The Long Road to Working in High Performance Sport

The Long Road to Working in High Performance Sport

We speak to Jarrod Rutley about his transition from sports coaching to a Masters Degree in Sport Science & Performance Analysis and ultimately working with the Melbourne Rebels. His path is quite different to many in the industry but it’s a true testament to the fact that resilience and following your passion in life will always get you where you want to be!

Tell us about your background

I’m from Melbourne and have been involved in sport my whole life either playing, coaching or as an analyst. Growing up, my dad coached footy at the local level, and my three brothers and I all played footy, cricket and golf. My older brother coaches in the AFLW, my younger brother works at Taylor Made and still plays a lot of golf with my youngest brother and my dad. Sport has always been and still is a big part of our lives. 

I left school halfway through year 10 to look for work. At that time, I had no intention of finishing school or going to University. I bounced around different trade jobs, trying to find the right fit for me, but eventually I was drawn back to sport. I was injured in footy and could no longer play, so I thought I would try coaching. I coached footy and cricket for around seven years before moving into the analyst space. 

I started my coaching journey with Knox Junior Football Club and also worked at Caulfield Grammar as a sports coach (coaching footy in the winter and cricket in the summer) and spent some time coaching at Eastern Ranges, Northern Knights and Wesley College. My last coaching role was as the reserves coach and one of the senior assistants at Wandin where my older brother was the head coach and we won a senior premiership. 

I decided to go to Uni as a mature age student and studied sports coaching and sports science at Victoria University. In my last year at Uni as an Undergrad I worked with the Western Bulldogs as a Recruiting Cadet which allowed me to gain a different perspective on what is looked for in terms of recruiting in the AFL and also a basic understanding of Sportscode and data collection. 

At the beginning of 2018, I felt I wanted to explore different aspects of sport and decided to pursue the performance analysis path and I begin some postgraduate studying enrolling in the Graduate Certificate in Performance Analysis at VU and also working part time with Toppa Sports as a Rugby Union and Cricket analyst. The role was some weekend work coding games from Sydney and Queensland and some filming down here in Melbourne. It was a great entry level position into the world of analysis, Sportscode, and it certainly helped with me learning the basics of coding and filming. 

I completed my Graduate Certificate and decided to stay on and complete the Masters of Sports Science (Football Performance). As part of that degree an opportunity to intern with the Melbourne Rebels for the 2019 season became available and my application lead to an interview. I was fortunate enough to be accepted. At the end of 2019 our Head Analyst at the time moved on to pursue his coaching career and an opportunity became available for me to move into the Assistant Analyst role. At the end of the Super Rugby season I was fortunate enough to be asked to be the head analyst of our NRC team, who compete in a competition that runs in the middle of year, which was a great learning experience and something I really enjoyed. 

For my Masters, I was part of a study group that went over to Madrid for ten days and spent time watching and learning from the coaches and staff from Real Madrid at their academy. One of the highlights was going to a Real Madrid home game.

Part of your educational background in sport science & performance analysis was conducted overseas. Tell us about some of your most enjoyable memories from abroad?

I was lucky enough to study abroad on two occasions; once as an undergrad and the other during my masters. For my undergrad, I studied at the German Sports University in Cologne, Germany. The experience was unbelievable. Living in a foreign country for six months and adapting to a new culture was challenging at first but I soon became accustomed to the German way of life. I made friends from all over the world and some of whom I still keep in contact with today. They have even stayed at my house whilst travelling around Australia which is pretty cool. 

For my masters I was part of a study group that went over to Madrid for ten days and spent time watching and learning from coaches and staff from Real Madrid at their academy. One of the highlights was going to a Real Madrid home game. They played Leganes and won 4-1 so it was good to see some goals. Being able to access a world class team like that and the content we were presented by staff and guest lectures was an incredible experience and something I look back on as being a once in a lifetime opportunity.

You’ve worked across Rugby Union & Aussie Rules. How have you found working across different sports?

I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve copped a bit of stick from a couple of mates of mine saying I’ve crossed over to the dark side. I’ve always be involved with footy, either playing or coaching, and still enjoy watching it. But as I progressed with my ambition to make performance analysis more than just a part-time gig / hobby I saw limiting myself to one sport not the most beneficial thing to do. I didn’t want to, I guess, pigeonhole myself to one sport. Why specialise in one thing when you could be more of a generalist and learn from a range of different sports. 

So, when the opportunity to work in rugby came a long, I jumped at the chance and have loved every minute of it. To make that cross over in rugby has had its challenging moments, particularly during the first couple of months when I was trying to learn the rules. It was a bit like trying to learn a second language but luckily, I had and still have some great teachers and resources in our head analyst and coaching staff at the Rebels who have helped me a lot over the last twelve months.

How have you found the approach to data & technology in the AFL & Rugby Union?

It’s pretty similar. There would be some differences in the types of KPI’s that would be measured between the two codes, but I think the processes and workflows are pretty similar. With technology the clubs I’ve worked at have all used Sportscode and Hudl. Filming equipment, whether it be used for games or training, is pretty similar across sports. Most clubs would use some handheld cameras, maybe an IP camera and a drone to film training. 

In terms of data it depends on the what the coach wants and what works best for the team. Some clubs I’ve worked with have used a mix of a lot of numbers and vision, some used just vison with couple of key numbers and some just used vision with no numbers. It really depends on the situation, environment and what you feel is the best way is to get a particular piece of information across to a player or coach. 

What were a couple of the most exciting aspects of your role working directly in a high performance sporting environment?

Game day is the most exciting. Particularly a home game. I don’t travel for the away games, so I work remotely from the office with the interns which is nice but for home games there is always a feel of excitement around the office. We see it as a bit of a reward for our work during the week. Also, being able to come into work every day and work alongside some of the best staff and players in the world at the Rebels on a day to day basis is pretty exciting. We’re a pretty young team and youngish staff in terms of age but there’s a strong feeling around the club that this group is building towards something special and to be a part of and help contribute to that is pretty exciting. 

With your educational background and skill set, if you could help improve one player or team, who would you work with and why?

I don’t really have a particular individual player I’d like to work with but at some point, in my career I’d like the chance to work and gain experience internationally. I don’t really have a preference in regard to club or country. But being able to implement and pass on the skills and knowledge I’ve learned and experiences that I’ve had so far during my time in sport and life to help a team improve and achieve their goals, whether it be a for a club in Europe gaining promotion or making a run for a championship or an international team whose building toward qualifying for a world cup, that would be pretty special. 

If you tune into Fox Sports News there is a lot going on in the world of sport even with no live action at the moment. As a sporting fan, what are some ways you think Rugby could get some positives out of this tough time?

I see the domestic competition coming as being a positive for the growth and, hopefully, increased viewership of rugby. One of the tough things about playing in a competition that spans across international borders is the time difference for games. Particularly the away games for Australian teams in South Africa which are broadcasted live into Melbourne at 2am, or sometimes 4am depending on the location. So hopefully with the domestic comp having that earlier, more family friendly timeslot will increase the viewership and bring in some new fans to rugby in Australia.

I think there is an opportunity for rugby to come out of this period with some new ideas and direction for the sport and there are great people currently working on those ideas and improvements at the moment. It’ll be interesting to see where we’re at in twelve- or eighteen-months’ time. 

What advice would you give the new breed of sport science & performance analysis graduates coming through?

Work in and learn from a different sport, don’t limit yourself to just one. Always be prepared, on time, and ask questions. 

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