If you love immersing yourself in the nitty-gritty details of baseball, football or basketball, becoming a sports analyst might be the perfect job. Analysts study the performance of teams and players in detail, and then use what they've learned to predict future performance. The job requires a lot of math work and hours of watching videotaped plays.
What a Sports Analyst Does
Sports analysts aren't reporters. The pros and cons of the job are totally different from, say, the pros and cons of being a sports announcer. Analysts work behind the scenes, crunching numbers – runs batted in, pitching records, free throws, touchdowns – to evaluate players. As the film "Moneyball" showed, analysts can help managers pick the best players. Some analysts also study players, live or on tape, and break down the details of their performances. A football analyst, for instance, might spend hours watching videos of the opposing team to learn their tactics against a four-man front or a three-man front. That information helps their own team plan its strategy.
The job's big plus is that you're working in sports, and your insights may be crucial to delivering a victory for your team or identifying the best players for the roster. One drawback is that it's still a new field, and therefore not entirely trusted. Many sports teams don't want to believe that something as nerdy as statistics can contribute to a winning season.
Learn Your Math
To become an analyst, you have to know how to crunch numbers. Even if you're not a statistics major, you need to take plenty of high-level statistics courses. If that sounds like the worst thing ever, this may not be the right field for you. Teams usually want someone with at least a bachelor's degree. You also need to know the sport you want to work in. You'll have better luck specializing as a football analyst or basketball analyst than a generalist. Communication skills are also important. It's no good to have the numbers on your side if you can't explain, persuasively, why they support your recommendations.
The federal government projects employment in the sports analyst field will grow faster than average. The downside is that lots of people who love sports and numbers are eager to move into sports analysis, though, so it's a highly competitive field. The government doesn't have salaries for sports statisticians specifically. Statistics professionals in general earn a median pay of $84,060.
Where You Work
Sports analysts work primarily with sports teams. The job goes by a number of names, including quality control coach and administrative assistant. Others work as consultants. Some statisticians work in the sports media instead. ESPN employs sports analysts to ensure every stat they post online or on TV is accurate. A number of statisticians find gigs as college teachers in related fields.
Grow Your Career
One of the cons of the job is that even if you have a great resume and a solid mastery of statistics, that may not be enough to launch your career. Teams prefer hiring analysts they know, so networking is essential. An internship or assistant coaching gig while in college can lead to a professional position. If you don't have that background, you can try meeting coaches at sports conferences or reaching out to your local team. You'll have to keep generating analyses and projections, even if nobody's paying for them. That will give you a portfolio to show if you ever get an interview.
Growing the Industry
Statistical analysts say that as more teams see the benefits of employing them, the field will grow. The federal government predicts overall growth for statisticians at 27 percent through 2022, faster than average.