High Schooler Interested in Sports Analytics

My response to an email I received from a high school student interested in pursuing a career in sports analytics.

This email exchange is lightly edited. To read more advice, check out the advice section.

Dear Mr. Falk,

Recently, I decided to look into sports analytics as a career for my future. I am hoping you would be able to provide guidance by answering some questions. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

1. Is it better to broaden out right now or specifically focus on one sport? If it’s better to broaden out, should I focus more on less popular sports since getting a starting job there might be easier?

The most important thing to learn are principles of statistics that are applicable to a huge range of fields. That gives you a foundational skillset you can apply anywhere—even outside of sports. Domain knowledge (i.e. knowing about the sport or area you’re studying) is very important, but you can dig into that later, and it doesn’t apply to any other area, while knowing about statistics will be a skill you can use your whole life.

As far as popularity of the sport, I don’t think it matters so much. If you learn to do really good work, there are still opportunities everywhere.

2. How are you able to present such complex ideas and topics in a way that fans can understand?

I try to always put myself in the shoes of someone reading something for the first time, to explain complicated concepts instead of assuming people get them, to really work on trying to bring examples and analogies. I’m far from perfect but I think by at least aiming to think like someone who is new to a subject, it really helps figure out how to clarify it.

3. What are some good internships/part-time jobs I should try to get while I’m still in high school?

I would try to get any job where you’re practicing the skills you want to use: programming, data analysis, working with databases, etc. But you don’t need to wait for a job…you can try to learn those now or at any time! There are a ton of resources available online. When I was in high school I bought some books and learned from them…or you can look for a course that is fun (like https://fantasycoding.com/ or https://www.fantasyfootballdatapros.com/). If you don’t know how to code at all, you might start with Codecademy’s free Python course. The key is to develop the skills.

4. What’s the best way to make connections with other experts in the field to give myself the best chance possible to get a job?

It’s difficult to do, since they get lots of emails or connections and don’t have time to answer them all. But as I wrote in my article about getting a job in the NBA, it’s not necessarily about making connections. If you do good work and put it out there, people will find you!

5. How were you able to work on projects while also balancing schoolwork in college?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this, it really means a lot to me!

I loved it — it was basically a hobby for me. So instead of playing video games or whatever, I did this work. (I also was lucky in that the courses I took weren’t amazingly challenging. But that turned out to be a good decision. I learned far more that would help me in life with my hobby than through my courses!)

I hope that helps!

Again, I think there’s no substitute to learning how to program, how to work with databases and data, and actually develop the skills necessary to do what you want to do. If you start in high school it gives you a big head start on lots of other people. And you live in a time where there are tons of resources freely available (or for low cost) — take advantage of it!

All the best,

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