Guest Blog Post by Hannah Thomas, aspiring Performance Analyst.
This time a year ago I worked as a Beauty Merchandiser at House of Fraser HQ. I was good at my job and had a lot of love for my beautiful, beauty obsessed colleagues – but that aside I was pretty disillusioned with the retail industry and this time a year ago I handed in my notice and said farewell to the comfortable life of merchandising to start a career as a Performance Analyst within sport. I started a Masters, plunging myself back into the world of writing essays when the most I had been used to was the occasional long(ish) email.
I swapped the world of Beauty for a job within a successful football club. Now, I am aware this sounds like a ridiculous change but my job within retail was incredibly analytical – using large sets of data to monitor and improve performance – so while it was a big change there was a lot that was also transferable. My intention was never to write about my experiences. I am well aware that I am not even a year into the world of PA and that there are many other people out there who are more qualified than I am to talk about this subject. But in a rapidly growing industry there are a few bits and pieces that I have experienced and some useful thoughts that I wish someone had been there to tell me in my early days of panicking about whether this career was right for me.
Number One: Experiences outside of sport are applicable. And they are important.
When I left my job at House of Fraser I had zero sport experience on my CV and couldn’t get an interview for internships anywhere. Subsequently, I gained work experience doing basic filming for a non-league club and suddenly I was being considered for internships and was offered one at a successful Category 2 football Academy. This has always irritated me slightly. At House of Fraser I not only learnt how to effectively work with analytical data but I also learnt other important skills such as how to manage people, how to negotiate, how to work under pressure and how to communicate effectively to different audiences. All of these skills are routinely used on person specifications for Performance Analyst roles. I feel very strongly that my success in my internship was due more to my previous experiences outside of sport than within it. I hope when I get to the stage of leading my own performance analysis team that I will be more open to employing candidates whose experiences are outside of the general Sports Science route.
Number Two: You don’t need to have professional experience of playing the sport you work in.
In hindsight I spent a lot of time over the last year not feeling able to express my views as confidently as I would like because I had not kicked a football professionally or otherwise in my life – my sport was always tennis. After careful reflection this was ridiculous. Performance Analysts are not coaches and the two should not be confused. Before I started my MsC I read the Numbers Game, which suggests that ‘successful players are more likely to hark back to the methods that made their careers glorious, rather than adapting and innovating’. I wish I had remembered this more over the last year and understood that my opinion was still valuable. It might take a little bit longer to get your head around techniques/tactics but I wish I had not spent so long worrying about whether my opinion was as valid as the next guys because I had never kicked a football. Your opinion is always valid and should be counted, regardless of your playing experience.
Number Three: Academies rule.
They actually do. I’ve worked with junior players across tennis and football and both have been amazing experiences. I never set out to work within an Academy – I had this notion that Arsenal first team were obviously going to come calling. However, I can honestly say that working within an Academy setting was the best introduction to Performance Analysis for me. Firstly, I had a great manager. He was patient, an excellent teacher, understood my strengths and weaknesses from the beginning and helped me to develop my skills to fulfil my personal and professional objectives for the year. Aside from his crazy no-wheat diet and obsession with Crossfit he was pretty perfect in terms of the type of manager you want from your first real job in sport. I honestly believe that if I had gone into a first team environment I would not have received the same development as I did in an Academy. Secondly, aside from the fact that I don’t really understand their lingo (I think the fact I just said lingo shows I’m not down with the kids anymore) working with young players and aiding their development is incredibly worthwhile. I worked closely with the really little ones in introducing them to the concept of PA and how it can aid their development. Aside from the occasional child who ‘just wants to go outside and play football’ I think the majority found it interesting and worthwhile. Maybe they were just humouring me but hopefully not.
Number Four: Don’t settle for a role that is less than you are worth.
This, in my view, is the most important thing that I wish I had been told. A career in Performance Analysis is never going to make you a millionaire. You do it for the love of the job. But it is ok to turn down roles if they are not right for you. Just because a role is within sport does not mean you should automatically feel lucky to have it – you should only feel lucky to have it if it gives you the ability to tick off your professional and personal objectives for your career of choice. Don’t settle for less than you are worth. You need to have a life outside of work, whether that is within sport or without, and therefore it is important that the role you take, whether at internship or full-time job level is the right one. Sport is no different to other industries in that you can turn down roles or opportunities if you feel they exploit you.
After a year of working within football and a summer of working with the Lawn Tennis Association over grass-court season I have now finished my MsC and looking for my next full-time role within sport. I’m hoping I will remind myself of these four pieces of advice during any moments of future fleeting panic and hopefully they can help other newbies to Performance Analysis.