I recently got asked ‘what do you actually do other than watch rugby?’ Unfortunately, this was by my wife.
The life of a performance analyst differs drastically from team to team and club to club. You will find ‘performance analysts’ that just film games. For me, thats a cameraman. You will find ‘performance analysts’ that just code and you will find ‘performance analysts’ that have a deep input into how teams play and train. I prefer to be the latter but I do find that the more you ask to be involved with, the more involved you will get.
I’m currently working with Toronto Wolfpack Rugby League Club, the first Trans-Atlantic Professional Rugby League Team and it’s a dream position! Having just returned to the UK after playing our first three home games in Toronto at ‘The Den’ (Lamport Stadium), we then played South Wales Ironmen in Merthyr Tydfil and Workington. I’ll try and document a normal match day to allay the perception that all I do is watch rugby…
I’m lucky at the moment, in that it’s the off-season for Rugby Union. I perform ‘remote’ analysis services for a few different Union teams – Huddersfield RUFC (unbeaten in the league this year), Chester Academy (National champions), Yorkshire and North Age-Grades. This means that Saturday nights / Sundays and Mondays are often manic for me. As it’s the off-season, I only have Toronto to work on! Woo-hoo….
Workington is at least a 5 hour bus trip from our meeting point in Brighouse, near Halifax. So I set off at 1pm for the travel up and we get to the hotel just outside Workington at around 7pm. Prior to today, all the team details, the squad of 19 players, the staff and who will be physio and doctor have been confirmed and sent to the RFL. These need to be sent 48 hours prior to the game. Thankfully there are no amendments or injuries to the 19 man squad as this creates a whole load more work. Forms to complete, doctors signatures to acquire, people to inform, reasons of injury to assess, and red tape on red tape.
We arrive early evening and the night consists of a meal and the coaching staff going through video with individual players. Tonight is a little different to most. As the players drift off to their rooms, the Workington directors arrive to welcome us to the North West. We spend a few hours chatting about rugby, the area and both clubs and it really is nice to visit a club that treats it’s opposition so well!
It’s game day – Sunday – and after getting breakfast, it’s off to the ground with the kit man, Simon at 11am. We get there early due to the amount of gear we have to set up for the game! Simon prepares the changing room whilst I go off to survey the ground and find a suitable spot for the coaching team to sit in the stands.With super-league grounds, it’s pretty much all set up for you and it’s easy to get a video feed to use for your analysis software and replays. At a ground like Workington, it’s a new challenge every game! We’re fortunate that we have Premier Sports showing our games, so we are able to obtain a video feed from them. If we didn’t have them, we’d have to film our own games and take a feed from our one camera angle to use for all our analysis. Whilst taking Premier’s feed seems ideal, it does have it’s set backs in that we often want to look at things when they are showing replays of action. It’s a trade off that we’re willing to accept at this point in time!
Normally, we would sit on the TV gantry scaffold erected by Premier, however, they have used Workington’s very small gantry today and there’s no room for us. This means that we have to set up in the terracing of the stand and so we tape off a suitable area under the TV gantry.
It’s not ideal as it’s in the middle of a very vociferous crowd but they gave us a steward to keep us safe!
So pre-game, all the equipment is set up – video feeds connected to laptops via converters, software adjusted to accept the video. Monitoring screens set up for the replays and player details entered into our monitoring software. It’s not a complicated set up but it takes time to get going. Once everything is complete, I’ll go over and help Simon, the kit man, with anything else that may need to be done prior to the team arriving.
Today is a little different. As the team arrives, we are told that there has been a crash on the M6 – the main motorway to Workington. The road is closed and the ref and 2 workington players stuck in the traffic. The game is delayed – firstly from 3pm to 3.30pm and then as it unfolds we realise that this may take some time. Kick off is put back to 4.30, then 4.55 and eventually we kick off at 5.15pm – 2 hours and 15 minutes late! As we knew it was going to be some time, our players got back on the coach and returned the 10 minutes to the hotel as we could not sit in the stiflingly small changing rooms for that long! I remained at the ground to look after the equipment and changing rooms and got quite a bit of verbal abuse from the home supporters blaming Toronto for the late kick off even though we were definitely all there, ready for kick off at 3!!
The game goes smoothly and as we rack up the points, I have all the information to hand that is needed by the coaching staff. At any time I’m able to let them know what is going within the game from stats point of view! At half time, these are all relayed to the players and we continue through the 2nd half. We end up on the right side of a 58-12 win, keeping our perfect league record which now stands at 11 and 0. Whilst everyone else ventures off to the changing room to celebrate, I start the transcoding and breakdown of equipment. 30 to 40 minutes later we’re back on the bus and I distribute the game to the coaches and start the conversion of the game video to allow coding in the analysis software and reviewing of the game which will start on the 5 hour journey back home!
As I hit bed at 12.30am Monday morning, I’m already thinking about the stats sheets I need to put together for the following day. Mondays are always a busy day in the life of an analyst….and no, I don’t just watch rugby.