She may have already conquered difficult challenges early in her career, but nothing could prepare Natalie Doyle for what she’s facing next.
After breaking through as a performance analyst in a male-dominated industry with the Surrey County Cricket Club and having to overcome being mistaken for the club’s masseuse, Doyle is about to tackle one of the toughest trials for a woman working in sport.
“I am on maternity leave, so I am yet to face the balances of being a mum and an analyst,” she said. “I did find it slightly daunting going on maternity leave and stopping working – being an analyst has been a huge part of my identity and I’ve worked so hard to get in the role I am currently in.
“I think supporting a professional sports team with the crazy weird hours as well as making sure you have time for home life will be tough. It’s a bit of an unknown territory, but I have a few role models – Emilie Burgess and Emma Harris who I worked with at Cricket Tasmania – so I know it’s possible.”
On a Surrey club that values both tracking and data analysis, Doyle has performed her role of coding, dissecting and cataloging as many as 600 deliveries in a typical day of cricket at a championship level. The data she analysed was key in helping the coaching staff implement informed strategies during Surrey’s 2018 run that led to their first County Championship title since ’02.
Now a new mum, Doyle is the final trailblazer we’re highlighting during our series on women in sport to celebrate Women’s History Month. She expressed that women are still struggling in cricket when it comes to equality – particularly in the coaching rankings.
“There are still many stereotypes when it comes to coaching positions,” she said. “Julia Price was the first female coach to ever be involved in BBL cricket this year with the Brisbane Heat, (and) the BBL is in its ninth year. It will be great to see more women around sport, but I wouldn’t want us to get roles to balance up the numbers. I want us to get roles because we are good enough. Some may see it differently.”
Doyle took the first step toward a less than ordinary career path when she studied sports science at the University of Bath in England. She did a placement that landed her with an analysis agency operating in the North East of England, and relished an opportunity to support the Durham County Cricket Club. Durham ended up winning the 2013 County Championship despite being tipped to be relegated at one point.
“When I started working in cricket on my placement, Gemma Broad was the England analyst. It made me realise that I could definitely do this as a job even if I was sat in a room full of men,” Doyle reflected. “I think performance analysis is one of the youngest fields in the sporting world and we have seen such a rapid expansion in the past few years that there will be more and more opportunities for analysts – men and women.”
Doyle’s role in the North East also provided an opportunity to work alongside some women’s teams at the university level as well as Team Northumbria of the Netball Superleague. Even though it wasn’t cricket, her experience with Northumbria had a profound impact on her career as she learnt from supporting head coach and ex-England Roses manager Tracey Neville.
She then caught on with Cricket Tasmania, working the men’s and women’s programs playing State and Big Bash Cricket. There, Doyle had the opportunity to support Price, the previously mentioned BBL pioneer, as well as the Hobart Hurricanes, who reached the semi-finals in the WBBL’s inaugural season.
“I think year on year more women are working in sport, (which is) normalising people’s perceptions,” Doyle said. “More women’s sport is featuring on TV, so that means young and old are seeing women playing sport at a high level. I don’t think it’s ever been a problem in those Olympic sports, it’s the traditionally male team sports such as football, cricket and rugby where things are starting to shift.”
Doyle is entering her fourth season in her current role at Surrey, where her responsibilities can include coding games, setting up cameras, supporting practises, creating spreadsheets, providing opposition analysis and even fixing the office printer. She works with not only the coaches to ensure they have everything they need, but also the players to support their ability to learn from the data.
“There can be a perception of ‘how can a woman know anything about cricket?’ But I have never felt that from a coach or player I have worked with,” Doyle said. “I think that’s more from the public, often people assume I am the sports masseuse or physio – not the analyst.”
Doyle insists she never thought about gender when pursuing her career and believes that women looking to work in even a traditionally male-dominated sport should go for it, work hard, get stuck in and opportunities will present themselves.
“I think it’s an amazing time,” she added. “Look at the support the women’s football World Cup had last year. When working in Australia, the development of professionalising women’s sport was amazing with the introduction of WAFL and WBBL. The pathway for girls is amazing – they can aim for the top and be able to do it as a full-time job.”
And maybe even be a mum at the same time.