UNC Charlotte students are using sports analytics to change how soccer players and coaches view the game. Recently, a group of students from the sports analytics program entered research projects into a global competition hosted by renowned sports data and analytics company Stats Perform.
UNC Charlotte’s delegation, the only group from the United States selected for the Stats Perform Opta Forum Conference in London, presented their findings to industry leaders from legendary soccer teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid.
Students Will Bantz, Patrick Bardsley, Seve Jimenez and Jack Pamukci submitted two proposals about field performance to the conference organizers, outlining metrics that predict “expected threat” that teams may encounter during games. Additionally, Pamukci’s individual research was picked for presentation on the main stage.
Pamukci discussed his findings on the importance of individual positioning on the field to prevent opponents’ progressive play in build-up phases and counterattacks. His report provided coaches and recruitment staff with a more objective understanding of how each individual player defends for a team, and it quantified how proactive a player is in seeking to prevent opposition attacks. The quality and uniqueness of his research - applying analytics to defensive strategies instead of offensive tactics - earned Pamukci the Dr. Gary Gelad Award for the best undergraduate presentation.
“The Opta Forum is attended by sports scientists and analysts from all over professional soccer, and so connecting with these people is exactly where we want to be as aspiring soccer data analysts,” Pamukci said. “This opportunity wouldn't be possible without the Sports Analytics internship program at UNC Charlotte, which prepares us for opportunities like this and for working with coaches in the future.”
At UNC Charlotte, John Tobias leads the sports analytics program. Each semester, a group of students garner experience through a series of guest speakers and projects. In any given semester, Tobias’ class could meet executives from the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte FC, the Carolina Hurricanes, ESPN and other sports organizations. Students are given assignments to analyze real-life scenarios for local professional organizations and present a detailed analysis to team representatives.
UNC Charlotte’s sports analytics undergraduate certificate program, which started in 2022, has already had an impact on different organizations. The relatively young program has produced talented individuals who have accepted positions with Charlotte FC, the Philadelphia Phillies, USA Baseball and the Boston Bruins.
The invaluable experiences gained by Bantz, Bardsley, Jimenez and Pamukci in London pair nicely with their classroom training and will surely benefit them in their professional careers as the next wave of sports analysts, said Tobias.
Photos: Data science students left to right, Will Bantz, Seve Jimenez, Patrick Bardsley and Jack Pamukci; inset, at the London competition.