'Effective Analysts Must Understand The Operational Context Of The Decision-Makers They Serve'

We sat down with Bill Gerrard, Professor of Business & Sports Data Analyst


Dr. Bill Gerrard has been at the leading edge for more than two decades in the development of sports analytics within an evidence-based approach to coaching. Bill has worked in a variety of sports including football, rugby league, rugby union, and cycling. He is currently working with AZ Alkmaar in Dutch football and London Irish in Premiership rugby. He has previously worked with Saracens, Sky Sports, Celtic, Bolton Wanderers, the Scottish Premier League, Parramatta Eels, Natal Sharks, British Olympic Cycling and Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s ownership group. Bill holds the UEFA B football coaching licence. He has acted as an expert witness in several sports legal cases. Bill is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, Trinity College, Cambridge and the University of York, and is currently Professor of Business and Sports Analytics at Leeds University Business School.

Ahead of his presentation at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit this March 22, we sat down with Bill to talk all things sports analytics across multiple sports.

What, in your view, have been the key developments in sports analytics in the past few years?

The key development has been the expansion of the use of sports analytics beyond player recruitment to encompass a whole range of coaching applications as part of the general move towards evidence-based coaching. In this respect the growing interest in the analysis of spatial data is potentially very important.

Bill Gerrard has worked with Dutch football club AZ Alkmaar for two and a half years

How important do you think collaboration between clubs and technology companies is when developing new products?

It’s crucial in much the same way as collaboration between coaches and analysts is required to produce relevant data analytics. It is difficult to create real user-value with the meaningful involvement of users in the developmental process.

What do you think is the most important aspect of any sports analytics program?

Real-world experience. Data analytics is much more than just applied statistics. Effective analysts must understand the operational context of the decision-makers they serve. Data analytics, after all, is data analysis with real-world purpose.

What are the areas in which you see analytics already having the greatest impact?

Sports analytics has had its greatest impact in player recruitment. It’s that application which Moneyball highlighted. Few elite teams these days do not include player performance data as an important source of evidence alongside scouting reports and video analysis in identifying and rating potential recruits.

Watch: Bill's presentation at last year's Sports Analytics Innovation Summit

Does sports analytics have limits on how impactful it can be within a club or organization? Will we reach a saturation point?

Every day throws up another set of decisions for coaches and most of those decisions could benefit from an analytics input alongside other inputs and the expertise and experience of the coaches. There isn’t a saturation point as such but analytics has its limitations. Data is always limited. Certain key aspects of a decision may not be amenable to formal analysis. And that must be recognised. Just because it can be measured doesn’t mean that it is necessarily important to a particular decision.

What can the audience expect from your presentation at the summit?

Hopefully a useful insight based on my experience of working with coaches in a number of sports into the potential benefits from embracing a more thorough-going evidence-based to coaching that encompasses a more extensive use of data analytics.

You can hear more from Bill, along with other industry-leading sports analytics professionals at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit, this March 22 in London. To see the full schedule, click here.

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