From a Masters Degree in Germany to a Career in the AFL!

From a Masters Degree in Germany to a Career in the AFL!

We speak to Robert Laudani about his journey to entering the AFL system where he is currently a VFL Football Analyst. His insights from his Masters Degree in Germany, unique projects he’s worked on and development in the AFL system will be a great insight for fans and up and coming sports tech enthusiasts alike!

Tell us about your background

I have quite a unique educational background. I started my further studies at RMIT by completing a Bachelor of Applied Science [Exercise & Sports Science] and Certificates III & IV in Fitness. Upon completion of these studies I decided to go down the Sports Technology path and through this I completed a Dual Masters of Science Degree in [International Sports Technology] at RMIT University & [Human Technology in Sports and Medicine] at the German Sports University.

At this stage I had more certifications than a Doctor so I decided to look for work within the sporting industry. As I still had connections in Germany and had a German Degree it was easy for me to apply for a working VISA. I was successful in my application to become a Systems Operator for Hawkeye Innovations in the German Bundesliga. My main roles were in the RRA [Referee Review Area] & GLT [Goal Line Technology] division of the company and would work live on match-days. I really enjoyed the role and had the chance to work at various world class stadiums across Germany. I unfortunately had to leave my position due to health reasons, it was unfortunate but luckily once I returned to Australia, I was accepted into the Football Technology Pathway at the Melbourne Football Club shortly after my return.

It was great to get back into the AFL world as I was away from the football hub of Melbourne for nearly 2 years. I had a rekindled interest in the sport and loved the teachings and learnings from the pathway program. After the program I was accepted into a role at Champion Data as a Data Collector / Stats Caller. I really love this role and am still currently employed by the company. Moreover, whilst at Champion Data another opportunity come about and it was to take on the Lead VFLW Analyst Role at Hawthorn Football Club. This was a great opportunity as I got to get involved with the new and upcoming Womens Program and also start my own basis for analytics for the club.

I used everything I learned from Champion Data and the Football Technology Program to assist me in the role. The most enjoyable part was leading a team of statisticians on match-day and teaching them how to call / code live statistics. At seasons end I was promoted to the Lead VFL Analyst at Box Hill Hawks. As this was a very rewarding opportunity it has unfortunately been halted by COVID-19. Like a majority of people in the sporting industry, I am waiting eagerly for the season to recommence. 

One of my most exciting projects would have been testing various professional soccer balls in the RMIT wind tunnel. To control and conduct an experiment using this technology was just amazing.

You’ve got a unique background with a Dual Masters Degree from RMIT & the German Sports University Cologne. Tell us about your key learnings from there?

My Masters was very unique, I am very glad that I was one of the five students accepted into the dual degree pathway, it was a fitting way to complete my studies.  My classes at RMIT were at night but I found it much more enjoyable than going to university during the day. Both courses had international students from various backgrounds in areas such as sports tech engineering so it was very interesting having that group of students to learn with.

While in Germany I lived on Campus and primarily completed my thesis project. I found both Germans and Australian ways of studying very different. Furthermore, my key learnings from both my Masters degrees is the importance of team work. Every project or task that we were allocated put us in real life situations of working as a team and delegating different tasks and duties to each team member. Another is research and analysis, to conduct investigations on topics, making presentations and reports is something I heavily utilise today. Therefore, these skills I acquired during my studies are imperative in my working life today.

How did you find the transition from the Masters Degree to your work experience at Champion Data and two AFL clubs

I felt that it was a smooth transition as a majority of my studies revolved around different sporting codes and was familiar with most footballing terms as I grew up with the sport. However, during my coursework I did not learn how to use Sportscode or various computer tools and packages used in the roles at both AFL clubs and Champion Data. But my readiness to learn and my eagerness to improve my abilities and learn new skills helped me adapt to new technology quickly. Mainly, my presentation skills and data visualisation skills learnt through university, enabled me to enhance the work I produced for the clubs and provide great details in various reports and findings. 

Tell us about the project that was most exciting in your studies or career so far

Number one would ultimately be my Master Thesis [The influence of innovative soccer shoe design on functionality whilst performing 90- and 180-degree cuts across an artificial surface]. Back when I was younger, I could not see myself completing such a task. It was a real personal achievement in my books.

However, in saying that one of my most exciting projects would have been testing various professional soccer balls in the RMIT wind tunnel. To control and conduct an experiment using this technology was just amazing. Within a team of four we compared the aerodynamic characteristics of Official Match Balls (OMB) used in the top five leagues in the world (English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Seria A & Ligue 1) & UEFA Champions League against training and replica balls.

All except one ball followed a similar transition from laminar to turbulent flow of a smooth spherical sphere. The Adidas Finale was the ball that was irregular and did not plateau during the turbulent phase but had a higher coefficient of drag with increased Reynolds numbers.

Which area of sports tech would you love to work in for the next few years

I still want to grow and pursue my career in the AFL industry over the next few years, however working as a data analyst within a sporting code would also be desirable. Moreover, I would like to go back and pay homage to my earlier studies and get involved with technology for the human body and movement later on in my career. 

Which resources have been most helpful? Any you’d recommend to people looking to get into this space?

My advice to any newcomers that are looking into getting into the sports tech industry is get that experience in early, start to create those contacts and pathways within the industry. 

If you could use your experience and skills to help one player or team; who would it be and what would you assist them with?

In recent years I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching Sportscode to the football stats teams, staff and players I have been involved with. I believe analysis, vision and statistics give an integral edge to all competitive teams and sporting codes. Coaches, analysts and players can utilise these sports tech tools for reviewing and prepare for upcoming matches to gain a competitive edge.

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