For the past two years, proposals authored by Vignesh Jayanth have been selected for presentation at Stats Perform’s annual Pro Forum.
Both his submissions were selected in club-led categories, comprising research questions put forward by leading practitioners working at FC Nordsjælland and Atlanta United respectively. Five months after presenting at this year’s event, he was recruited by Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais as a data scientist.
Next year he will be involved with the Forum again in a mentoring capacity, supporting one of the chosen presenters by offering help and advice as they develop their project and prepare their final presentation.
As 2022’s submission deadline approaches, Stats Perform caught up with Vignesh for a Q&A to discuss his experiences of presenting at the event and ask if he had any advice for practitioners interested in submitting a proposal.
When did you first become aware of the Pro Forum?
VJ: It was probably between six and twelve months before my first presentation in 2020. I became aware of the Forum through social media, where I came across links to watch back presentations from previous years. After watching those I felt the event could offer me an opportunity and I really wanted to get the chance to present.
When you submitted a proposal for the first time, what were your main motivations for doing so?
VJ: My main motivation was to learn and potentially deliver something that could be useful to the industry, as well as to exchange ideas with like-minded people.
I love talking about football and finding techniques to break down the game. As you see from many of Thomas Tuchel’s post-match interviews, where he references facts such as how his team won the majority of aerial duels, or the most first and second balls, I believe that quantitative analysis can really supplement qualitative feedback collated from post-match video, especially now given the level of event and tracking data available to clubs.
For each presentation you worked closely with a club mentor. What impact did working with them have on your personal development as a data scientist?
VJ: Staff working in the industry can really help you to identify how your insights can be made actionable for practitioners who wish to use them.
The people I worked with at Nordsjælland and Atlanta were very supportive in providing time to explain how I could prepare my presentations and to achieve a larger buy-in from the audience. It was definitely a collaborative effort on both occasions.
This was particularly the case at my first Forum. I am happy to admit that at the time, my technical skillset was not fully up-to-speed and I really learned a lot about how to improve. But it shows that if you don’t possess a complete technical skillset, but are in possession of good ideas, there are practitioners who can be of great help to you as you carry out your work, especially if they are proficient with big data tools. Their expertise can also be supplemented by the great array of supporting resources which are now available to the community online.
On the flip side, if you have awesome technical ability, your club mentors can help guide you to use your technical skillset effectively, so rest assured if your work is chosen at the Forum next year you are in very safe hands.
What was the experience like of presenting your projects to an audience of club delegates?
VJ: I think it is a great experience to present at any public forum, but it is even better when you can present research that is useful and about something you love. Essentially that’s what the Pro Forum is all about – it is an opportunity for you to influence and challenge thought-processes or existing workflows that analysts use at clubs.
That is something that I was intending to do, and hopefully did to some level. It is also important to acknowledge the influence of the other outstanding speakers who also take part, as their ideas help you develop your knowledge too.
Overall, it provides great exposure for you to talk in front of a large audience, present findings and receive feedback for future projects. In fact, when I think about it, this is exactly the same thing I do now on a weekly basis at my club, presenting to stakeholders such as the Sporting Director, Chief Scout and on occasion, the First Team Manager.
What was the industry response to each of your presentations?
VJ: When I first presented, I received a combination of good and constructive feedback on what I could improve on. This feedback is still relevant today when I am engaged in multiple research questions on a day-to-day basis.
Talking specifically about the industry response, it definitely did result in further engagement and networking, however I wouldn’t say that the Forum is exclusively about securing further engagement or new opportunities. What I will say is these conversations can go a long way to improving one’s personal development in terms of conducting better research, because these research projects, you need to remember, are novel when they are presented to the industry. These discussions can help you improve your processes and drive actionable insights, which can help teams.
What impact do you think presenting had on your career?
VJ: The experience it is all about personal development. Working with the data initially can be a learning process and it is inevitable that you will have challenges with the data to overcome in order to achieve the desired outcomes.
One good thing about both my club-led categories was that they were directly linked to a novel challenge relevant to a performance department. Therefore you can start to create a mind map of the variables required for these specific outcomes and to learn how to present them to practitioners.
The recommendations that Stats Perform provide to presenters are also really valuable too. For example, their suggestion of including a takeaways slide helps to capture the attention of your audience at the beginning of a presentation and is something I still use on a day-to-day basis. This means starting with the outcome or impact of your research topic and then working backwards – explaining the Why, then the How. Keeping your insights simple and digestible is an important takeaway too.
Do you think your involvement with the event helped you secure the role you currently hold today at Stade Rennais?
VJ: I would say it kickstarted my interest and know-how in terms of working with specific datasets (event data and tracking data). It also helped me showcase my work in a public space where individuals from the industry were involved. That indirectly helps you to connect with folks and speak to them about mutual interests and key football topics.
I believe there is a pathway to every role. If one can keep improving, simplify complex topics and have a plan in mind, a role within the industry is achievable. Ultimately, if you can provide simple recommendations to practitioners, no matter how complex the task may be, it’ll stand you in good stead.
Finally, if you were going to give one bit of advice to anyone considering a submission for the 2022 Pro Forum, what would it be?
VJ: Keep things simple. The idea is for everyone to understand what you’ve done and how your idea can be used in the industry.
Start with a usable outcome in mind, then work backwards towards achieving it. Once you have a specific interest or outcome, get your hands on the sample tracking or event data and start working with it – and give yourself ample time to submit your proposal.
I would also recommend including imagery, if possible, within your proposal, so your main text can outline the methodology and the imagery can illustrate the potential outcomes.
Finally, always provide examples of a certain outcome. If you are working with data which hasn’t been anonymised (event data), provide examples of top x%/ median x% of a certain statistic. If it must remain anonymous (tracking data) I would recommend providing a mini case study stating comparisons, featuring two or more players/teams/ phases of play and so on.
The deadline for Pro Forum submissions is Monday 29th November.
Click here for full submission information, including details of each proposal category, the judging criteria and data samples available.