"The future of the adding value of data in football looks bright. Event & tracking will form a kind of hybrid that will give the necessary context that now sometimes still misses."
Jan Van Haaren is the football data scientist of the Belgian champion Club Brugge. This season was his first season at the Belgian club, after joining from Sci-Sports. A year where much work has been invested in creating a data-driven workflow at Club Brugge.
Working as a Data Scientist in professional football
The role of a data scientist in a professional football club is different, compared to a video or performance analyst. The data scientist is not part of the technical staff but is still in close contact with them, how does that work?
"My role is more focused on automating workflows and making sure the coaches have everything they need to communicate certain visuals or videos to the players. But also to extract relevant insights or information from data that I know the club thinks is interesting. This can be about our performance or when preparing for the next opponent."
The fact that a data scientist is not part of the coaching staff as a video analyst in most clubs helps with focusing on the long term. But still, the connection should be close enough so Jan knows exactly what the staff values and what they think is important in communicating to the players.
"For the communication to players, you need to use videos. But when you can use data to filter the right videos and automate this process you can save multiple hours a week. The communication of raw tactical data happens less, but if you look at how fast the integration went with physical data, I am sure it will follow soon. "
"I am not in direct contact with the players, but know through the feedback of the coaches or video analyst what works and what doesn't. Especially with the younger player's individual KPIs are discussed regularly, without automating this process it would be impossible to create this content."
The hybrid of event & tracking data
At the moment tracking data is used at the club to give feedback to the players about their physical parameters. In addition to this information, Club Brugge also uses tracking data to give more context to the event data.
"We use tracking data nowadays at the club, both in giving more context to physical parameters, like sprint distance in possession comparing to out of possession; and giving more context to event data about the positioning of the other 21 players during an event."
"I think this hybrid of event and tracking data will be the future and will help in giving more context to certain actions on the pitch."
Next to the fact that event and tracking data will be intertwined, the accuracy of the tracking data will give us more ability in tracking everything that happens on the pitch. 3D motion tracking gives more information about body positioning and can be used to give even more detailed feedback to the players but can also be used for injury prevention. It is all about details and the more we can measure them, the more we can start influencing them.