Analytics Thinkpiece;

I could I thought of a more imaginative title, but sometimes simplicity is key. I think this was a theme reflected recently when I came up with and delivered a ‘Sports* Analytics 101 (*mainly football)” presentation to my colleagues at the Information Lab’s Data School. I skimmed over some interesting things, and dwelled on some of the more laboured points – But I got some great feedback from my colleagues, and I hope they took on board something they didn’t know before.

Similarly, analytics bloggers, writers and those who are just putting content out there get feedback and help understand things that others may not have known before. With the subject growing and key developments being made in the field, I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts for a few weeks now; namely since the anti-analytics pieces in national press and online as well as Marcotti’s appearance on the excellent Analytics FC pod.

I feel inclined to mention Mark Thompson’s (@ETNAR_ukSensible Stats twitter here – I think this is a great idea, and the crux of my two-part point of this piece. For me, these are fairly salient within the current state of analytics;

First, that the statistics used should be more accessible and easily understandable – explaining jargon, applying use cases for metrics and ideas and simply lowering the barriers to entry would perhaps make wider football fans more engaging towards such developments in this area. I feel that North Americans are more welcoming of such an approach (this is relatively speculative) but this is given the prevalence of statistics within sports such as baseball, NFL and NBA. This is a point which has been discussed before, and there are some amongst the content producers who are doing their best to make sure this is happening.

Second, is that as many people as possible should look to simply get data, use the data and just play with it.

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I echo the tweets above; the best place to start is (for me anyway) where I started one July in 2013 – On Statsbomb. I feel like I was one of the first to follow the work that Colin, Ben & Ted were doing and it was simply excellent to watch it roll, and roll and roll into the hub it has become now. Even with TK at FCM/Brentford, James Yorke has done an excellent job in recruiting good talent who contribute regularly and with very good quality stuff – And it’s still accessible & well explained.

Tom Worville has set up Fanalytics Blogs which auto-tweets selected blogs by people, which gives you the most up to date blogs out there, which is a great resource to keep up to date with readings and such.

But what if you want to get involved?


Ben Torvaney has written this post (which features my colleague Chris Love‘s work on BBC Text Commentary web scraping) on where to get data from when you don’t have the opportunity or cash for Opta data here

The too-long didn’t-read of it is, start with a simple copy and paste, clean it up a little and start playing. My personal holy grail, and a post I still refer people back to even today? Neil Charles‘ blog on doing football analysis in Tableau here – When this came out in February, it was the first time I downloaded and used Tableau. Today, 7 months later, it is the bread and butter of my job and I use it almost every day.


But if that ain’t enough, and you just want a dataset to go and play with? Have a proper look at Ben’s blog again – there are some really good links there and also (as the tweet above states) Paul Riley has a public expected goals Tableau dashboard and the data freely available to use, and Footy in the Clouds and Objective Footy and ChelseaStats are folks who have their data available to play with on their website.

In my eyes, there are those people who are doing the pioneering work within the space, the people who follow, read, critique and do their best to get involved and those who follow out of interest. For me, there’s a real danger of those who are doing the cutting edge public stuff to run off into the distance while the rest of us are trying to gauge the ELOs from our ExpG’s. Which brings me back, again to the crux of this article – that analytics should be made more accessible and bloggers should do their best to have some level of accessibility (though it’s super hard not to immerse yourself in jargon sometimes) and that aspiring people who see what the key members are doing and like it? They should get involved.

Take your favourite team, ask a question and see if the data confirms it – then write about it. Then publish it. Even tag a few people in who you want to read it, and get the exposure you need. The rest will follow, and if you enjoy it, you’ll inevitably want to get better and do more stuff.

With today’s announcement about Analytics FC developments & the growing interest in the field, there’s not been a better time to set up your Blogger or WordPress account and get writing!

NB; there are some amazing people to follow on Twitter, and rather than listing them all and giving them the acknowledgement they deserve, I’m simply going to plug my Twitter list (I also recommend using Tweetdeck – so good)


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