpretation”.

In doing so, I believe, the art of writing provides the opportunity for the critical friend, as Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick (1993) indicate, to be “a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person’s work as a friend” (link).

To date, we have had partial stories about Charles, Richard, Neil and Simon. There is an opportunity to extend these stories and provide thick description of a pivotal moment of sport analytics in England. It requires a comprehensive, co-operative story-making effort. The outcome could be an inclusive and participatory account that is reflective and critical. Perhaps a story that addresses concerns raised by Richard and Neil in their various responses to accounts of Charles, his practices and impacts. It would be important to have Simon’s take on this too.

There is so much to write about and share.

Photo Credit

Champions of the world (The Football Times)

 A Football Pink report of the Swindon Town v Bristol Rovers game, played on Saturday, 18 March 1950.

Richard Pollard (Personal Correspondence)

Neil Lanham (Personal Correspondence)

Charles Reep (The Sun)

Watford v Southampton 1980 (YouTube)