How I went from a sports science degree to Lincoln City FC in five years

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When sports science students, Matt Page and Toby Ellis graduated from the University of Lincoln, they had a vision: to provide a premium sports coaching service which uses the latest sports science to take athletes and teams to the next level. The enterprising graduates launched their own sports coaching business which among other clients has worked with the city’s giant-killing football team, Lincoln City FC, providing specialist statistical analysis. Here, Page explains how the business is delivering results on and off the pitch.
Sum up what do you do for a living
We do lots of things! We are full time teachers at a special needs school in Grantham, run a sports coaching company called VIRSCO, own a software assessment company for schools called iCoach4Sport and provide statistical analysis for Lincoln City FC.
What does a day in the life of a data analyst look like?
A very long one! A match can take around eight to 10 hours to analyse and it normally takes our Sundays up. On a Monday, we will debrief with Lincoln City, providing a short presentation of key facts, such as minutes per shot, and anything unusual that we have seen in the game.
We have made a calculation which can accurately predict a match result. It is calculated via success rates, touch count, influences on both goals and positional emphasis, such as crossing for a winger. So we keep up to tabs with these to make sure we on the right side of the stats.
If there is a midweek game, our colleagues at iCoach4Sport will help us with the stats ready for Thursday. You will also find us on a match day scribbling down some half-time statistics.
How did you get into it?
We knew manager Danny Cowley was really into the sports science and stats around football. We saw it as a unique opportunity to promote our companies and sent him an email about what we could provide. That night I got a phone call from his brother, assistant manager Nicky, asking us to come in the next day.
How exciting is it to see your hard work being utilised by Lincoln City FC and contributing to their successes?
Very – although we are a bit of an enigma around the club. We like to keep our distance from staff and players as to remain unbiased so we are really only known by a few people! We do find ourselves too busy to appreciate the enormity of the achievement and will probably be boring our grandchildren with the stories of this year. At the moment, the job is not done so we remain concentrated on the task ahead to allow us to assist the team as best we can.
Will you be at Lincoln’s match against Arsenal in the dugout, or watching as a fan?
We actually support other teams but have found ourselves becoming quite attached to the club! Again, you cannot become too embroiled in the emotions of the game in the job we do. We will probably be hidden somewhere during the game behind the dugout.
Since you started your career, what has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think we are in the middle of the biggest challenge we have faced. For us, knowing the quality of iCoach4Sport and the stats we provide, it is a big frustration of ours not to be able to fully market the product. However, we are getting a bit more savvy in that department, and Danny and Nicky at Lincoln have been great. So maybe we are in the middle of overcoming it!
How did your degree studies prepare you for a career in the sporting sector?
A massive amount. The staff, equipment and the feeling around a place like the University of Lincoln really make it unique. I have been to many other universities and cannot shout loud enough about how great the place is.
Did you do work experience while you were studying?
We did, and actually we helped former manager David Holdsworth at Lincoln for a week or so. I then worked at the Lincoln canoeing club – the feeling of family in a group of elite athletes has helped me in my approach.
Overall, how was your time at Lincoln?
Excellent! I would not call Lincoln my home if it wasn’t the case. We still have contacts there, too – they help us advertise for jobs and give us lots of advice. We continue to be in contact with Dr Sandy Willmott and Dr Donna Windard – both have always had the time to reply and chat even though I left five years ago.
If you could offer one key piece of advice to students and prospective students on how to achieve their goals, what would it be?
I think for me it is to contact and use knowledge from others to get to know a bit more about a field that interests you. Jobs may seem amazing, but there’s a lot of work involved and unsociable hours in sport. Understand what you want and gather as much information as you can.
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