SFU Sports Analytics Club runs VanSash, a hackathon for students and by students

A Q & A with SFU Sports Analytics Club co-president Dani Chu

This will be the second year running VanSash for the SFU Sports Analytics Club. (Photo courtesy of VanSash)

The SFU Sports Analytics Club has been involved in many exciting projects in the past, working with professional organizations such as the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Vancouver Canucks, and Canada Basketball. What may be most impressive, however, is the club’s initiative to create their own sports analytics conference for other students in Vancouver. The second instalment of “VanSash” is set to kickoff in Vancouver this weekend, connecting students to the sports analytics industry.

We sat down with SFU Sports Analytics Club co-president Dani Chu to discuss this event. Read below for more!  

The Peak: So for people that don’t know, what is VanSash?

Dani Chu: VanSASH is the Vancouver Sports Analytics Symposium and Hackathon.  It’s an event organized by SFU students to give other students the opportunity to experience and learn about the sports analytics industry, and to give them the opportunity to get a foot in the door and put their talent on display. The event is taking place on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at the SFU Harbour Centre Campus and is free of charge to attend for accepted students.

P: How did this event come to be originally?

DC: The event originated in February, 2016 when two of my classmates and I were complaining that there were no student focused events for sports analytics on the West Coast. Inspired by our participation in the 2016 NBA Hackathon and the Dr. Tim Swartz and Dr. Luke Bornn’s 2016 Cascadia Symposium on Statistics in Sports (CASSIS) we organized the first edition of VanSASH in 2017. We wanted to make it accessible to all and so there is absolutely no entry fee.

Josh Weissbock of the Florida Panthers explaining the challenges and strategies of working with qualitative scouts as an quantative analyst last year. (Photo courtesy of VanSash)

P: How did it go in your first year doing it, what did you learn from that?

DC: Our event was very well received in its first year. We had a great group of speakers from diverse areas of sports analytics. We had speakers from Academia take a look at sports through a statistical and a physiological lens and speakers from the Industry share their experiences. After a morning of speakers the participants had a day and a half to come up with data driven recommendations for the Vancouver Canucks and Vancouver Whitecaps. We learned a lot about how to run the day smoother and have made changes to narrow the focus of the event in order to give our participants the best opportunity to create an awesome project. Additionally, we learned about what food to order and not to order so our food selection will see a great improvement this year.

VanSASH participants look on at the Symposium last year. (Photo courtesy of VanSash)

P: What will the event look like this year?

DC: We are working just with the Vancouver Whitecaps this year and will not have the morning of speakers like last year. We feel like this will give our participants the time and energy to focus on their projects.

This focus has enabled us to broaden our base as well. So we have two big additions to VanSASH this year. The first is a Business Analytics Stream. We have been granted exclusive access to Vancouver Whitecaps sales and ticketing data, and have some very creative and interesting problems to tackle with it. This has made the event more accessible to students who are interested in learning how to make data driven decisions.

The second addition is that we have opened up beginner divisions within both streams. We have done this with the hope that not only are we giving students a platform to show their talent but also giving newer students an opportunity to learn new skills. We will be providing workshops for the beginner divisions taught by talented mentors from companies like EA, Cardinal Path, Flipboard, Keela, Dialpad, and SFU. Additionally, we have many high profile judges coming from SFU, Best Buy, the Whitecaps and even Major League Soccer (MLS).

Finally, the Whitecaps are offering a discounted rate for tickets to their game on Sunday, September 23 so our participants can hopefully continue to build the relationships they started at VanSASH.

P: How was any of this possible? Who helped you put this event together?

DC: First and foremost I have to mention our organizing committee. Lucas Wu, Matthew Reyers and Kristen Bystrom from the Department of Statistics, Eli Mizelman from the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology and Andrew Ringer from the Department of Communications.

Second, I have to give a big thank you to our sponsors, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC who provided their exclusive data and prizes. Additionally, the Canadian Statistics Sciences Institute, Simon Fraser Student Society, Statistical Society of Canada, SFU Faculty of Science, SFU Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Statistics and Actuarial Science Student Association, and Sticker Mule, who are graciously providing us financial support, giving us the ability to provide our participants with better food than last year’s cheese pizza.

P: How did you gain the connection with the Vancouver Whitecaps?

DC: Our club’s relationship with the Vancouver Whitecaps started with Dr. Tim Swartz, a mentor and co-founder of our club, who had a relationship with the Caps. Dr. Tim Swartz is part of the Sport Analytics Group of professors at SFU and he organized research projects with his summer research students and the Caps. Additionally the students in the club have the unique opportunity where we help their scouting department film home games.

Last years winners of “Best Whitecaps Analysis”. (Photo courtesy of VanSash)

P: What can you say about the group of people who have registered for the event?

DC: We have a fantastic group of skilled participants who have applied and been accepted to the event. Some of the top sports researchers at SFU have teamed up to tackle soccer problems and across the board I see students with great technical skills, a passion for data, and an appreciation for the soft skills it takes to have your analysis make an impact.

P: What is the main goal for VanSash?

DC: The main goal for VanSASH is to give students the opportunity to be exposed to the sports analytics industry. Whether that’s getting access to exclusive data and presenting their analysis or learning tools and skills to be able to handle large data sets. It’s all about giving students a stage to perform.

P: What do you think about the sports analytics industry as a whole?

DC: I think it’s in a really great place right now and it’s only going to get better. You see more and more great public work being done and presented at Conferences across North America. We see reproducible research is on the rise within sports analytics and there has been a major push for more public data which will only make research better (to be specific I should shout out Ron Yurko and the Carnegie Mellon Sports Analytics Conference). Finally more and more top sports researchers are being hired by sports teams or by the leagues themselves.

P: Is there still room for people to join and how can they go about doing that?

DC: We are sold out of both Soccer Analytics Streams, but, we are still accepting applications for the limited spots that are available in the Business Streams. Students can apply through our website at www.vansash.com or at this link https://goo.gl/forms/MoUTmWYCFVJ9Jlv22. Additionally, if students cannot make this event in particular there many more opportunities to get involved with sports analytics at SFU. They can join the Student Club, or join our Sport Analytics Group journal club.

Editors Note: Andrew Ringer is a member of the SFU Sports Analytics Club and is a part of the VanSash team.