James Bunce, Head of Sport Science, Premier League
James joined the Premier League as Head of Sport Science 12 months ago, having previously spent 8 years as Head of Athletic Development at Southampton FC. Since beginning the role,
James has designed, developed and delivered 3 national projects in collaboration with 29 clubs from the Premier League and Category 1 academies. The 3 inter-linked projects include Growth and Maturation, Injury Surveillance and Physical Testing where data has been collected from over 5000 players within the clubs. The aim of the projects is to allow the club community to work with world leading researchers to help inform practices to allow the development of world class football players.
How do you think sports technology and data has changed football in the last 10 years?
The sports science and medical fraternity is growing massively in football. Therefore the technology being used by those people is growing as well. Since the time I was at Southampton FC, many years ago, to now, the use of technology has gone through the roof.
Some of it is good, some bad, but certainly it’s being practiced a lot more. Originally we were on things like heart rate monitors and now it’s things like GPS and motion systems where you are tracking player movement. The technology is really growing in our industry and hopefully it is being found to be a benefit in the clubs as well.
What do you think is the most important aspect of any sports analytics programme?
I think the most important aspect is that if you are collecting data, then you are using data. I’m sure that is going to be said hundreds of times at any analytics debate or anything like that.
If you are collecting a piece of data, it must be able to be used for something. That doesn’t mean that you can’t innovate and try new things, but you must be understanding that that is what you are doing.
If you are just collecting data and it’s sat on your computer or an excel file, it’s pretty much pointless and you are wasting your energy and time on things that aren’t having a positive affect on the development of players.
My take home message on that is that if you are spending the time and money on the technology then make sure you are using the data that comes from it.
Do you think that data in sports should be introduced at a young age or wait until athletes have developed further?
In my current role at the Premier League and also at Southampton, it was very much focussed around youth development. So developing a young player, hopefully into an elite athlete.
I think there is a sliding scale of where you begin to look at the data and you want to put the higher end of the scale at the older age groups. However, I do believe that you should start looking at data at a young age.
Much of the work we are doing at the Premier League is about developing those young players and tracking what it takes, what traits and norms are players showing at a young age and then following through and transitioning through the system.
So I would say yes, it does need to be used at a younger age group, not to the same depth as a first team environment, but you should be tracking your players development.
You should be looking at what a player is looking like at each stage of their development.
How do you see the collection and use of sports data changing in the next 10 years?
I can’t see it slowing down to be honest with you. I think there is going to be more innovation, things are going to get better, the performance of the technology as people start to use it will improve.
It will become cleaner, the understanding of how to use it is going to get better as well as more people start to research and develop around it, which is the most important thing. It’s not only using it, it’s insuring that the validity of that data that is coming back is useful and having a positive effect.
But I think it’s an industry that is going to continue to grow massively over the coming ten years and even very soon too. As more companies begin to see that there are investment opportunities to design and develop projects and products that will be useful in certain sporting environments.
Do you think the public truly appreciate the impact that sports science and data has had on sport in the last few years?
I think the public are aware of the development of sports science in the industry, especially in football where you can see that the physicality has grown considerably since the early times of football. You can see it in the players’ movement and the way they are much more explosive and powerful in the way that they didn’t used to be.
The most important aspect of this is that good sports science is good and and bad sports science is bad. We need to ensure that what is being delivered is to a standard that will illicit development within players and to ensure they can get the best of both. I think the public are aware and it’s an industry that is going to continue to grow and the technology will grow as well and the sports science guys will be utilizing that on a day-to-day basis on the field.