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Tips for a Successful Career in Sports Analytics

One of the reasons the “Ted Lasso” character Nathan is so compelling is that Nathans really do happen in sports. From the pitch to the front office, few businesses are true meritocracies – but sports comes close.

Why? Because in the professional athletics space, winning and losing are so clearly defined and prized. No team owner wants the second-best available head coach. No manager wants to give extra playing time to the next-best centerfielder. In “Ted Lasso,” Nathan’s undeniable talent is noticed by a sharp-eyed, imaginative head coach who – let’s face it – can’t afford not to leverage it.

That’s something to keep in mind for those interested in pursuing a career in sports analytics. And it’s doubly true for fields such as next-level sports performance tracking, because this burgeoning industry will need – and recognize – talent. Here are a few suggestions for making it happen:

Stay nimble and open-minded. Don’t assume your background doesn’t fit. The field is developing and growing pulling in skills from mathematics, data technology, optics technology, psychology, physiology and many more areas. Your own research can reveal where you fit in. At the same time, be patient in reaching for the brass ring. Search for relevant internships with sports teams and sports-tech companies. The learning curve might be steep, but it could pay huge dividends. Proof: Pro sports organizations are filled with front-office executives who started out as interns.

Keep up with the technology and trends. As you read and research, you’ll start recognizing phrases and names – key topics and acknowledged experts in business and academia. Set Google alerts for them. Find relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups – even those with only tangential relevance, because a growing field like sports analytics will eventually make those groups fully relevant.

Develop an area of expertise. Demonstrable and self-developed proficiency is valuable in itself to a sports property, but it also indicates that you’re a learner – crucial in a rapidly changing field. Study, both formally or informally, areas that pertain to your preferred niche. Injury prevention, performance measurement, scouting, physical recovery, motion capture, front- or back-end web development – these are a few of the near-countless skills that figure to be relevant to sports analytics.

Identify holes in the athletic space. Which areas aren't currently being explored or exploited? Consider: How might LiDAR be used to assess the overall health of an organization’s employees, helping keep company insurance costs down? Bring those ideas to your cover letter and the interview.

In sports, results matter. Talent rises to the top. Hard work pays off. Only eight times in British football history has a team outside the First Tier won the FA Cup. But it happens. On the last occasion, in 1980, when West Ham won it all, a young American named Mike Piazza was 11 years old. Eight years later, as a favor to his father, the Los Angeles Dodgers took him in the 62nd round of the Major League Baseball draft – after more than 1,300 players had been selected. Piazza became the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history and is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

West Ham. Piazza. Nathan. They are proof that in sports, the best team, the best player and, yes, the most talented and hard-working aspiring analytics experts, get ahead.

Raf Keustermans

Raf Keustermans is the CEO of Sportlight Technology, a fast-growing sports tech startup building the next-generation athlete tracking technology platform using LiDAR and AI. Raf is an experienced entrepreneur, he was previously co-founder and CEO of mobile games startup Plumbee which was acquired by Sony’s GSN Games. Prior to that Raf worked as an executive for companies in gaming, betting and advertising, including Electronic Arts, Kindred Group and BBDO.

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