Why football doesn’t play moneyball (yet) – Sports, Data, and Journalism conference in Zurich

robby_klein(This is one corner of my poster!)


What’s better than going to Zurich? Going to Zurich for a conference! On the 25th of October, I attended the “Sports, Data, and Journalism” conference at the University of Zurich, hosted by the Center for Research in Sports Administration (CRSA). The conference had a unique makeup of attendees, not only because of the diversity of disciplines represented, ranging from economists to historians, but also because data journalists were invited to present their projects. This meant that one could not only listen to a scientific talk on, say, the impact of data on professional sports, but also learn how newspapers present their sports stories with data. One story for example showcased the career of tennis star Roger Federer, taking his matches apart, from the number of backhand shots to which floor he played on.

I presented a poster on automation in German sports newsrooms, an ongoing project of mine. I was glad that the topic was met with interest, not only from fellow academics, but also from national and international sports organisations. Let’s see whether they will think about introducing automation in their own press offices!

The conference programme was also unique in the way that also workshops on data analysis software could be attended. Thus, I listened to an introduction to Python, and I’m sure I will make use of this coding language a lot more in the future. I would wish for more conferences to offer such an opportunity; it’s an easy way to learn more about what is out there in data analysis, what might be more suitable to the treatment of data than the software we use now in the social sciences.

The keynote was a personal highlight for me, as it was by given by Chris Anderson, author, with Dave Stares, of “The Numbers Game –Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong”. I definitely recommend that book, to football fans as well as people interested in statistics. Where else would someone actually prove why the inferior teams win more often than they should? Chris Anderson told about his personal journey writing the book, and explained what is means to manage a lower league football club with no money. To make a long story short: don’t do it! The explanation lies in the following: football doesn’t play moneyball. What does that mean? Well, reading Michael Lewis‘ “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” is a good start (or the movie of the same name, starring Brad Pitt), as it tells how Billy Beane, a baseball general manager in the US, put together a team based on their individual statistics (and thus strengths) – and won many games with that strategy. That sound like the ultimate dream, but is unlikely to work for football yet; first of all, baseball has many more games in a season and thus many more chances to try things out, and second, there is no ghost of relegation…

All in all, it was a great conference, and I hope that there will be more that mix academia and practice in such an intriguing way.


But, journals are for girls! – A case for research journals

german_smallFür die deutsche Fassung bitte hier klicken!

researchjournal_klein(Photo by me – here they are, my research journals!)


What happened?

… maybe journals are mostly for girls, who knows. But they are also for researchers. Journals in general are pretty handy little things: they keep your thoughts safe, and when you look back, they might contain very valuable information. So, just as a diary that serves as a reminder of what one did on a particular day, a research journal does quite the same. However, they seem to be quite rarely used, at least by the people around me. This should change!

First of all, what is a research journal? As already said, it is a journal that very much works like a diary, just for academic work. In a research journal one notes down thoughts on the research process, like on the topic, hypotheses, literature, possible interpretations, you name it. A waste of time, I hear? No, not all.

What do I think about this?

So, why do I think that a research journal is the essential tool in academia? Let’s cover the obvious first:

* Keeping stuff in order – first of all, everything is kept in a journal, which implies some kind of a bound notebook. In my opinion, scattered loose-leaf collections do not count as research journals since they are rarely put away in a fashion in that one can access what’s written on them quickly. And for me, time is crucial when it comes to finding and using my notes. Apart from that, if everything is kept in one place – whether in a notebook or in a folder  – things do not tend to get lost as quickly as they would otherwise.

* Keeping thoughts safe – related to the first point, but not quite the same. While going through a few things of my first year as a PhD, I found many, many notes scribbled on journal articles, worksheets, to-do-lists and so on and so forth. Many notes which would be lost if I did not decide at that very moment to transfer the most valuable ones into a notebook. Some of these scribbled notes helped me a great deal, over a year later that I wrote them! So, keeping things in one place helps not to forget what might be valuable information in the future.

* A nice memory and encouragement – okay, probably just me being girly here, but I like to look at old stuff. Also, it helps me to pick myself up at times when I think I did not achieve anything in months – not true. It’s all in the journal. Some days were slower than others, but all in all, I did achieve at least something and got nearer to my goal. So, a research journal can also help to get motivated!


So, all in all, just keeping a research journal can help the research process a great deal, especially when one is working on a single project for years, like a PhD. But I also think that keeping such a journal is very valuable when writing a bachelor’s or master’s dissertation. Even though the time frame is considerably shorter, gathering ideas and literature can be quite daunting. So, noting thoughts can be of great help when trying to figure out a topic or just checking which books were already read.

My experience with keeping a research journal is great. So, get one, too!