Monday, 17 December 2012

Degrees - Which one suits a Performance Analyst?

In my previous blog about my journey to become a performance analyst I mentioned about a post I was saving around degrees and internships in general.
I've tried to provide a balanced perspective based on my views and experiences of the last 18 months of working in and trying to work in the industry.
Performance Analysis, in fact Sports Science in general, is one of the fastest growing areas of football but one thing that is not growing as much is the number of paid jobs available. Since the Summer of 2012 there have been roughly 10 jobs advertised through various sites with a reasonable salary attached. On the reverse side of this, there have been countless number of Unpaid/Voluntary internships.
There are positive and negative sides to this which I'll map out later but my initial point is around the criteria most of the jobs specify. I'm sure a lot of the people who read my blog who have worked hard for 3 years to gain a Sports Science degree will have opinions contrary to what I've written here and I'm more than happy for any comments to be posted below, I'm interested to know what people who have been down that path think.
Almost all jobs advertising Performance Analyst roles request a degree in Sports Science no matter whether this is for a paid job or an internship. Now, for somebody like me who missed the boat on doing Sports Science degrees (these were very specialised when I went to university) this makes it very hard to even get a foot in the door at most clubs. I fully appreciate the necessity of learning and think that the specific Performance Analysis degrees offered by places like UWIC and Nottingham Trent are excellent.
What I do have a query with is why a Sports Science degree is often cited as mandatory for Performance Analysis jobs. Sports Science degrees tend to cover a wide range of subjects notably Physiology, Psychology and Biomechanics. Most degrees include the OPTION of doing a Performance Analysis module in the final year. This usually involves looking at the range of systems available (Prozone, Sportscode, Dartfish etc) and seeing how they work along with some very brief study into notational analysis. Sometimes the bulk of the module will be around a placement within a club.
Not all degrees are like this I must stress and the specific Performance Analysis ones cover a wide range of methods involved in the subject, as well as a thorough understanding of how they work as well as several placements usually across a variety of sports.
From my experience within the Performance Analysis environment of a club a Sports Science degree is not only not necessary but often useless. There is no more than a basic understanding of Physiology and Biomechanics necessary and much more appropriate degrees would surely be around IT, Economics, Maths or Communications. A few examples to back up my point include complex connection of computer equipment, File Sharing across FTP platforms, Regression Analysis and statistical studies, none of which is taught across the Sports Science degree.
There are other methods of gaining this knowledge, it cannot be stressed how important work experience is and there are several performance analysis courses which look at specific software such as the Prozone & Dartfish courses. It is also always useful to have a good understanding of football in general and the FA Coaching courses help to understand why Performance Analysts look at things in context. In the future I hope the FA take a lead on the field and push specific courses around Performance Analysis, not just how to use the systems but how to actually ANALYSE a game.
In my opinion one of the reasons that a Sports Science degree is requested is a lot of Leads across Football clubs have the same degree and they don't know anything else to ask for.
I'd like to see a club take a step back and think about why they are asking for what they are asking for. Think about what they want the person to know and how that would apply to a degree or what they'd learnt on a degree and how this could help the club.

As I said above, I've tried to be balanced and I'd be interested to hear what people with degrees in Sports Science think and whether the studying they did for 3 years is being utilised in any jobs, paid or voluntary they are doing.

I'll also follow up with a post on my views around Internships soon!

Thanks for reading, comments welcomed.


  1. It's interesting to read that you say that a Sports Science degree isn't necessarily required. Do you think the performance industry "dumbs" itself down or is it due to the fact that the clubs themselves don't understand performance analysis?

    1. I don't think the industry necessarily dumbs itself down as with the Performance Analysis specific degrees offered at a handful of universities and courses such as that provided by Lear Sports there is a movement within the industry to better itself.

      I'd say the main problem comes from the clubs either not knowing what they are looking for in a person or not understanding Performance Analysis. What's required of an analyst will often change depending on what the manager requires but the skills to do the job should always be similar.

      It's an interesting debate and one I'd love to hear both sides of as everything I've written is just based on my experiences and opinions!

  2. I think as a general rule employers will want some one with degree level education, for me it doesn't matter what the degree is in. Sports Science degrees have very little if any specific performance analysis content. The specific experience of the candidates is more important.

    1. Great comments and I wholeheartedly agree! Hopefully clubs will begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of looking broader than the Sports Science spectrum for Performance Analysis candidates.

  3. I came from a Sports Coaching degree. My views on analysis is that it will influence and aid coaching as well as team selection, so the person has to have some sort of knowledge of these areas, should I say practical field knowledge?? Although this does not mean that I agree with Job Ads requesting analysts to have a UEFA B Coaching badge etc. So I was glad to see you agree on the specific analysis course. I've always found it strange that there isn't one, especially as its an easy money maker for the FA!

    More importantly an analyst should have experience. The system etc are more than simple to use nowadays, and people general have better IT skills, so the real and needed experience can only be developed by being involved in the process of analysis.

  4. I must tell you that your blog is very informative and taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful and beneficial to your readers
    Sports Coaching Courses

    1. Thanks Michael, I will certainly try to update the blog around this area again, probably at the end of the season.

  5. Hi Dave,

    Nearly 12 months on, where do you stand on this now ? Do you feel you have more of a bias towards a certain type of degree for Performance
    Analysts ? I am interested in pursuing a role in this are (I'm not in the UK or US) but what I find very interesting is the difference in approaches to this between the US and UK. My perceived difference is the UK has an emphasis on Analysts have a Sport Science degree , yet I get the impression in the US the Analysts are literally that...people coming from an analysts background. In my opinion this makes sense , after all they looking at data to analyze, it just happens to be sports related. At times I struggle to see what difference a sports science degree would make.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this as we approach teh end of 2013.

    1. Hmmm....this is a tricky one. I don't think I have changed my mind much based on experience. I think the key is the role that a Performance Analyst is expected to do and this should directly relate to the degree required. Rob Carroll at the Video Analyst wrote something excellent recently around what to expect when working as an analyst and can you call yourself an analyst or a camerman? The main issue I have with a Sports Science degree is that is very genericand doesn't cover a lot of areas I feel would be immensley useful as a Performance Analyst. Short Courses like the one provided by Navitas Sports seem much more focused and appropriate despite not carrying the same weight and being considerably shorter.

      I completely agree with you that many US sports teams have genuine analysts to look at the data and I do think football is slowly heading this way, many Premier League and Championship clubs have somebody looking at the information gathered by Prozone and Opta for example but whether they have any specific training in this role or that they have a natural aptitude and just fell into it is up for debate.