Number crunchers are able to cast their net far and wide
An analyst’s scientific skills are transferable across a variety of sporting disciplines
Dr Patricia Mulcahy opened the International Society of Performance Analysis of Sport’s (ISPAS) 6th International Workshop at IT Carlow. Photo: inpho
The president of Institute of Technology Carlow, Dr Patricia Mulcahy, confirmed yesterday that IT Carlow is currently in the process of securing planning permission for the development of a new 30-acre South Sports Campus. She was opening the International Society of Performance Analysis of Sport’s (ISPAS) 6th International Workshop, the first to be held in Ireland.
Dr Mulcahy acknowledged the work of those who had been involved in setting up the first Masters in sports performance analysis in Ireland, now in its second year at IT Carlow. The list included Brett Igoe, former Leinster and Scotland analyst, and Dr Mike Hughes, who is charged with scheduling this week’s event.
“So, which Mike Hughes?” a sports academic had asked this column on a recent phone call to briefly discuss the upcoming event.
There are two, you see.
The one being thanked was the father, literally and perhaps figuratively, founder of both ISPAS and the International Journal of Performance Analysis of Sport. The son (to whom, in the interests of clarity, we will refer as Michael) is a performance analyst with the RFU and Eddie Jones’s Grand Slam-winning team. Michael has performed a similar role for the British and Irish Lions, as well as with British cycling previously for four years.
Analysis of career trajectories can have value both in terms of talent identification and allocation of training resources. To that end, IT Carlow student Ciarán Toner is tracking swimming success from European Junior championships to Olympic level.
Looking at 50m-1500m freestyle events from 2001 to 2012, Toner’s study show that “25 per cent of European Junior finalists transition to the Olympics, with 45 per cent of medallists making this transition”.
Former Saracens analyst Bill Gerrard, now consulting for Dutch football club AZ Alkmaar, spoke about decision science and player rating systems in team sports.
More complex is not always better, Gerrard told the 80 attendees. Beyond football, rugby union and rugby league, in 2015 Gerrard was brought in by the English Institute of Sport (EIS) to look at cycling.
Chris White, head of performance analysis at the EIS, said Gerrard analysed the impact of scoring system changes to the Omnium (an Olympic multi-race cycling event) in order to help accelerate EIS’s learning. This allowed EIS to validate which of those events were potentially more valuable, which could in turn impact potential team selection.
Speaking to various people at the event, the ability to apply performance analysis to various sports is generally viewed as a strength of the discipline, particularly when it comes to gaining employment.
It’s regarded as easier to apply already learned structures and skills to a new sporting field rather than somebody within that sport learning from scratch the analytical, technical and statistical skills that are required for the job.
But it is not always the case. White said that sometimes the most important factor might be to have somebody who might not be the very best analyst but who is gifted at creating a relationship with a coach.
No matter how much preparation is done to optimise processes and technology in the years leading up to an Olympic Games, sometimes things just get in the way. White explained that at a hockey tournament there will usually be a raised gantry mounted at one end of the field where the various analysts will video the matches.
Excellence can result from a cluster effect. New course – and hopefully a new sports campus. With a multitude of sports, both professional and amateur, on this small island, let’s see if Ireland can develop as a performance analysis breeding ground.