Sports analytics is a fascinating but enigmatic field. These are my tips for breaking into the field that I love. Sports analytics is a fascinating but enigmatic field.
Sports analytics is a fascinating but enigmatic field. There are tremendous opportunities for analytics on the fan facing side (daily fantasy & sports gambling), but what goes on behind the doors of NBA, NFL, and MLB franchises can be a complete mystery. For someone looking to get into the field, it can be an extremely confusing place to start.
I have been working in sports analytics (Golf & Basketball) for the last 4 years, these are my recommendations on how to get into the field:
*Read profusely *— There is an absurd amount of sports analytics content on the internet. I recommend getting familiar with as much of it as you can. I also recommend exploring the following book: Mathletics by Wayne Winston. It is a great point of departure for understanding analytics in the three major sports. It may be a little dated, but you should be able to self study and expand on the analysis after finishing the book. Here are a few of my favorite places for learning about sports analytics online:
Learn the necessary skills and tools — Coding languages and visualization tools are becoming increasingly important in analytics. Excel models will soon be a remnant of the past. If you are looking to get into this field, you will need to learn to use Python or R. With these tools, you are able to process significantly more information than you would be able to with a traditional spreadsheet. You should also explore visualization tools like Power BI and Tableau. Insight is meaningless if you cannot explain it. People understand graphs and pictures better than words, so do your best to explain your findings through visuals.
Engage with Professional Sports Teams — Sports teams are always looking for new ways to find quality candidates. There are many opportunities to meet the right people and showcase your stuff at conferences (MIT Sloan, SABR). These shows also usually offer free or discounted rates to students. Hackathons are also becoming increasingly popular in the sports community. The NBA hosts one every year and the NFL has started hosting them on kaggle.com. These are great ways to get access to unique sports data and to get recognition for your work. Many teams that I have worked with hire directly from these contests. If you actually manage to win one of these, you are all but guaranteed a job.
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Disclaimer: Many points made in this post have been derived from discussions with various parties, but do not represent any individuals or organisations.
Or how I ended up analysing a Barcelona derby from 2009/10. This Messi analysis is a first step towards better understanding of the defensive side of football with respect to event data.