Affecting decision making through football insights with Tom Goodall
Some of the most important decisions affecting football games are made before the match. Tom Goodall has been involved in this process, helping coaches and teams such as Swansea AFC and Derby County, make the best decisions through data and insights.
We'd like to know what the role of a technical analyst involves.
For me, it's a hybrid role. Helping make sense of performance data, to allow the coaches to make better informed decisions, also being able to link the data to the game plan and playing philosophy (and vice versa).
When did you decide to become a football analyst?
Great question. I suppose it was whilst I was at university studying sport science - I took part in the Prozone training courses at the time, and that's what gave me the taste for it. I was then lucky enough to get a placement with them, and the rest is history.
You mentioned performance data earlier, can you give us examples of football actions captured under these data?
In terms of technical data, that's most commonly 'event data', where every touch of the ball essentially has it's own row of data containing relevant information about that specific touch (what was the event, where was it on the pitch etc) and finally Tracking data, where every player and the ball is tracked multiple times per second. This has previously been an untapped area for most, however the top clubs are now starting to reap the rewards of using this not for physical data, but for tactical insights.
Sounds like a lot of data. What skills from school and the "Prozone days" helped you in handling these data?
Back then it was very much working from one platform, and using an 'out of the box' solution. The beauty of using raw data is that you can be very bespoke with regards to making the data relevant to your club.
What tools do you favour now, and why?
From a data perspective, I personally use Tableau heavily. It's really flexible and allows me to deliver clear insights from large amounts of data. To link the video and data together, @SbgSports is the market leader and a really intuitive tool for all analysts.
What's the typical process for discovering insights?
Initially I'll go through dashboards looking at our next opponents (or ourselves), to look for trends, strengths/weaknesses. Sometimes a coach/analyst will have seen something and we can check the video against the data - that's key, being able to back one up with the other.
What do you do when insights are hard to come by or coaches resist findings from data?
Some teams will have a clear style of play, and the data will show that clearly (e.g. a direct team). If there aren't clear insights at a team level, you can go a step further and look at a player level (which players are frequently involved in their dangerous possessions etc)
As for coaches, I've been quite lucky really and most staff I've worked with have been really receptive. As long as you can communicate the insights in a way they can understand and potentially act upon.
You have experience setting up data teams in football clubs, can you walk us through how you tend to go about it, and the biggest challenges you've faced?
In my last 2 roles, I've been brought in to help implement a data culture within the performance departments. I think a big thing that goes unnoticed is the 'backend' work, being able to house data in a database is hugely important, as is the skillset to do that.
I've been lucky to have great support in that area, especially at Swansea. With regards to the front facing work, it's important to drip feed things into the coaching staff that they can understand, whilst not being overwhelmed from the start.
What will you advice anyone looking to go into technical analysis to learn, how would you go about it if you started all over again?
Personally, I don't think I'd change anything if I started again! In terms of advice - find your niche, is it recruitment, is it opposition analysis? Learn the relevant tools, but always make sure your work can be applied to a real world (football) scenario.
Do you have a preferred niche?
Can you give us real scenarios where insights affected decisions?
I've predominantly worked on team performance/opposition analysis, whilst also providing support for physical performance/medical/recruitment departments - however I think data can have the most impact on Talent ID and Recruitment.
Can you give us your all-time five aside in closing?
Me, Peter Crouch, Jimmy Bullard, Tony Adams and Gazza! Useful side (if they carry me), and decent company at the pub after!
Want to learn technical analysis? Tom launched a new course that will take you through working with data and presenting insights using Tableau. Join here