How to get started in data and the football industry

I’m starting to get messages regularly asking about starting in data analysis, what software I use for data visuals, and how to get a job in the football industry. So I thought I would write an article on it.

Just a disclaimer that I am not an expert, there are far more qualified people out there to help you with your journey. But I thought I’d share what knowledge I have learnt along the way so far.

Broad Horizons

There are a lot of people out there who want a job in football, but don’t actually know what it is they want to do. This is fine, especially for younger people who are still studying. I know so many people who did sports degrees and didn’t know what they wanted to do after them.

Having broader horizons and experiences can only be a good thing. I was fortunate enough to start coaching at the age of 16, and subsequently complete my coaching qualifications. I also studied a broad Sports Coaching degree which covered a multitude of areas including: practical coaching, performance analysis, psychology, paediatric physiology and many others.

You’ll notice more on job adverts now that football clubs see coaching qualifications or backgrounds as very desirable. If you’re able to have an appreciation and understanding of the technical, tactical, physical and psychological demands of the game, you’re only going to be a better analyst.

My point is, whilst clubs do want people with experience — it’s not a deal-breaker. If you can use and relate your experience, be-it from the football or sports industry, or even from a different industry, you will be off to a great start. Specifically in analysis, we’re seeing more people with non-sporting backgrounds move into the industry due to their technical skills, but also their transferrable skills. Different experiences are a massive bonus.

Key takeaway: If possible, get some experience in coaching, if that is completing your Level 1 or 2 qualifications, that would be ideal. If not, volunteering with a local side to begin to understand the coaching side of the game. The knowledge gained from coaching is hugely beneficial.

Also on a side note: regardless of what industry you are hoping to secure a job in, companies want applicants with soft skills, growth mindset and self-awareness.

Data, data, data — where to start

Well, starting with data all depends on what you’re wanting to do and look at. If you’re wanting to create some data visuals or analysis using player or team data(shots, aerial duels, dribbles, interceptions ect) then you have a few options.

FBref — This website has all the event data you could need for the top five major European leagues. It’s completely free, and uses data from Statsbomb, which is great for data reliability.

Wyscout — If you’re wanting data form a massive pool of leagues, Wyscout is worth the investment. It’s approx £210 for the year, and includes all EFL Leagues, National League, Belgian First division and many more. Admittedly, the data is not as reliable as Statsbomb or OPTA. But given it covers a vast amount of leagues, and you get 70mins of video per month, it’s certainly value for money. I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of my work without Wyscout.

There are other free sources of data as well: OPTA’s interactive season dashboards, whoscored, soccerstats and many more.

My advice would be if you’re just starting and don’t know whether to invest in Wyscout, have a play with the free sources of data, sign up for a trial on Wyscout and take it from there.

If you’re wanting event level data such as shot and tackle locations using X, Y coordinates, again there are some different options. Edd Webester has put together an unbelievable resource, I’d recommend going through his data sources as it’s far more comprehensive that I could ever explain myself.

Key takeaway: Go through Edd Webster’s Repository (link above). It’s a great resource and starting point for all things data. We’ll refer back to this when we talk about different software and tutorials.

Software, programs and creating data visuals

This will vary depending again on what it is you’re wanting to do, and also your experience of using different programs. I was blown away when I first started as to how people made their data visuals. I just assumed everyone was using excel!

Tableau Public

If you’re just starting out then Tableau Public is your best friend. It’s easy to use, there are plenty of tutorials and it’s quite intuitive. You can quickly get to grips with creating scatter plots and bar charts along with a host of other things.

I’d highly recommend Ninad Barbadikar tableau tunnel series, it consists of very easy to follow tutorials to create some great data visuals.

There are others who have put out some great work, again these are cited in Edd Webster’s repository.

Coding — Python and R

I’m still very much an amateur in the world of coding. I personally use Python, but there isn’t much of a difference between that and R. They’re both coding languages that you can use to create data visuals.

I personally found McKay Johns’ youtube tutorials incredibly helpful when starting with Python.

There are others who have put out some excellent tutorials and guides for Python and R. So once again I will link you with Edd Webster’s repository.

Portfolio, feedback and connections

Twitter is a brilliant. I’ve largely only got great things to say about the platform. It’s a great place to share your thoughts, analysis and insight.

If you’re regularly sharing your work on the platform, it acts as a portfolio. It also tracks your growth and development as you continue to learn more and improve your ability.

Twitter also provides a platform to follow and interact with industry experts, knowledgeable people and the general football fans. If you’re regularly engaging in conversation and creating these connections, you can get some really valuable feedback and ideas about what’s great about your work, and where you can improve.

The football analytics community on twitter are also incredibly helpful. If you ever need help, or don’t understand anything there is normally always someone who will be able to help or share some advice. I personally don’t think I would know half as much as I do now without the insight, help and guidance from others.

You also never know who is looking at your work on twitter, I have had loads of potential opportunities and conversations about working in football. These have all come from people seeing or sharing my work on twitter. If you put out regular, quality content, people will see you and you will get opportunities.

In regards to opportunities, in my view, the best place to see potential jobs is on twitter. If you follow the right people they will normally be circulated. Specifically though, Training Ground Guru and Josb4Football are the best accounts to follow for job adverts.

Key takeaway: I’d highly recommend joining the football in numbers discord server. There are loads of chats for discussions around analysis, sharing your work and dedicated channels to ask for help with tableau, python and R. It’s a must join. There is also a chat specifically for people to shared live job adverts in football.

Find your niche

As with most things in life, you need to find your own niche to be successful. The reality is there are loads of people out there sharing some excellent work and analysis, so what separates you from everyone else?

Now I can’t tell you what your niche is. Find something you enjoy, and go from there. My twitter page started looking specifically at Nottingham Forest, the team I support — but I’ve branched out into hopefully being an interesting EFL account.

Whatever you do make sure you enjoy it. If you’re going to use your free time outside of work, university or college, enjoy it. If you don’t, what is the point in doing it?

Key takeaway: Find your niche and run with it. It might be a twitter account on your local team, it might be being an U23s scouting account, just please make sure it is something you enjoy if you’re investing a lot of your personal time into it.

It’s not the be all

I personally feel the idea of working in football can sometimes be better than reality. Working with likeminded individuals, in an industry you love sounds great, and it is for a lot of people. But the truth is you normally have to work a lot of hours in football, typically the pay isn’t the best unless you’re in a higher or more senior role and as a result your work-life balance could suffer. This isn’t to put anyone off wanting to work in football, it’s just the reality of it sometimes.

My advice would be, don’t rush into a role or an opportunity just because its the first, or one of a few which have come up. Make sure it is the right opportunity for you. Will you be supported by the people you’re working for/with? Are you going to learn and develop in the role? Are you going to be able to maintain a good work-life balance? Most importantly, are you going to enjoy the role?

Working in football seems like the job of all jobs, but it’s not the be all and end all. I’ll go back to what I said earlier, find something you enjoy doing, whatever that may be.

Key takeaway: Working in football can be great, but it can sometimes be hard and challenging. Whatever you do, before accepting any opportunity, make sure it is right for you, and that you’re going to be able to get what you want from it.

Hopefully if you’ve got this far you have found this piece somewhat insightful. I hope this will be able to help you in what it is you’re trying to achieve.

If you have any questions on the back of this feel free to drop me a message on twitter.

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