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Working in Rugby with Shaun Slater of Jersey Reds RFU

Shaun Slater is currently Head of Analysis at Jersey Reds RFU. Shaun oversees all training and match-day video footage as well as statistical analysis of individual players, team and opposition. We were lucky enough to have an interview with Shaun to find out about his role and career so far in Rugby.

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

SS: I sort of fell into analysis. I originally went to Uni with the aim of being a sports psychologist, then interest turned to physiotherapy and then again to skill acquisition. However, one of my friends was enjoying a placement at Portsmouth FC as a performance analyst intern as well as receiving a lecture from one of a master’s student that was interning as an analyst Wasps rugby. Hearing everything, they had to say got me interested in how analysis can facilitate team performance. This led to me getting an internship with London Scottish Rugby Club which I enjoyed before enrolling on the master’s programme at the University of Chichester.

PA UK: How did working in your current role come about?

SS: I was coming to the end of my masters year and placement with Harlequins and I received an email from a company called Insight Analysis, who said they were helping a club to fill a role at Jersey and they had contacted my old university lecturer asking if he knew anyone that would suit and fortunately he put my name forward. Insight said if you’re interested send your CV to this address which turned out to be the Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon. I sent my CV through on the Friday, had a skype interview with Harvey on the Saturday, offered the role on the Sunday and moved out to Jersey the following Saturday. Was a bit of a whirlwind week.

PAUK: Best moment in analysis?

SS: I would have to say my best moment in analysis and my career to date was Jersey’s win over London Irish in my first season. As a club we always back ourselves to get a result against one of the bigger sides and to beat them in the last few minutes with Auggy Slowik scoring what ended up being Sky Sports Try of the Year was a special game.

PA UK: Best player that you have worked with?

SS: During my master’s internship with Harlequins I was able to work and observe some quality players there. One that stood out to me was Marcus Smith because this was his breakthrough season and as an 18-year-old fresh out of Brighton College to come into a side and control the game was very special to see.

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

SS: As any player or staff member in the championship the ultimate goal is to progress into the Premiership or Pro14. Jersey put a huge emphasis on developing not just their players but staff too to try and push them onto higher honours which is a great environment to be in.

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

SS: In my opinion it doesn’t matter what side of the spectrum as an analyst you fall on. It matters what side the coaches fall on. When I arrived at Jersey, I was more stats driven but the coaches, rightly or wrongly, value video over stats. As an analyst you have to carter to the needs of your coaches and help facilitate the coaching process.

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

SS: We gain data from two sources, our own coding and RFU codes which all Premiership and Championship clubs have access to. We use the RFU provided data to understand league wide statistics and how and when certain game events in comparison to other events. Whereas the data we code ourselves is more looking internally, how we performed against established standards for key performance indicators as well as how the players performed individually in terms of their physicality and highlight stats such as tries scored, linebreaks etc.

I believe the league wide stats we have investigated has had a significant effect on us going into the new season as it is shaping where we may focus our efforts and how we approach training.

PA UK: Do you think Rugby clubs utilise analytics to its potential?

SS: That is very much club to club. I believe at some clubs they utilise it fully and love to engage with the numbers and video. Whereas, other clubs can’t afford the luxury of an analyst so can’t utilise it at all. I know a lot of clubs doing some very interesting things with data, where the coaches’ philosophy may be more data driven then yes, those clubs are utilising it well. But, at those clubs where the coach is not too fond or wary of data the analyst is fighting more of an uphill battle and the not being used to its fullest.

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

SS: I think the growing influence of artificial intelligence (AI) will be a big influence in the analysis industry in years to come. You can see there are now cameras utilising AI with person or ball tracking which can make the whole filming process much easier. I think in the future AI technology could be used for automated coding of match events for example, but that is a long way off I imagine and would probably out me out of the job.

I can see drones being the staple for all footage soon, with battery life increasing and more affordable models developing I would be surprised if you wouldn’t see every Premiership and Championship clubs utilising them more often than not.

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

SS: Camera. Footage is possibly the most powerful tool in coaching and analysis, to be able to evidence a piece of tactical advice, feedback to a player or elite examples with footage helps facilitate the coaching and learning process more than any stat or fancy animation would in my opinion.

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

SS: My biggest piece of advice to anyone wanting to develop a career in elite sport, not just analysis, would be to get as much experience as possible. Intern as much as possible, don’t be put off by un-paid work as anyone that has come through in analysis, physiotherapy and S&C have all had to put in those years doing it for free. Though you need your qualifications and they are vital, what will separate you from other candidates is the hours of practical experience you have elapsed prior to graduating.

If you are interested in working in football 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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