On Saturday, September 22, the SFU Sports Analytics Club hosted the second instalment of VanSash at SFU Harbour Centre. The event was well received by student participants, as well as judges and mentors from organizations such as the Vancouver Whitecaps and Best Buy.
Students created teams of around four people and entered one of four streams: business beginner, business experienced, soccer beginner, and soccer experienced, based on their experience and skill level. The students used exclusive data from the Vancouver Whitecaps and ORTEC (a data-analyzing company with which the Whitecaps are partnered) to create a project based on the data. At the end of the day, they would present their project to judges and compete for prizes.
VanSash is run by students, for students, and was created to help students get their foot in the door with professional sports organizations. Roughly 100 students participated at the event this year, with another 20 or more judges, mentors, and organizers attending the event. Originally, the event focused on sports analytics, but newly added business streams “open the door to even more students,” said Dani Chu, the SFU Sports Analytics Club’s co-president.
Students who didn’t know soccer created fascinating projects that captivated Whitecaps representatives and other judges and mentors. For example, one project analyzed traffic flow in BC Place to find ideal spots for merchandise stands.
Soccer-savvy students also built many projects, from an index to rank players’ crossing abilities to a way to find the most frequent scoring locations on corner kicks for different MLS teams.
“This just shows the range of projects that students were able to complete with the data they were given,” said Stephen Jeske, Vancouver Whitecaps club analyst and representative. “The goal for us in the event is two-fold, really. We hoped to get some ideas — and we did! — […] but really, what was more important for us is to give the students the opportunity to apply their learnings to a real-world data set.”
While it was certainly an enjoyable experience for students and organizers, it was also enjoyable for judge/mentor volunteers. “I had a great time at VanSash. My favourite part is just talking to and mentoring the student groups,” said Jeske.
“I love seeing the thought process of each team trying to tackle the problems, and witnessing how they’re able to apply their own unique lens to both the data and challenge at hand is really enjoyable.”
Participants were also invited to attend the next day’s Whitecaps game. Winners of the streams were shown on the big screen at BC Place, and given an opportunity to present their projects to Whitecaps representatives. Giving these opportunities to students is one of the main goals of VanSash.
As Jeske mentioned, “not all of the business/soccer analysis problems can be solved in eight hours with a limited data set.” However, students were able to work with data that would be impossible for them to get otherwise, and able to get their foot in the door in an exciting industry.
“One of the key strategic priorities of Vancouver Whitecaps FC is to unite and inspire communities, and I can’t think of a better way to accomplish that goal within the Metro Vancouver statistics/analytics/business student community than through collaboration with this event,” said Jeske.
We will definitely be seeing more connections between SFU students and professional organizations such as the Whitecaps, and VanSash will be a big reason why.