Because she had grown to love the sport, Amber Luzar had little doubt she’d be working in football once she started to pursue a career in performance analysis.
But sometimes what seems to be a direct, clear career path can make a surprising turn that leads to something completely unexpected – and wonderful.
Although she might not be living out her initial dream of working as a football analyst, Luzar’s journey has nonetheless led her to incredible experiences and one moment that she’ll cherish forever.
Luzar, the next standout we’re highlighting in our series on women in sport to celebrate Women’s History Month, has already broken through in a predominately male-dominated industry twice – first as a first-team performance analyst for Reading FC and then again when she landed an analyst role with England & Great Britain’s hockey team.
“Women are finally getting the recognition they deserve as athletes, and as support staff or coaches,” she said. “Female sports are now getting the attention, supporters and financial backing to be able to employ background staff to support them which will create more jobs and more opportunity.
“There is still a bit of a way to go, but things are only going to continue to grow as we see more female role models breaking the traditional mould. In a few generations’ time, some of our struggles will purely be stories of the past because to that generation of young women, the starting platform will look exactly the same as everyone else’s – as it absolutely should.”
Luzar’s internship role as a sports scientist for Wycombe Wanderers FC fanned her passion for performance analysis, but she decided to take a chance in 2014 and apply for a hockey analyst position close to home that would include working with England & GB men’s and women’s teams. She admits now that at the time she figured it would be a longshot.
“In all honesty, I had no intention of moving out of men’s football when I did,” reflected Luzar, who studied sports sciences as an undergrad and earned a master’s degree in human performance and biomechanics. “I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity. I applied thinking that I was probably a bit of a wild card as my background wasn’t within the sport. I wasn’t actively seeking to work within a squad of any particular gender, and with there being fewer analysis roles available within women’s sport, I probably made the assumption really early on that when I got a role it would be working with a male group of athletes.”
It turned out to be a move that in some ways changed her life. In 2016, Luzar played a key role in helping the women’s team win its first gold medal in Rio during an exciting run that included a 2-0 victory over defending champion Netherlands on a penalty shoot-out after a 3-all draw in regular time.
One of her biggest highlights on a personal level came the following year when the women’s team took bronze at the EuroHockey Nations Championship. That’s because one of the players thought so highly of Luzar’s contributions that she made a point of asking for an extra medal and put it around Luzar’s neck, and the team embraced her once she returned to the pitch from the video tower.
“In the height of the celebration, media requests and the whole host of things going on in that moment, my squad had the awareness that I wasn’t there and valued me enough to ensure they waited to celebrate that moment with me,” Luzar said. “Creating that type of relationship with people (and) helping them succeed, which in turn supports your own success, are reasons why working in elite sport is just incredible.”
Luzar’s role has evolved as she’s developed into a respected and valuable member of the hockey organization. She started as the senior women’s analyst and had the opportunity to support the squad in multiple tournaments such as the Euros and the Olympics before taking on the role of lead performance analyst in 2017. She manages the analysis for the senior men’s programme and the men’s and women’s development squads to go along with her other commitments to the senior women’s programme.
Luzar has also become the technical lead within the English Institute of Sport, which involves managing relationships with external partners to supporting other analysts in different sports to maximise their effectiveness on the ground. Alongside the managerial work and liaising with other analysts, athletes and the performance team, much of her day is spent dissecting data.
“Maintaining longitudinal databases and footage to investigate trends and answer performance questions is another big part of my role, alongside statistical reports for UK Sport,” she explained. “For the major tournaments, I could film and code between 4-6 games a day for a two-week period. After spending 10-12 hours at the ground I will then spend my evenings compiling relevant reports as well as sharing footage with athletes and coaches.”
Luzar encourages women who are interested in a career in sport to keep moving forward and never give up, no matter how many doors are shut on them and how many applications go unanswered.
“Perhaps at times it may feel like you have to work a bit harder, but in the long run that will serve you in far greater stead to really unleash your potential by pushing yourself and learning from these situations,” she added. “The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory, and nothing worth having is easy to get.”
And Luzar knows first-hand that you never know where that battle may lead.