A four decade journey in performance analysis and analytics

The end of a calendar year is a good time to reflect on learning journeys. This December, I have been thinking back over four decades.

My fascination with performance analysis and analytics started with my role as a teacher of physical education and as a young coach in the 1970s. In 1977, I started to take responsibility for coaching club rugby union. My role models were Tony Gray, Jim Greenwood, Ray Williams and John Dawes. I think my roots in applied performance analysis were set then. Thereafter, whatever work I did in analysis was focussed on supporting coaches and athletes.

A decade later, in 1987, I was starting the write up of my part-time PhD at the University of Surrey. I had spent three years observing the teaching of physical education in two schools and was immersed in the ethnographic literature. My supervisor introduced me to the work of Miller Mair and from that time I have been keen to explore performance analysis and analytics as storytelling and story sharing.

These are the kinds of things I learned from Miller:

Our worlds are structured in metaphor and images. We can only tell stories from conjured images of what we suppose we are and what we suppose we know, within the language and assumptions of our place and time.

Every telling (whether in psychotherapy, science, the market place or the lovers bed) is a composition with personal intentions. Every telling is partial, suffused with personal interest.

Every telling has to be in some manner and style. Even when we seek to be plain and blunt we are using stylistic devices for signifying plainness and bluntness.

Science has tried to be ‘the story to end all stories’, or a story trying its hardest not to seem like a story at all, but the way things are. Every group has its own sanctioned ways of telling for different purposes and contexts, its ways of listening, ways of evaluating. The ‘hard’ approaches to science have their own ways of telling set up in such a way as to seem and claim to be above and separate from mere telling, beyond any contamination in the telling itself.

But stories are partial and political. We all have vested interests in our psychological and other tellings.

My thesis ended up being a collection of stories. Two of them are:

Do people who have lost their voice have to do it?

Anush and basketball fever

I had started doing some hand notations of rugby and lacrosse whilst I was at St Mary’s College at Strawberry Hill (1978-1986) and had been using VHS video recordings of performance. By the time my PhD was submitted, I had written a book about the use of video in sport.

The next decade took me into the digital era but strongly connected to storytelling (Are we all performance analysts? (1998)). I was fortunate to spend this decade at the Cardiff Institute of Higher Education (later UWIC and subsequently Cardiff Met).

I was a guest at the Sports Coach conference in Melbourne in November 1998.

I took with me  one of the first digital cameras and an early example of a portable analysis system that had been developed by Tony Kirkbride. My presentation to the conference is archived on Slideshare.

These are two of slides I shared at the conference:

and

I provided an example of my own use of digital stills in coaching as I tried out the new technology.

A decade later, I was at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. I rode the wave of digital technologies and was part of a decade that saw the full-fledged software as a service era and the emergence of a video repository for online and near line access on demand. In 2005, I had the opportunity to develop a proposal for funding for three analytics positions. We were also using Australia’s supercomputers and high speed infrastructure to share large amounts of swimming video and data (up to 1tb). By 2007, we had started a data analytics project for the Beijing Olympics that contributed to a gold medal performance and had developed a stable machine learning approach to support cricket coaches in the Ashes Series.

The opportunities I had at the AIS gave me wonderful freedom to explore and champion disruption in the support an institute could offer to the daily training and competition environments.  I was fortunate that my line managers were able to see beyond the narrow limits of videography and coding and embrace a digital age that celebrated knowledge discovery in databases.

Much of my work in the decade following the AIS innovations has been spent exploring open access sharing. In 2017, my focus has been to use the plethora of online education platforms to continue my own learning and to share resources with others in a world that now sees the sharing, aggregating and curating of digital artifacts as a normal activity.

My most recent learning experiences have been with R and ggplot 2.

Reflecting on this four decade journey from analogue to digital experiences has been a fascinating experience. It was helped by a presentation I gave in Ireland earlier this year, Are We There Yet?

What excites me is how present day researchers are using technologies and creating innovative communities of practice that are accelerating our understanding of performance.

When I started my learning journey in the 1970s, it was possible to aspire to be a polymath in performance analysis and analytics. Four decades on the flourishing of all forms of enquiry make that much more difficult.

I am relishing the next decade and am wondering what my experience will be when I look back from 2027.

I am hopeful it will be more like:

than

Photo Credits

Interesting sidelines (scsmith4, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Miller Mair (Constructivist Psychology)

2008 McLaren Park CX Tilt Shift (Steven Woo, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Geen hulp voor Giusto Cerutti (Nationaal Archief, no known copyright restrictions)

Corresponding to connect a self-organising group

I have just received a letter. It is the third Friday letter from Abbotstown. I like to think of Abbotstown as a place in a James Joyce novel but it is a real place too, in Dublin.

The letter is written by Denise Martin and to my delight she has posted it on Rob Carroll’s website. Link.

In her letter, Denise discusses meeting a coach for the first time as an analyst.

The aim of the Friday letters from Abbotstown is to connect a self-organising group of performance analysts in Ireland. It is an idea I suggested at #abbotsthon17 and is inspired by three drivers.

The first is the joy of receiving a letter that is addressed to you personally. I am old enough to remember waiting on my doorstep for important letters in the mail. In my small town, the postmen and women knew when you were expecting an important letter or card. They delivered it to you personally and often left their normal route to make sure you had it before school. This was in the 1950s and I think everyone in the town was trying to recover from those dreadful moments in the Second World War when a telegram arrived with the worst news about a member of your family you could ever receive.

The second comes from a section of Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It is from a section written by Frank Miceli about a teacher he met and whose classroom he observed for five months. He wrote of his observations:

The instructor began a ‘writing’ phase of the program by asking the students to write him a letter dealing with any questions or problems or things they felt strongly about. He told them he would write a letter back to them.
The students did not know how to react to the teacher. One girl raised her hand and asked if the teacher would read the letters aloud in class. He said he would not, that the letters would be personal communications between them, and that he would respond not with short notes, but with detailed replies.
‘Would you tell us in your letter about things that bother you)’ asked one student. The teacher said he would: ‘However, I’ll only write what bothers me if you promise not to correct my spelling.’ The students laughed. ‘Besides, if I write and ask you something, if I have a question for you, will you respond with a letter to me?’ The class laughed again, even louder. They thought he was kidding. Students always think ‘real stuff’ is not serious.

Frank noted that in the letters exchanged between the teacher and each pupil there was a remarkable flourishing of all pupils’ compositions.

The third driver is a project at Stanford University called The Republic of Letters. I was fascinated by the way the project mapped correspondence between leading thinkers of the Enlightenment and was intrigued by Voltaire’s prolific letter writing. The project notes:

Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks of correspondence that stretched across countries and continents; the social networks created by scientific academies; and the physical networks brought about by travel. These networks were the lifelines of learning, from the age of Erasmus to the age of Franklin. They facilitated the dissemination and the criticism of ideas, the spread of political news, as well as the circulation of people and objects.

These drivers give me the optimism to believe that in an electronic age, correspondence has an enormous role to play in connecting a self-organising community of practice.

I am looking forward to receiving the fourth Abbotstown letter.

Australian Paralympic History Project Update: September 2017

Photograph of Australian Paralympic team member Katy Parish in the long jump at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London

I have had an update from Tony Naar, the Facilitator of the Australian Paralympic History Project, about the progress of the project.

The Australian Paralympic Committee uses the hashtag #APCOnThisDay to post items on its social media channels (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) to celebrate the history of the movement by recognising prominent birthdays and anniversaries.

An example from earlier this year:

The tweets are usually linked to the Wikipedia article about the athlete or event. Tony notes that these posts are among the most popular that the APC does. This is a great way to bring the history project to life and to wider public attention.

The e-history project at the University of Queensland (with Murray Phillips and Gary Osmond) is reaching an exciting phase. The website to host the e-history has been completed and a workshop is scheduled for Brisbane on 22 September 2017 to start to populate the site. There will be a second workshop, in conjunction with a Wikipedia workshop, in Sydney in November 2017.

The e-history site will bring together all the threads of the project that have been assembled since 2010, including the Wikipedia articles, the photographs, the oral history interviews, film footage such as the Don Worley collection and the APC’s own video collection.

The e-history is scheduled for public launch early in 2018.

The Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea, are approaching. Greg Blood has created a Wikipedia article about Australia’s involvement at the Games, and there will be lots of work to be done on individual athlete articles in coming months as the Australian athletes are nominated and announced.

The APC is contacted regularly by past team members to loan us scrapbooks and photos for scanning, or to donate a range of items, from clothing to ephemera to equipment. This will need to be managed, recorded and stored appropriately. At present, much of this work is undertaken by Pat Ollerenshaw.

Tony shared news of a new generation of APC history volunteers. Currently three interns from the University of Western Sydney are working with the APC on the project.Two of the interns are working on implementing a strategy to recruit archivists and librarians to assist in managing and cataloguing our extensive collections. One is working on updating the contact lists of past athletes. All three have been updating Wikipedia articles.

Tony is also working with students from the intern program at Macquarie University. A group of 12 students from that program has just started working on implementing a strategy to recruit young volunteer Wikipedia editors through volunteer communities at universities and in the wider community.

One suggestion that has emerged is the creation of a Facebook page for the APC History group. The interns feel that this may encourage easier participation from younger volunteers and also be an effective communications tool to complement this email list.

It was great to receive Tony’s update. The project is in its seventh year and has been an exemplary way to share news of the Paralympic movement. I am particularly excited that the volunteer community is now starting to engage with young people and the energy they will bring to the sharing of history.

Members of the Australian Paralympic Team, led by Team official Kevin Betts, march in the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Rome Paralympic Games

Photo Credits

Photograph of Australian Paralympic team member Katy Parrish at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London. By Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48612437

Members of the Australian Paralympic Team, led by Team official Kevin Betts, march in the Opening Ceremony of the 1960 Rome Paralympic Games. By Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44615747.