The worlds of Netball and Hockey Analysis with Hannah Cureton

Our latest fantastic interview is with Hannah Cureton, an analyst that has worked in both Netball and Hockey, including working at national level.

PA UK: What is your current role?

HC: I am currently the Performance Analyst for Hampstead and Westminster Hockey Club and this is my second season with them. My role involves the provision of footage and statistics to both the Men’s and Ladies’ 1st teams with the addition of opposition analysis where needed.

PA UK: Tell me about your background and what has led you to this point....

HC: My real taste of analysis came during my undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science, where I had the opportunity to work with the Superleague Netball team Surrey Storm. I really enjoyed the experience and after my undergraduate degree, I decided to go on to do a Masters in Sport Performance Analysis. I continued to work with Surrey Storm during my masters as a work placement which really helped to apply what I was learning to the role. As I was coming to the end of my masters and also my time with Surrey Storm, I started to look at other opportunities outside of netball, football and rugby, as I wanted to different challenge. One of those advertised was this hockey club called Hampstead and Westminster. I had never heard of the club before and hadn’t played hockey since secondary school but my friends who are really into their hockey simply said I couldn’t miss this opportunity due to the players and coaches that were there. In that same week, I applied to work with them, got an offer and have been with them ever since.

PA UK: What does your working week consist of?

HC: My usual week starts with the preparation for the game(s) at the weekend. This usually includes statistics from their last game, some opposition analysis and making sure that I have everything charged, that it all works, and I have the right equipment for whatever the weather decides to bring. On the day, I will try to live code and film at the same time, however, as the venue is very open, weather is not always on my side. Consequently, it is back to notational analysis so that the coaches can get real time stats, videoing penalty corners off my phone to send to the bench and any specific events noted down with the time they happened to refer to later.

PA UK: How would you describe your analysis philosophy?

HC: How I see my role is the person that contextualises what has happened in a game. I am there to support the teams in helping them understand why they might have, for instance, won or lost the game. It is very easy following a loss to narrow your vision and focus on everything that may have not gone the way you intended in a game, from set-up to how you hit the ball. Same following a win, there may be some weaknesses that don’t get addressed but, even though you win, they happen every week. If I can produce information highlighting that actually from a performance perspective it was a close game and it was only a few details that separated the result, then a plan of action can take place and the team can prepare for the next match.

My role also gives greater insight into the sport they are so passionate about. What if I told you that team A who are second in the league actually only have these percentages for x,y,z whilst we have this? Communicating this information with the coaches in a format they can take forward and report to the players just reinstates that, regardless of the result, they are a strong team and have the capacity to achieve what they want.

Performance analysis I believe has such an important role in sport; it is a facilitator for development, understanding and unity. Without it, important decisions involving the whole team, not just the management, cannot be made.

PA UK: Is there a club philosophy or is it dependant on the manager at this moment?

HC: The club prides itself on it’s heritage. Since forming in 1894, it has worked incredibly hard both on and off the pitch, driven by every member’s passionate for hockey. They respect one another and always look for new ways to develop and they wouldn’t be where they are without it. I wouldn’t say there is a specific philosophy for the club, but I would say its three aspects: work hard, be passionate and be respectful.

PA UK: Best moment in analysis?

HC: I couldn’t pin down one specific moment in analysis but as a collective it all happened due to Hampstead and Westminster. The past last year has been a rollercoaster of events all of which embody so many different memories and emotions, from indoor hockey to working with England Hockey and GB Hockey, but the pinnacle would be at the end of last season during my first season with them. At the finals weekend, the Men’s 1st team won the league at Lee Valley and got a place at the Euro Hockey League, whilst the Ladies’ 1st team got promoted into the Premier League. For the club this was a massive achievement as it fell in its 125thanniversary. There are no words that can describe the emotion that day but pride. That weekend has made a mark in the club’s history and to know that I contributed to their successes makes me proud and I know if the hard work continues, this is just start.

PA UK: Best player that you have worked with?

HC: I couldn’t say who was the best player that I’ve worked with. Every team member in both the Men’s and Ladies’ teams are incredibly talented from all over the world, with representatives who have previously or currently play for England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Great Britain itself. Every player brings something different to the game which is invaluable. I would, however, say that the best people I have worked with are the management team at the club. I am in awe of their dedication and knowledge in hockey that I would love to delve into their minds, especially the coaches Kwan Browne, Sarah Kelleher and Kate Richardson-Walsh.

PA UK: What’s the ultimate goal for you and why?

HC: At the moment, my goal is to continue developing my analytical skills and the provision of data to the teams at the club. There is a lot of potential at the club and with the right items in place they could have a structured analysis procedure in place. I have also tried to improve my knowledge of hockey, even by taking the sport up myself so that I may understand the game and terminology better.

Ultimately though, I would love to be part of the EIS and the sport science department in the Olympic programme. Personally, I have always wanted to be involved in the Olympics in some capacity and see it as an honour to support talented athletes in achieving their dream.

PA UK: Are you more data or video heavy in your work and why are you more heavy on that area?

HC: In my role I use a bit of both as I use the video to explain the statistics and support any comments I make. However, I spend a lot more time on the number crunching so that I can produce a sheet of paper highlighting key findings from the game(s). I do find I am more number driven and find it easier to break down and contextualise the events in numerical values. I then go back to the footage and examine the specific events to see what happens better. The more detailed tactical side of video analysis I leave more with the coaches who have an immense experience in hockey and can pick out every small detail. However, if I do notice something whilst coding, I will make a note of it and communicate it with the coaches.

PA UK: How do you use data to affect performance?

HC: Within hockey, we don’t use Big Data software’s to get our data like Opta. A lot of our data is from our own databases sourced from shared footage and coaches. The data produced reflects on and off the ball events such as the number of times teams have scored from an open goal, penalty corners, penalty strokes and formations. Through the data we collect weekly, we can create a database of teams so that predictions can be made in terms of how the team may perform against us and how we can adapt our style to try to get an advantage.

PA UK: What do you think is next for the analysis industry?

HC: It is not necessarily possible to highlight a generic ‘what is next for analysis’ kind of answer. Analysis is so dynamic that there is always something uniquely different about how it is used and how it can be progressed between each sport. Sadly, software is not always as dynamic as analysis and so two of the biggest challenges for teams/sports is practicality and accessibility of their use. What I think is next for the analysis industry starts with the current processes within the sport it is being applied to. Knowing the specific challenges and devising alternative methods that optimise analysis for the sport is the corner stone to what can be next in the analysis industry. More than anything, I believe this is largely applied to data visualisation and capturing.

PA UK: What tool has the biggest impact on your job?

HC: One of the main tools I use in my job that has been the biggest impact is Microsoft Excel. In the hockey club, we don’t have software such as Opta. Instead once a video has been coded and shared on our platform (Hudl Sportscode), the xml is exported into one of my excel documents that has been developed to arrange and organise the data into a numerical format I can present back to the coaches/teams.

PA UK: What advice would you give someone that wants a job in the industry?

HC: The best advice I have even been given my someone already in the industry is to make yourself known. Yes, work hard, know your stuff, show you are passionate, that you are ready to learn and listen when you are given feedback, but you need to be present first or foremost. Introduce yourself, build a rapport and show that they can trust you both in the competency of your job and as a human being.

A huge thank you to Hannah for taking the time to chat with us, you can follow Hannah on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

If you are interested in becoming an analyst or know more about what the life of an analyst involves, take a look at our Introduction to Analysis Course here!

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