Working with Great Britain Basketball- with Adam Sewell
Adam Sewell is currently the Head Performance Analyst for the Great Britain Men’s National Team Programme, Assistant Coach Great Britain U16 Boys and, recently finished my third season as Performance Analyst / Assistant Coach with Team Solent Kestrels in the National Basketball League (NBL) Division 1. We spoke to him about his career in analysis, how he came into basketball and his top tips for analysts.
Tell us about your background and what has led you to this point....
AS: In my mid 20s, I decided I wanted a new direction and pursue a job in sport. I went to study Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Chichester and was introduced to Performance Analysis. For me, the area was a perfect blend of sport science, mathematics and technical software skills. Whilst at University I also carried out a placement with a professional basketball organisation which gave me my first practical experience.
The whole experience at University was life altering, I met my wife (who also played basketball at the University) and stayed in Chichester once I graduated and started a family. A couple of years later I made the decision to continue my education and enrolled in a masters in Sports Performance Analysis, this was a real turning point in my development.
How did working in your current role come about?
AS: As part of the master’s you were required to complete a placement. I knew the Director of Basketball at Team Solent Kestrels, Matt Guymon, and reached out to see if there was an opportunity to get involved with the club. At the time they didn’t have a performance analyst and I saw this as a unique opportunity to develop my own workflows and analysis techniques. Matt is one brightest and respected coaches in the county and working with him has really accelerated my learning.
We have had some incredible success which I feel has added a certain level of credibility to my work. It has also given me a platform to progress through the National Team pathway and more recently with the Great Britain programme.
Best moment in analysis?
AS: As I mentioned, we have had some amazing success at Team Solent Kestrels, in the past three seasons we have won every competition at the National League level (Trophy, Cup, Regular Season and Playoff Championships). At the end of last season, we also became the first ever national league side to progress to the British Basketball League trophy final, beating two fully professional teams I earlier stages of the competition.
The most stand out however was one of my first games with Solent. When I was preparing the scout for an upcoming game, I noticed an opposing player had a tendency which would provide us with an attacking advantage. Our first play was to exploit this tendency and it led to a wide-open shot which we knocked down to open the game. It was something small, but it was my first experience of directly impacting a game based on something I had picked up on in the scouting process.
Best player that you have worked with?
AS: I have been fortunate to work alongside a range of elite players and coaches in the Great Britain programme. The players technical and physical abilities are off the charts and, their ability to process information really stands out. They are all so unique and extremely successful in their own right so I couldn’t single out any one player.
At Solent, it has been great to work with a core group of players over the course of three seasons. The players are extremely professional in their approach and have brought into the changes we have introduced. They have a willingness to learn and do their work off the court which has a visible impact on the court come match day.
What’s the ultimate goal for you and why?
AS: Basketball has taken to me to some great places and I’ve had the opportunity to say I have represented Great Britain. When I started on my path, I thought this level would be unattainable but I feel my hard work and countless sleepless nights have paid off.
The ultimate goal, or my next step, would be to move to full-time employment within performance analysis. I am very fortunate my current employer supports my roles outside of my 9-5pm day job. My current roles are voluntary and I complete the work required at weekends and evenings after my two boys have gone to bed. This of course has its own challenges balancing family life, but my wife has always been very supportive.
Having a full-time performance analysis job would allow me to fully focus on my development in the area and give me the opportunity to achieve my longer-term career aspirations.
Are you more data or video heavy in your work and why are you more heavy on that area?
AS: I believe you have to find a balanced between the two. Data analytics play an important role in basketball if they are used in the right way. In terms of my framework, data analytics provide the basic understanding of a team’s style of play, but video provides the why and how this is achieved.
I have developed detailed frameworks for both elements, but am always aware of the amount of statistics and video we share with players. Too much can be overwhelming and can lose its impact quickly. At Solent Kestrels we start with a basic scout template and build on it throughout the season as players get used to the process and format. Our scout contains written and video elements and we try and present it in such a way that it tells a story to the players.
How do you use data to affect performance? (I.e is there specific models, where does the data come from and does it have an affect on your club)
AS: Great question, we are lucky in basketball as a range of statistics that are available on a box score which are updated live. This provides an opportunity to provide real time feedback to players throughout the game linked to our KPIs.
In terms of statistics, I have developed a database using Excel to generate a wide range of advanced analytics and leader boards supporting our scouting and feedback process. The database also provides an opportunity to periodically review performance throughout the season and identify key trends within the league.
I have a framework on how we analyse game footage. In terms of player and team video feedback, we try and be consistent and focus on key themes to reinforce teaching points. Throughout the course of the season we try and keep our review sessions positive. We wouldn’t necessarily focus in a negative unless it was a common theme across multiple games and needed to be addressed.
Do you think basketball clubs use analysis to its potential?
AS: It’s a difficult one to answer, it is a very closed-door industry and you rarely get a chance to see if and how other clubs are using performance analysis.
From the outside, I don’t think performance analysis is used to its full potential. I know aspects of performance analysis would be implemented by coaching staff, but I haven’t seen many dedicated performance analyst roles as support staff within teams.
In saying that, it is incredible difficult for Basketball clubs to be financially sustainable and unfortunately sport science roles are at the bottom of most programme wish lists, which I can completely understand why this maybe the case. I do however strongly believe performance analysis can have a significant impact on a programme if facilitated correctly.
What do you think is next for the analysis industry?
AS: There are a lot of great things happening in the industry with the rapid expansion of Hudl and the rise of new competitors. I think as performance analysis becomes more accessible, the presentation and sharing of video and data is very important.
I also believe one of the big areas and challenges will be bridging the gap between Performance Analysis and Data Science. As more and more data is being collected, processes need to be in place to manage and synthesise the data effectively. I know it is already evident in the NBA and Premier League Football Clubs, but I expect this will filter its way down.
What tool has the biggest impact on your job?
AS: I believe as an analyst you have to be able to work effectively without relying on expensive PA software. Over the years I have added to my personal equipment, but I do not have consistent access to Performance Analysis software. As a result, I decided to create a coding solution using Excel. My solution won’t tag films in the same way, but does allows you to collect and display data on a dashboard. I am happy to share this simple Excel workbook, so feel free to get in touch if you would like access to it.
Looking forward, I plan to move away from Excel and utilise computer programming and data science. With the additional time on our hands, I have recently completed an introductory course in Python (a computer programming language) and have a few projects that will have a massive impact on my efficiency. Long term, I aim to develop bespoke web or phone application providing a platform for our scout and player tracking.
What advice would you give someone that wants a job in the industry?
AS: Be proactive and get yourself a role within a club. It doesn’t have to be at the elite level and sometimes supporting a mid level club will allow you to thrive and develop your own systems. Ensure you have a unique selling point, be good at all aspects but have one thing that you can excel at. I think it is also important to be aware and confident of how you can add value and impact a programme or club. Ultimately you have got to love what you do and be willing to put in the work and make sacrifices.
If you are interested in working in sport or know more about what the life of an analyst involves, take a look at our Introduction to Analysis Course here!