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Blog

Eyes or iPads

Posted on 20/11/2015 by Darren Simmons

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As I sat at the Leaders in Performance Conference at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium last week it struck me that Bayern Munich’s Technical Director, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Head of Recruitment, face many similar challenges to those of the humble Sports Recruitment Consultant!

First and foremost, we’re each tasked with finding the very best talent, whether in Michael Reschke or Paul Mitchell’s case that’s on the pitch, or in my case in the offices and boardrooms of professional sports teams and businesses.

Secondly, we’re each trying to strike the perfect balance, if such a thing actually exists, between the myriad of raw data available to us, and a genuine ‘gut feel’ on a player or individual’s precise suitability.

We’re now well and truly entrenched in the ‘sports data revolution’ and anyone who hasn’t heard the phrase “Moneyball” has probably been sunning themselves on a remote desert island for far too long!

Data available to football clubs through sources such as Prozone and Opta, is vast. Multi-camera footage is available for every single step a player makes, and touch they take. Fundamentally, each player is tracked and measured for the ‘four corners’: technical, tactical, physical and psychological, easily defined but difficult to measure when the player is not your own. At Leaders, Reschke admitted that it’s difficult to make a genuine psychological assessment of a player until they’re signed and through the front door.

Whilst we’ve never been asked to assess the physical prowess of a job seeker, or confirm that they had a 92% or higher pass completion rate in their school team, we are tasked with making a multi-faceted assessment of client / candidate fit. That starts when we meet a client, take a detailed brief, and ask lots of searching questions about the company, its’ ethos, and culture. Unless we understand what makes our client’s team or business tick, we can’t even start to assess a candidate’s suitability.

We’re constantly identifying individuals with the relevant skills and experience for a position and then assessing their personality and cultural fit. Believe it or not in recruitment we’ve got our own Opta / Prozonesque tools! Namely profiling tools such as McQuaig and also our very own video profiling technology which means that we can provide our clients with traditional CVs, behavioral insight, and videos where candidates explain why they feel suited to the specific position. It’s our way of ensuring our clients get a feel for how a candidate communicates, and their personality, before committing to a face to face interview. So whilst Reschke and Mitchell are meticulously watching Strikers and Defenders on their laptops, myself and my team are watching Commercial Directors, Chief Executives and Marketing Managers!

Despite the explosion of raw data, and the iPad generation, it’s clear that good old ‘eyes’ are still absolutely centric to the identification of talent.

At Leaders in Performance Reschke spoke about making the transition, after 35 years at Bayer Leverkusen, to European giants Bayern Munch. He talked about the diligence and attention to detail in everything that Pep Guardiola does, and how the former Barcelona supremo is clear on what he wants, not only in terms of technical fit, but also temperament and attitude from prospective signings.

Paul Mitchell also admitted, much to the amusement of the Leaders audience, that his waistline was expanding due to the amount of meals he’s recently been consuming in motorway service stations, adding fuel to the fire that traditional ‘scouting’, in person at games, is still essential alongside the data revolution.

In an interview with the Guardian in March 2014, Everton Manager, Roberto Martinez eloquently articulates the need for a strong set of eyes alongside raw data;

“You need to see a player and fall in love with a player. When you see a player, you’ll watch his warm-up, the way he speaks to the referee, the way he speaks to other team-mates after missing a chance, the way he celebrates a goal, the way his team-mates react when he scores. Data might help you narrow the margin of error, but the decision is still a feeling. It’s a gut instinct.” referenced from the Guardian website.

A clear theme throughout both days of the conference was that due diligence on personality and character is critical for prospective signings on and off the pitch. Also a defined process, with real rigor, helps to create the consistency required to assess and benchmark talent when there are multiple options.

Reschke and Mitchell also spoke about the ‘onboarding process’ with a new signing, and the need and desire to integrate them into new surroundings as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Clearly this process is made far easier if the right character assessment has taken place, which is why scouts and analysts are adept at not only analyzing raw data and video, but also a player’s social media footprint such as facebook, instagram and twitter to get even deeper insight.

So many of the points raised by Reschke and Mitchell resonate, and it’s exciting to know that the due diligence and insight The Executives In Sport Group carry out seems to be of Premier League standard. We might not be assessing footballers, but we’ve got a similarly crucial role to play in our client’s talent identification strategy. We’re tasked with identifying the very best talent, providing deep and thought provoking insight on those individuals, and ultimately ensuring the right full time result.

If Michael or Paul are reading this and ever fancy a job swap please let me know, our roles and processes really aren’t that dissimilar.

What I’m absolutely sure about is that there’s definitely a place for the iPad led data revolution, but it’ll always be in tandem with a good old pair of eyes!

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