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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Three Essential Ingredients Needed For A Player To Develop Are Passion, Deliberate Practice And Master Coaching

Blueprint According To...Alex Trukan

Alex Trukan was coaching at a Dutch academy in his native Warsaw when received the offer to join Nottingham Forest’s academy staff.  That was two years ago and he has since continued his development in England where he not only teaches players to develop a growth mindset but lives that idea on a daily basis.

Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long was that?
Alex Trukan: No one from my family has ever been involved in football in any way so when I started to be interested in football it was a bit of surprise for everybody. 

As most of the coaches, I started playing at a local club when I was 13 and played there for couple of years. I then progressed onto bigger academy and played there for some time. At the same time as I was playing, I have received an offer to assist with a local U13's team. I was thinking about coaching even before that so I liked the idea and agreed. 

As it became difficult to coach and train at the same time, after a couple of months I had to make a decision and went onto the coaching pathway, resigning from playing.  At that time I was 16 years old. 

Since that time, I have never regretted that decision and absolutely loved the coaching which has became my full time job 2 years ago and still is at the age of 20. 

BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
AT: I had a pleasure of always having great people around me and have been always finding it vitally important to listen and learn from others. I think the most important mentors
in my life would my parents, who have not only thought me the basics of how to live but have been also very supportive in my career. 

Specifically in football I had different mentors throughout different stages of my coaching pathway. Some of them have been close from the very beginning and still are, others just at a particular time. I guess it's a good thing and it's nothing personal to change mentors as the career goes by and the views and philosophies change. 

BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
AT: Coaching philosophy is something that should come from within the coach and is a crossover of his experiences, values, beliefs and behaviours. I think every coach that wants to become a great coach should start with analysing himself and getting to know his own personality. That's the only way to have unique coaching philosophy and be the best version of it as any other philosophy than your own personal is already taken. 

My coaching philosophy is based around personal development, rather than the culture of 'talents'. I strongly believe that three essential ingredients are needed for the player to develop: passion (fuel), deliberate practice and master coaching. I have been also a great believer of developing a 'growth mindset', which ensures that learning process is valued not less than performance and is placed in the centre of coach's attention. My coaching philosophy is based on being passionate to inspire young people, positive as well as professional and organised. 

BfF: Is winning important for you?
AT: Winning is an essential part of the game and regardless of the age of the players you coach, it should be valued and understood. For most of the kids, winning will mean scoring more goals than the opponent but winning for a youth coach will always mean development
of the players. I think a lot of modern academies went a bit too far in resigning from playing competitive games and taking the pressure out of the game and that now results in many players coming through into older and senior teams not being able to cope with the pressurised environments and playing to win. That's why some of the focus in the coaching programme should be given to learning 'winning mentality' understanding what does winning mean at different stages and for different players as well learning to cope with pressure. 

BfF: What are the most important attributes of players in your teams?
AT: The things that matter the most and underpin other behaviours of the player are usually hidden and not easily visible for the coaches and scouts on the pitch. 

Using the iceberg metaphor, the attributes I highly value are hidden under the water for most of the time and only bits of these can be seen from time to time. The starting point for me is the desire and passion for the game, not things surrounding the game like fame, money or recognition but love for it in a pure sense. Intensity of the motivation is obviously essential but what can be learned from many stories of the players is that stamina of that passion is even more important. It helps the players to be resilient and battle through hard times, which will inevitably happen throughout lengthy process of development. 

The second most important attribute is the desire to learn. That does not necessarily mean being responsive to coaches and teaching but rather than that being keen learner of the game, whether it's in a conscious way or more in an uncontrolled 'street diamond' fashion which is self-taught. Only after those two fundamental traits, the other ones come which are more visible on the pitch: physicality, technical ability, game understanding. 

BfF: How much is learned from attending coaching courses and how much is learned by observing other coaches and reading about coaching?
AT: That's an interesting one. I have personally went through different stages of that. There were times when reading and watching coaches was the only available thing to do as I
didn't have players to coach and was too young to go onto coaching course. And then more recently, I have been finding increasingly difficult to read and watch others as I have been coaching all the time! 

The golden mean seems to be an answer to that. Coaches need both the theoretical knowledge gained by reading, watching others and attending course as well as practical one when they are actually doing it. What is important to realise is that the coach is as good as the work he can do on the grass, not in the classroom!

BfF: You write a bit about coaching.  What attracts you to that aspect?
AT: I have a pleasure of writing tactical and conditioning articles for World Class Coaching. It is not only great because of the opportunity to share the knowledge with others around the world but also it is a great tool to develop as a coach and deepen your own personal knowledge. Knowledge not only in a sense of content of the articles but also ways of presenting it to other people, what clarifies the way you think and makes you simplify a lot of the stuff you write about! 

BfF: You're a coach at Nottingham Forest FC Development team.  What exactly is your role?
AT: At the moment I am coaching academy U9s team as well as pre-academy U7s and U8s. The role involves delivering coaching sessions 5 times a week, planning, evaluation (PMA) as well as managing a game on Sunday. Occasionally, I am also involved in some scouting and talent ID.

BfF: Forest is a club with a rich tradition and a proud history.  Do you think this helps you as a coach?
AT: It's a great honour to work for such a club and represent it. I think knowing history of the club you're working for can help to see your role as more purposeful and make you even more committed to it. This was the case for me at every club I have played or coached at so far and it has definitely improved the standards I was aiming to show.  

BfF: What do you want to achieve to be satisfied with what you have done in your coaching career?
AT: Long term I would like to coach Polish national team and win the World Cup with it. It is an optimistic and quite distant goal but I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be possible to happen. Football has an amazing power to change lives and I think such an achievement would contribute not only to people related to this sport but to the whole country. 

In a more short term perspective, I would like to help my U9's become more technically proficient players and better learners with a passion for the game. I would also like to make my pre-academy players more familiar with academy standards and identify as many players with the greatest potential as possible.

Follow Alex Trukan on Twitter.

Previous Blueprint According To... interviews are collected into three Volumes of e-books that are available from Amazon (US Versions here).  To receive a free copy of the third book in the series, join our free mailing list.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why – And How – To Use Video Technology: A Quick Guide for Coaches

Vital Tool For Coaches
Research has shown that coaches recall around 45% of incidents within a game.  This means that they miss more than half of what happens which is a significant chunk.  Having a backup in the form of a video of the match provides one with the possibility of calmly re-watching a game and the luxury of noting down what worked or what didn’t during the game.

These pointers can then be shared with the players – again with the aid of video – highlighting areas which need to be worked on with the visual element being a key teaching tool.

Look At Other Teams
If you want your team to press the ball like Bayern Munich, then video provides you with the
opportunity of highlighting exactly the movements that players make at different moments of the game.  This helps you when you are out on the training pitch because players already have a mental image of what you want them to achieve.

Music Is Important
For most ‘adults’ music in video – particularly highlights packages – might seem like an afterthought yet for kids this is a vital component.  In research it often comes up how the music influences their actions and the impact that it has when coupled with a video of themselves playing (for example).  There are two sides to this.  The first is that if you really want young players to get into such analysis then you have to make sure that there is music they like couple to it.  The flip side is that you have to be careful that it doesn’t pump them up too much, especially straight before a game, as they could go on to the pitch over-excited.

Experiment With Technology
As with most technology, recording equipment that once used to cost thousands of dollars can now be bought for a couple of hundred at most.  This means that the technology to implement video analysis is within most people’s budgets.  It also means that people
shouldn’t necessarily limit themselves to the traditional means of having a parent or volunteer record games.  There is more scope than ever before to be creative in one’s approach.

Cameras like those that are available by GO Pro can be put up at certain key points on the training pitch in order to view each action from different angles.  Similarly, these can be worn by players to provide them with the ability to rewatch footage from their training session and, as a result, the ability to discuss their performance (and the options that were open to them) from their point of view.

Those are just two ideas but it requires a coach who can think up of new ideas in order to come up with new ways to utilise the power that is now available to them.

Find Help in Editing Games
In Blueprint for Football’s interview with Simon Middlemas, the author of “The impact of video-based practice on the development of elite youth footballers” (his doctoral thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University) he put forward an idea that many should look into.

The best practice I have seen recently has been in New Zealand where I am currently based. We run a graduate diploma in performance analysis. The students film and code domestic rugby competitions and load the coded highlight videos onto a publically available forum.” 

The coaches get free feedback from their games, and their opponent’s games, in the form of coded highlights (e.g. tries, scrums, lineouts and so on) and can chose to do what they want with that (e.g. feed it back to players, analyse their opponents, analyse parents’ behaviour etc)."

Every local club has a local university or college and an untapped resource of sport science students looking for placement hours.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Video Analysis in Football: The Expert View

Despite it being increasingly used to assist coaches, there has been surprisingly little research carried out on the impact of video analysis in football.  One of that limited set of research documents was compiled by Simon Middlemas who wrote “The impact of video-based practice on the development of elite youth footballers” as his doctoral thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

That paper is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject as it looks at video analysis from the points of view of coaches as well as players.  It is a document that is full of insight in what works and what doesn’t (and why) allowing those who intend to use such technology to avoid a lot of pitfalls.

Currently a lecturer at the Otago Institute of Sport and Adventure in New Zealand, he has clearly kept on thinking about this subject as evidenced by the added insight he provided in the replies to a set of questions Blueprint for Football put forward to him.

Blueprint for Football: What are the greatest benefits of video analysis?
Simon Middlemas: As an ‘objective’ source of information which stimulate new learning between the coach and athlete, and as a piece of feed-forward, to show the athlete what they are truly capable of in the future.

BfF: A clear danger that a player is influenced negatively rather than positively.  How can coaches diminish this risk? How important is it that coaches analyse the way that players are taking to video analysis to ensure that it doesn't do harm rather than good?
SM: The best way to understand how an athlete is responding to video feedback is to take the time to understand how they work. 

I believe that some coaches make snap judgements about players characters (e.g. mentally weak), and wait to be proven wrong. Good coaches invest the time to observe and listen to players, especially early on in their relationship, and use this information to structure how they deliver feedback in public settings. 

One-to-one sessions with the video can help accelerate this process, by building trust. Reading players responses in sessions is difficult because some athletes can become experts at masking their feelings (often having experience a bullying coach at some point in their development, and not wanting to risk embarrassment). 

Encouraging senior players to follow up with junior players after poor performance can be helpful too, as some players won’t talk to the coach as a first resort. Negative responses to video feedback are not necessarily a bad thing, but after this initial ‘hot’ response to a mistakes or error, the coach need to be make sure they take the time to talk to the player when everything has cooled down, and to help the player get their mindset right and move on. 

Often this secondary process doesn’t take place and the athlete lingers on it too long or develops bad habits in their thoughts.

BfF: Would you agree that it is essential that coaches know how to teach players to develop a growth mindset by working more with those who lack the confidence and knowledge to analyse their performance to see what they can improve rather than simply what they did wrong?
SM: Yes, I agree with this. I am a huge advocate for growth mind set and think my research provides evidence of the negative culture created when coaches solely take a critical approach. Knowledge of result and performance are key aspects of learning, and there is plenty of evidence to support this approach. 

I would put a caveat on that, however, by saying that in my practical experience there are
significant individual differences in their preferences. Some athletes do prefer to be given more objective feedback, regardless of whether it is negative or positive. The context matters too. Mid-competition is probably not the time for lengthy, reflection on performance and this may change the way it’s delivered. 

I have seen very powerful evidence of this at elite level at key moments in competition, but away from these situations, I think most athletes (especially those lacking in confidence) can benefit from growth approach.

BfF: Do you agree that video analysis works best when tied to other techniques like setting individual goals?
SM: Intuitively, as a sport psychologist, I see the benefits of using mental skills such as goal setting, imagery and pre-performance routines alongside video feedback work to help prepare athletes better for performance. 

Apart from visualisation, there is little evidence (beyond anecdotal) to suggest that these have a direct benefit or not. Both have support separately but not much recent research into the combination.

BfF: Your analysis was focused on professional academies where there are analysts who edit it for the coaches.  What about coaches at non-elite levels who do not have this luxury?  What can they do?  What are the best practices that you have observed of such coaches?
SM: Video feedback is universal. Most coaches can access a video camera and ask a parent to film the games. Many parents now do this without being asked. iPads, smartphones and similar equipment have removed many of the accessibility issues around getting hold of footage. 

Having said that, there is no guidelines for coaches on how to analyse, what to feedback at the levels below elite. The best practice I have seen recently has been in New Zealand where I am currently based. We run a graduate diploma in performance analysis. The students film and code domestic rugby competitions and load the coded highlight videos onto a publically available forum. The coaches get free feedback from their games, and their opponent’s games, in the form of coded highlights (e.g. tries, scrums, lineouts and so on) and can chose to do what they want with that (e.g. feed it back to players, analyse their opponents, analyse parents’ behaviour etc). 

Every local club has a local university or college and an untapped resource of sport science students looking for placement hours.  

BfF: Would coaches benefit if occasionally it was their performance that was analysed?  How they react during the game, their voice levels during training and so on?
SM: In short, the answer is yes. 

It’s an important area of development for coaches, and I think it goes a long way to building trust between the coach and athlete if the coach demonstrates the qualities (e.g. self-reflection, self-awareness) they are hoping to develop ion their athletes. 

There are several conditions which would make this more effective: an experienced coach educator/mentor/psychologist who has a relationship with the coach, a framework/assessment tool which has been validated (e.g. CBAS, see paper attached) and a coach who is buys into this process for the right reasons (e.g. doesn’t just see it as a hoop they have to jump through for accreditations etc). 

There are probably other conditions but if these were in place it could be a worthwhile process for all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Video Analysis in Football: The Professional View

Whilst there seems to be a perverse satisfaction taken by some in criticising the English academy system, the improvement that has been undertaken in youth football is phenomenal.  Most clubs now have resources that were unimaginable up to a few years back and, what's more, they have coaches with the creativity to use these resources in increasingly effective ways.

That much is evident whilst talking to Jonathan Henderson, Academy Manager and Head of Coaching at the Bristol Rovers Academy, about their use of video technology.

"We utilise some live feedback for coaches by ‘tagging’ a particular moment. For example if the theme of the week has been playing out from the back, an intern can tag (by using Dartfish EasyTag which is a free app) how many times we have been successful and unsuccessful in this," he explains. "The data can then be given to the coach before intervals and this can be used as a discussion point for the coaches and players. This isn't done every period for every game, but is a resource available for the coach to call upon if required."

"We have also used some post game statistical analysis based on key performance indicators linked to the theme of the week which can be used to either give some context to the game in a quick snapshot, or also frame a forthcoming session.

"For example a couple weeks ago one of our squads totally dominated the game in terms of penalty box entries and shot attempts but lost the game. We used the data to reinforce that they had played well but that it also framed the next session which was based on finishing in and around the area. this is something very much in its infancy and again may only be called upon periodically."

"On top of the footage for players, we also utilise footage of coaches as part of their development. We will throughout the year microphone up and film the coach in action.  Using a similar process to the players, we will produce some clips of some actions of the coach.  Coaches will also be given opportunity to watch back the footage and self reflect on their performance to support their development."

"A final thing we use the footage for is for promotion purposes – reinforcing the playing philosophy, goals of the week, highlights etc which all are used to motivate and engage the players. Plus, it is a way for people outside of the academy to see what we do.  They may not read a two page document on our playing philosophy but may watch a two minute video showing it."

Blueprint for Football: At what age do you start using video technology?
Jonathan Henderson: We currently use video analysis for all age groups from the under 9s through to under 18s with a varying style and approach (and detail).

BfF: What forms of video technology do you use?  And how does this differ in the different age groups?
JH: We record all home fixtures whilst the under 16s and under 18s also get access to away footage by agreement between both clubs sharing their resources.

The under 9s to under 12s we are currently about to introduce a method of all players being given access to a set of clips solely on them from the match day, which they will then be set a homework task to identify a couple of positives and also some areas for improvement in line with the relevant theme of training that week. 

We also currently utilise classroom sessions to show some good practice from the games to reinforce the playing philosophy and to build the players confidence as well as familiarity with the classroom footage environment in preparation for later stages of the academy.

The under 13s to under 16s have a weekly classroom session which will focus on some positive areas and areas for improvement from the match based on the theme of the week. We also have an opportunity to reflect on the goals for and against in general. This is coach lead but involves discussion, question and answer or group tasks with the players who are expected to contribute to the feedback process. The under 16s are also provided with a set of clips of just their own performance for them to self reflect.

The under 18s have a weekly session in which the key moments from the game will be analysed. This will be coach lead and predominantly focus on reinforcing positives but also giving opportunity to identify areas for improvement both individually and collectively. They also receive a set of clips of just their own performance for them to self reflect.

The coaches also have opportunity to liaise with the relevant interns or lead analyst to request anything additional from the game that them may feel is relevant either for the players or simply for the coach to reflect upon.

In addition to the use of footage from our own games, on occasion we have used footage from the top end (Premier League, Champions League) that may help to frame a particular session prior to delivery. For example we have used footage of Xavi receiving to play forward prior to a similar session, asking players to talk on what they saw and then discussing this with them. We also show examples of the elite players doing it wrong to show that not everyone is perfect and that even top players will make mistakes.

BfF: Who prepares the analysis and what sort of training does he have?
JH: The footage is prepared by our lead Performance Analyst who works part time for the Academy with the support of placement interns. He possesses a BSc (hons) in Sport Science, is currently enrolled on his MSc which focuses on Performance Analysis, and has previous experience of working in another professional Academy through a yearlong internship. He has also undertaken some additional training by ProZone although this is not a system we utilise. The interns receive in-house training and support to develop their competency.
BfF: How do you handle criticism to players when you deliver the analysis to the whole group?
JH: The important thing is to establish an environment where it is not necessarily seen as criticism but simply an opportunity to improve through feedback. However we are aware, particularly with the younger players, that this needs to be managed properly. For example if one player has made a number of the same mistakes we would simply only show one or two so that the same player was not being highlighted in a group session. Similarly we would ensure that it isn’t the same players week after week being highlighted.

BfF: Why are you going down this route?  What do you think are the benefits of using technology?
JH: We feel that it is difficult for any player or coach to remember every moment of the game. By using this we simply have a more accurate means of reflecting upon performances and also feel that it means we can discuss and show players key aspects to help with their understanding.

BfF: How often do you deliver this analysis?  Is there a point where it becomes repetitive and the benefits diminish?
JH: We use a weekly session. In order to ensure it isn’t repetitive and that the benefits
remain, we feel that it is important firstly for the players to understand and buy in to why we are doing what we are doing, but also to make it engaging and interactive. It isn’t simply put on a video which the coach commentates over, but a range of ways in which the message can be transmitted.

BfF: Do you check with the players to see how they are receiving it?
JH: In all honesty, not particularly. We rely more on staff observation of the group to assess their interaction with the tasks, and as long as the group are engaged and enthusiastic then that is our benchmark.

Follow Jonathan Henderson on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Video Analysis in Football: The Innovative Coach’s View

Innovation is often best manifested when there is the realisation that a current practice can be improved on and the ingenuity to affect that improvement.

There are countless football clubs who video training sessions but the bulk of these rely on volunteers standing on the sidelines with their camera.  

This is a working set-up but far from ideal so some started looking for a better solution.  “We make use of a GoPro during matches,” says Tas Raza of Remarkables FC, a ladies five a side team based in Cape Town, South Africa. 

“With traditional handheld cameras, you usually need to have someone filming and that’s not always possible. In a 5 a side format, a GoPro works perfectly as the pitch is small enough to see all the action at either end.”

Blueprint for Football: First off, can you tell me a bit about your club?  What age categories you cover and what level you play at?
Tas Raza: Our club was formed just after the 2010 World Cup and we’ve been competing in five a side leagues around Cape Town ever since, with a fair amount of success! We’re
primarily an amateur team consisting of ladies who are either students or young professionals in varies careers. Our youngest is 17 and our oldest is 34, so there is a range of different qualities amongst the players. Most of the older girls play for the love of football and the younger girls are there to develop their football talent and learn from the more experienced players.

We are made up of one team at the moment, but actively look to promote women’s football in Cape Town by hosting mixed tournaments, pick-up games every Sunday and encouraging new girls teams to join the local leagues.

We eventually want to build an academy for women in Cape Town who either want to start playing football or want to improve their current ability. Of course our first step is to find a sponsor or partner who shares our vision for women's football in South Africa!

BfF: At what age do you start using video technology?
TR: The youngest player we’ve had was 15 when she joined, and we began using video analysis with her in the same way we did the rest of the team. The aim is to get players used to self-analysing themselves every week and to determine their strengths and weaknesses; where they went wrong, what situations created problems and most importantly how they can correct their problems or maintain their success.

BfF: What forms of video technology do you use?  And how does this differ in the different age groups?
TR: We make use of a GoPro during matches. With traditional handheld cameras, you usually need to have someone filming and that’s not always possible. In a 5 a side format, a GoPro works perfectly as the pitch is small enough to see all the action at either end. We can also adjust the position, angle and height of the camera very easily and don’t have to worry about it being manned for the duration of the game. 

When it comes to age groups, the difference would lie in the way the feedback is delivered
to the audience. I personally think video can be used amongst most age groups as long as you know your audience and how to make it engaging for them. 

Showing junior players the goals they’ve scored in a “Match of The Day” style highlights package (even if it’s from the training ground or holiday clinic) could be a great way to engage kids - another form of positive reinforcement. 

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to test whether it would be successful or if any clubs in Cape Town are doing something similar in junior set-ups, but I think it would be interesting.

We also make use of Prozone software called GameLens which allows us to import the video, code and tag certain events, cut clips and feedback to the ladies on one platform. Again, it depends on what I’m trying to achieve out of the feedback and what’s relevant.

The software is great when trying to identify things like where and how possession what lost/gained on the pitch. I can group those clips together and immediately find any trends or predictability in our own play, or with the opposition.

BfF: Who prepares the analysis and what sort of training does he have?
TR: I prepare the analysis for the team along with the coaching tasks. I usually have a helping hand on match days, but as the recording is un-manned, I don’t have to worry about the video logistics and can simply review footage in the evening after the game.

I work for Prozone Sports (Cape Town) and therefore have my Prozone Performance Analysis Levels. The ladies team provides an incredible platform for me to test different methods of feedback and see what works and what doesn’t.
BfF: How do you deliver the video analysis?  Is this something that you do one to one or is it something that is delivered to the whole group?
TR: This depends on who I am delivering feedback to and what I want them to take out of the feedback session. On some occasions, I will have one on one sessions with players if I feel there is something they need to improve on individually. This can be anything from their decision making in certain areas of the pitch, to studying their technique with regard to ball control, shooting and body shape when defending.

If we’re facing a tough team or about to play an important cup match, I’ll run the whole team through 3 or 4 clips before kick-off on only one specific aspect of their game. This ensures there isn’t information overload before a match and the ladies are visually prepped for what we’ve either practiced during training sessions or discussed prior to the match.

Once you get to know your players, you are aware of the most effective way to get information across to them, whether that’s through one on one sessions or together as a group.

BfF: If you deliver the analysis to the whole group, how do you handle criticism to players?
TR: When I’m delivering to the group, it’s very much an open discussion. Firstly, I make sure everyone understands why I’ve chosen specific clips and then get their thoughts on their individual contribution and how it affected the team in either a positive or negative way.

It’s important for the players to understand that video sessions aren’t only there to point out their mistakes or to criticise their performance, but to help them improve their future performances. Part of this process is to build solid relationships with your players so they are aware that any criticism you give them is constructive and you’re there to help them improve as footballers and as a team.

If I have a player that has been under-performing or not following specific instructions, I try to show them two sets of clips if possible: one example of them making the right movement, followed by a clip or two where they haven’t quite executed it correctly. I find this helps them visualise the difference and identify the other cues in that scenario that they may not have picked up during the match.

BfF: Why are you going down this route?  What do you think are the benefits of using technology?
TR: Making use of video technology and feedback is a massive help, not only to the players, but to me as the coach as well. That’s one of the reasons I don’t mind doing the analysis myself. During a match there are all sorts of events happening on and off the ball and it’s impossible for me to be aware of all of them. Making use of video allows me watch the whole game again with a fresh set of eyes and make more objective decisions after the intensity of being pitch side.

I can cut clips and put them on my tablet to show players at almost any time. With messaging tools such as Whatsapp and online tools like Dropbox, I can also send short clips to the group of that evening’s goals or positive build ups etc.

For the players, it gives them a chance to visualise their performance from a different view point, review their actions/clips as many times as they like and build a greater understanding of their overall contribution to the team.

BfF: How often do you deliver this analysis?  Is there a point where it becomes repetitive and the benefits diminish?
TR: I try not to overdo analysis and feedback. Doing too much tends to overload the players to the point where the benefits can definitely diminish. Too much information or clips that are too long can result in players losing concentration pretty easily. Feedback sessions can be fairly regular; however they also need to be relevant and interactive. You can’t simply sit a team down, press play and have them watch the whole match again and assume they’ll pick up anything.  

I make sure my clips are short and stick to a particular topic, in the similar way coaching sessions are structured. I deliver analysis once a week and it’s either based on the opposition we are playing or aspects of our last game. Again that depends on what I’m looking to get out of the session.

BfF: Do you check with the players to see how they are receiving it?
TR: I’m lucky in the sense that the group will tell me if they don’t understand something or if they want me to explain something in a different way. This goes for video clips or even drills on the training pitch.

It’s a continuous process to ensure the players are receiving the feedback well or if something needs to change or evolve. I find open lines of communication are key and I’m currently in the process of creating a system which will monitor my players’ progress and provide them with constant feedback and reports where necessary.

Follow the progress of Remarkables FC on Twitter.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Power of Video Analysis

“I watch the goals on my phone to get me in the mood and to give myself a vision of how I want the game to go.  As the season has gone on, I have got more clips, but that’s good. The clips now last around 15-20 minutes, which is normally what the coach ride to a stadium takes - so it is perfect. It gets me in the right mood.”

That is how Daniel Sturridge described his pre-game ritual in the run-in of the 2013-14 season when he scored twenty four times and Liverpool came close to winning the league title.  

It is a clever way to fill what could easily become a negative space – the coach ride to the game - where anxiety and nerves might build up to ruin a player’s performance before a ball has been kicked.

It is also one of the more practical ways through which video analysis can be used even at the highest level.  The practise of trying to visualise success has now worked its way into many professions, not just sports, yet few have the luxury of being able to see themselves successfully doing what they want to do.  Video can provide that luxury.

The popular belief is that the use of video lies largely in the analysis of past games as well as to provide insight into future opponents and it is quite an accurate perception.  Yet, as the Sturridge example show, it is a tool that can be used to achieve much more than that depending there is real knowledge on how to do so.

This latter aspect is crucial.  Whilst at a professional level there are people with the specialised training to do so – video analysts and sports psychologist in particular – at lower levels it is very much based on intuition.  Coaches try to implement something because they are convinced that video can help but often have to do so within the limitations of time, ability and resources that they have.

Yet the possible impact of video analysis is huge especially if you consider the massive advances in technology that has put such analysis within the reach of a larger number of people than ever before.

Know What Needs To Be Done
I’m finding that a lot young players are very good at self-assessing,” Craig Easton – the former Scotland U21, Dundee United, Leyton Orient and Swindon midfielder who is currently working as a youth coach – recently commented.  “This in turn helps them think more about what and how they can improve.

If there is one thing that recent studies in psychology have taught us, it is the importance of
being able to look within yourself in order to develop.  Carol Dweck, the Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset, coined the phrase growth mindset which essentially means that ability to look at recent successes and failures in order to determine what lessons can be taken forward.

What distinguishes people who achieve extraordinary things from the rest isn’t simply the intellect or physical ability but also how they allow experiences to shape them.  Even if you take the past decade alone, there are dozens of footballers who failed to achieve what they should have not because of lack of talent but because of their attitude.

This knowledge adds a layer of responsibility on coaches (and teachers).  It is no longer enough to teach children how to execute a task, you have to allow them to learn to see where they got it wrong and how they can change matters.

Obviously, video is ideal for this purpose.  Observing oneself and others is one of the strongest mechanisms for transmitting behaviours, attitudes and values.  This is commonly referred to as experiential learning: the process of learning through reflection on doing.  

Often it is difficult to comprehend abstract ideas like when a striker should make a run or the moment when a defender should step up for the offside trap to work.  This process, however, is rendered significantly simpler when there is a video that the individual can see of himself and through which he can drill into the mechanics of what he got wrong or right.

Importance of Guidance
For this to be effective there is the need for someone to point out the minutia – how to recognise when and what type of run to make, for instance - and provide the necessary guidance.  This does not mean constant handholding - which is both impossible and impractical - but it does require a certain level of individual attention that is often triggered by specific practical dilemmas.

Yet learning can be of a different nature as video provides the individual with more information than ever before to deal with potential threats during upcoming games.  Seeing what a direct rival likes to do allows the individual to prepare himself for the threat so that when they face each other on the pitch there is already a pattern in his head and he does not have to spend time thinking of how to handle a specific movement.

Essentially, video is the perfect mechanism for showing individuals how to carry out those minor changes that can have a significant uplift in their performance as well as giving those same individuals a way for evaluating their own performance.  Eventually the aim is for the individual to be able to analyse his own performances and those of upcoming opponents to such an extent that he will be able to gauge what he did wrong during games or what he needs to be aware of.  

The need for external inputs will be minimised.

Sometimes, however, players need more than that.  Complacency and the temptation to
blame others for ones’ own mistakes can be too hard to resist if all one is doing is looking at his footage on his own.  It is why group sessions where the whole team reviews footage of past games, dissecting them in order to identify what they got right and what needs to be improved, are important.

Such a group analysis holds all players accountable and provides the jolt that is occasionally needed in order to step up and improve focus.

Not everyone is a fan of this approach and it is easy to understand why.  Criticism isn’t always easy to take especially if teenagers (for whom the image that they hold within the group is extremely important) are involved.  No one likes to be pulled up in front of others or have their weaknesses discussed in public.

At the same time, the ability to learn to deal with this pressure of being in the spotlight is also a necessary skill especially for those who are in professional academies and who hope to make it to the highest level.  If one does not learn to cope with having a couple dozen people looking at how he did, what hope does he have of handling the pressure of performing in front of thousands of people?

Getting The Right Message Across
That, however, does not excuse the coaches from taking care of how they deliver any group video analysis session and, in particular, the message that they project.  In such situations it is the confident players who tend to thrive taking on the comments without letting them effect their view of themselves.

Less confident players, however, are usually less comfortable in these sessions and rather than helping them such public analysis can bring their game down.  It is largely because of these players that coaches need to ensure that the aim is clear of these sessions is clear – that of improvement – so as to ensure that no one feels the need to hide.

Ranting, then, or being overly aggressive when going over individual mistakes should be avoided because such actions nullify the positive intentions behind the exercise.  There are other pitfalls that coaches have to look out for.  Overly long session invariably become boring and repetitive which again nullifies the benefits of the whole analysis.

On the flip side, coaches have to beware not to overly hype players.  Watching clips of goals before a game – ala Sturridge - is a good way of getting a player to visualise their success and create mental pictures that can be used during the games.  Yet another player watching a similar video with the wrong kind of music can do more than that: it may end up with that player sent off or getting injured by ‘pushing’ him to go into rash challenges.

As with anything video analysis does not work for everyone.  There will be those who consider it to be a useless waste of time for whom it will be extremely difficult to buy into such analysis.  Coaches should be aware of such players to ensure that their cynicism does not influence others whilst at the same time avoid falling into the trap of trying to force it down anyone’s throats.

The important thing is focusing on those for whom such analysis does make an impact.  Even if the potential impact is slight, coaches have the responsibility to learn as much as they can and do whatever is in their power to maximise it. 

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Monday, November 16, 2015

"Patience And Dedication Are Two Things A Coach Must Possess"

Blueprint According To...Craig Easton

How do you judge a player's career?  Do you look at initial expectations and see how he fared when compared to them?  Or do you simply look at what he has managed to achieve?

Going by the first metric, then the verdict on Craig Easton wouldn't be too kind.  A Scottish Under 21 international and an alum of Tommy McLean's Dundee United, he was expected to reach heights that ultimately he didn't.  Then again, he enjoyed a good, long career as a professional playing over 500 games for 7 clubs in both Scotland and England.

Looking at those statistics then it would be harsh to see his career as anything other than a success.

That said, the man is quite harsh on himself, freely admitting that he didn't achieve all his ambitions as a player.  Rectifying that is now his ambition as a coach.  More than that, however, he is driven to improve the players in his care.

Blueprint for Football: When did you start thinking that you wanted to get into coaching?
Craig Easton: When I think about it, I’ve probably coached at every club I’ve played for.  The youth team at Dundee United were made to go down and help with the Football In The Community sessions and I actually quite enjoyed it, so I suppose the seed was planted way back then.  

During my playing career, I always helped out either with the FITC programmes or Academy kids and later on with the youth teams.  

I recognised that the help I had from my coaches and senior pros as I was coming through was vital, so I’ve always felt a certain responsibility to pass on anything that may help those kids coming through.  

I really became serious about coaching and management probably around 2009, the time when Guardiola had Barcelona playing football that seemed to be from another planet.  But there were also other interesting things going on at the same time.  Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund excited me with their energy and attacking play.  Mourinho’s Inter Milan won the Champions League when on paper they certainly shouldn’t have.  A couple of years later,  Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Club Bilbao blew me away with their two performances against Manchester United in the Europa League and all the time Spain were re-writing football history at International level.  

It got me thinking about how football had changed and the different tactics, formations and styles that managers used.  It was a period that turned me on to football again and it all started with Barca.

BfF: Does being a former player help?  Does it automatically get you that little bit more respect from players?
CE: I think being a former player certainly helps, more so because I’ve lived and breathed
the game from the perspective of the players I’m coaching.  Not only can I really get into the fine detail on something from a technical or tactical perspective, but I can understand how players may be feeling from a psychological and social perspective.  For example, understanding their reaction to them feeling like they’ve had a bad game or even just helping players adjust to life in digs.  

I’m certainly not saying you have to have played the game to be a good coach, but I do think it gives me an advantage in certain areas.  

As for automatically getting players’ respect, I think as a former pro, you do up to a point but it won’t last long if you’re not capable and you’ll be found out very quickly.  It doesn’t matter who you’ve played for or at what level, players will rightly judge you on the quality of your sessions, man-management, and work ethic to improve them.  You have to gain their respect as a coach.

BfF: Throughout your career you've played under a lot of managers.   Have there been any that left a particular impression on you and what do you try to copy off them?
CE: I’ve played under many managers with different strengths and various styles.  The two that stand out are Tommy McLean who gave me my break as a 17 year-old at Dundee United, and Martin Ling at Leyton Orient - the simple reason is that I felt they understood me both as a player and a person.  

Tommy gave me my debut at a young age and trusted from very early on to play major roles in important games.  He was always trying to improve me as a player and would take time to work on little aspects of my game on a one-to-one basis.  Plus, he was honest with me and never held a grudge.  Even if he had been in my face after a game, he would be the first one waiting to say hello and have a chat at training on the Monday.  Everything would be forgotten, we’d have a laugh and we’d be ready to go again.  

Martin was very similar in the way he made you feel.  He gave me responsibility and I felt he had faith in me as a player and a leader in the team.  Our Leyton Orient team won promotion from League Two with a midfield four of whom I was the tallest at 5’10.  We played a passing game in a league where physicality was everything.  We still could mix it, but the Gaffer’s bravery to stick by his philosophy impressed me.  

Both these managers were excellent coaches on the training pitch with amazing attention to detail and their sessions were short, sharp and competitive, but their ability to man-manage is what I would like to take from their approach.  They got the balance right of pushing me to be better, but at the same time giving me the confidence to understand I was a big part of the team.

From my time in youth football, there are many coaches that have made an impression.  It seems mad now, but John McKenna, my first ever manager at North Airdrie under 10s used to have us playing in the old 3-2-5 formation and I played inside left even though I was right footed.  

He didn’t overcomplicate it or focus on tactics or anything, just the basics of passing and moving, being creative and working hard as a team.  Some of the football we used to play (mainly on red ash pitches) at that age was brilliant.  

Graham Liveston at Dundee United was excellent at getting us to think about little details of our game and I was lucky to come through the club at a time when they were producing a lot of good young players, mainly because of him.  Later on at Tannadice Paul Hegarty and Gordon Wallace along with Maurice Malpas were coaches that helped me progress to the first team at a young age.

BfF: Do you turn to former managers and colleagues for advice?
CE: Yes, I think you have to use whatever resources are at your disposal.  At Torquay
United we had a great bunch of coaches and we would always be bouncing ideas off one another which I think is a good way to tap into different peoples’ knowledge and experience.  
Ryan Maye was our FA coach educator for the south west region and he’s someone who I’ve been able to turn to for advice.  Since I’ve been back in Scotland, I’ve caught up with a few managers, coaches and ex-teammates and there’s always something you can take away from a conversation.  Exposing yourself to debates and different points of view is a great way to learn and that was one of the best things about doing the A licence.  

There were coaches from different countries working at various levels and it was fascinating to experience so many different styles and points of view.  I also regularly speak with Martin Ling who gave me guidance as a player and he’s been a great source of advice now I’m coaching.  

My father and my wife are always on hand to give me advice.  Not only did my dad help guide me throughout my career, but I believe he would’ve been an excellent manager.  He used to coach and manage all the Boys Brigade teams and still does.  My brother and I joke that he’s probably won more trophies than Sir Alex!  From a young age, he instilled in us a fierce competitive attitude, but always wanted us to play with style and skill and got the mix just right.  He might not have any coaching badges, but he knows as much about the game as anyone I’ve come across.  And my wife certainly gets it too.  She hardly missed a game in my career and often helps me see the bigger picture, especially when it comes to understanding how players react and deal with certain situations.

BfF: Similarly, have you ever had any mentors?
CE: I certainly consider Martin Ling a mentor.  I just wish I could’ve worked with him longer at Torquay United when I was really starting to think about the game from a coaches perspective.

BfF: Does coaching ever replace the sensation of players?
CE: No.  I agree that it’s the next best thing and I get an immense feeling of pride from seeing  the team or one of my players doing well, but I can’t even explain the emotions of playing football professionally.  The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up just thinking about it.

BfF: Given that you are now studying more about the game, do you look back at your career and think about what you could have done differently?
CE: With hindsight, there’s always things you could have done differently, certain decisions and so on but I put everything into my career - every single day - and while I didn’t achieve the goals I set myself, I know I couldn’t have given any more.  I was very singleminded and dedicated to improving, so personally, I’ve always been happy with how I approached my career and my own personal development.  

However, I was a box-to-box midfielder, a bit of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, and was utilised in many positions at an age when I was still developing as a player.  If I’d been given a particular role at this time, I think that might have kicked me on a bit in terms of my development.  

I studied the game more in depth later on in my career, mostly because I was undergoing my B licence and thinking seriously about the next step into coaching and management.  I wish I’d started the process earlier as it certainly helped my own performance, and the way I was able to see certain aspects in a different more analytical light.

BfF: What has change most since your days as a young player: physical, tactical or emotional preparation?  In what way?
CE: I cant’ give a single answer here.  It’s all changed to an incredible degree in different ways.  Firstly physical preparation.  In the Youth Team at 16 or 17 you went to the gym on your own and did weights - which usually consisted of trying to out-bench everyone else - or the coach would take you the group for a circuit.  

Nowadays there are fitness coaches, sports scientists and individual programmes.  More focus on core strength, flexibility and functional movements.  Tactically, there’s now more video analysis which helps to highlight things individually, in units and as a team.  This was almost non-existent at first team level when I started out and now it’s almost normal for every team in an Academy to be able to access some sort of video analysis which is great.  It certainly helped my game later on in my career, and the kids love seeing what they did well and what they can improve on.  

Which brings me on to emotional preparation.  I’m finding that a lot young players are very good at self assessing which in turn helps them think more about what and how they can improve.  Many Academies have access to a sports psychology programme and this can also help how players deal with pressure, and not just in football related scenarios.

BfF: What do you do to keep on learning?  Where do you look for inspiration and ideas?
CE: I learn in many different ways.  At the start of the season I spent a week shadowing my ex-Dundee United colleagues Derek McInnes and Tony Docherty who are now manager and assistant respectively at Aberdeen FC.  It was great to pick their brains and see first hand the way they work during a typical week and also how they use all the tools and staff at their disposal to prepare for a game on a Saturday.  

CPD events are good for picking up new ideas.  I was recently at one organised by the Scottish FA which featured Michael Beale from Liverpool under 21s and he shared a lot of the core values that they promote from the Academy through to the first team level.  I also enjoy reading interviews from coaches and managers throughout the world on how they approach different aspects of the game.  

Obviously Blueprint for Football is excellent for this! A lot of the time, just talking with other coaches and watching games probably inspires me most.

BfF: You've been through an experience at Torquay which wasn't very positive in the end.   Have you taken any lesson of that experience?
CE: It’s massively disappointing how everything turned out at Torquay United.  As is often
the case, money was the problem and ultimately the combination of new owners and finances put paid to a really promising Youth Academy that was not only producing players for our first team, but who we were selling to bigger clubs.  

We worked really hard to attain EPPP Category 3 status.  There’s no doubt there have been a lot of poor decisions made at the club over the last few seasons and relegation from League Two seriously affected the funding for Youth Development, but with the amount of money at the top end of the game, it’s about time some of it trickled down and was ring-fenced to help with nurturing talent in the Lower Leagues.  

We had some really talented players in our system and it’s great to hear that most of those have found clubs.  Two of our lads are scholars at Southampton and another has signed for their under 16s.  Others have gone to Yeovil, Exeter and Plymouth, so I’ve no doubt that Torquay United’s loss is going to be their gain.  

Personally, it was an interesting and fun first experience coaching and developing players in an Academy environment.  I was fortunate to work with a dedicated group of coaches, players and parents and learned many things that I’ll take with me on my coaching journey.  Probably the biggest one, is really know your players and then you can understand the best way you can motivate them and help them to learn.

BfF: Talking of learning a lot is said about players needing to be intelligent on the pitch.   What are your views on this and is football intelligence something that can be built up or are players born with it?
CE: For me football intelligence is a lot more than just reading the game.  It’s knowing how you fit into the part of the puzzle.  How to react to different moments in a game.  Decision making in and out of possession in relation to ball, space, opponents, teammates, so many things to consider as the picture continually changes.  Game management.  And no player gets it right all of the time, not even at Champions League level, so think how hard it is for 15 and 16 year old kids.  However, the older they get, they need to be making more correct decisions as they are ultimately getting judged on whether they can progress to the next stage where the pace of the game increases.  

For example, if you have a player with outstanding ability, but he really struggles with game intelligence, he’s not going to make it to the level he could potentially play at.  It’s our job as coaches to guide them and challenge them to make good decisions more often by testing them regularly through small sided games and realistic game related scenarios.  The more a player experiences these situations, then the easier it will be for them to make a good decision when they encounter it during a game.  Some players certainly seem to have a greater understanding, but I believe you can help improve it.  

You look at Xavi, Lahm, Pirlo or Mascherano and it looks so natural to them.  Iniesta is a player who nine times out of ten will make the correct pass with the perfect weight and it’s these small details that are the difference between good players and the very best.

BfF: What do you feel is the most important thing a player needs?  And what do you look for in a player?
CE: It’s important for players to be comfortable with the ball, regardless of position.  I think that ball mastery allied with a competitive edge is a good starting point for any young player and then you can start looking at specific attributes.  Players don’t necessarily need to be coached to have either of these.  Individual practice and playing with their mates in the street or down the park can help to build this base.  

Later on, awareness and decision making is key, but a constant throughout, is having the right attitude and a good work ethic.  A player can be technically gifted, athletic and have all the attributes associated with being a top player, but if his attitude’s not right, there’s only so far he’ll go and only so many coaches and teammates that will put up with him.

BfF: Similarly, what is the most important attribute of a coach?
CE: Patience and dedication are two key things a coach must possess, however, I think the most important attribute a coach can have is positivity.  At any level, the coach is who the players look to for inspiration and leadership, so the positive body language you portray and the enthusiasm you bring to the role needs to be there before you even set foot on the training ground.

BfF: Is there a book you feel every coach should read?
CE: There are two books that have inspired me over the last few years and I would highly recommend them to both players and coaches alike.  Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World and Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja's Historic Treble both by Graham Hunter.  Both teams played a part in re-igniting my passion for the game at a time when I was somewhat disillusioned by football.  

Graham Hunter’s insight and detailed assessment of how and why these teams were so successful is fascinating and I keep dipping back into them all the time.  I was lucky enough to interview him for an article I’m writing on Barcelona which will be included in the upcoming issue of Pickles Magazine.  He knows his stuff and it was a pleasure talking to him about players and a club he knows intimately.

BfF: What do you want to achieve in your career to be satisfied?
CE: I wasn’t satisfied as a player.  I wanted to play for Scotland and Liverpool and I didn’t do either.  I would love to coach and manage at the highest level and that’s certainly an ambition.  If I get there, no doubt I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I won the Champions League! At the moment, I get a lot of joy from seeing players progress.  Not just from them playing in the first team or moving on to better things.  That moment when they’ve been struggling with something and then you see it just click with them is massively rewarding.  

I had a lad playing for my college team last season that on the first day was struggling with his balance, never mind controlling the ball, but his work ethic and attitude to improve was incredible.  He ended up a regular starter and in the last game of the season he scored a great goal in a game against the Youth Team on the pitch at Torquay United.  That’s what it’s all about.

Follow Craig Easton on Twitter.

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