Google+ Blueprint for Football: 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Inverting the Pyramid

The biggest revolution in football writing came about in the eighties when fanzine culture got hold of the game and, suddenly, people were writing about it like never before.  Whereas the establishment considered it to be a diseased sport and the media threated it likewise, fans started showing that there could be studied, intelligent debate about what was going on.

Eventually this way of seeing things took over the mainstream.  Despite this, however, any talk of tactics was frowned up and people who did so were viewed as pretentious.  It took even more time for those ideas to start gaining a foothold.

One of those who worked to make such conversations more acceptable was Jonathan Wilson.  It was his fervour for the topic – as well as his knowledge – that helped kick it all off.

Wilson eventually took this knowledge and packed it all into Inverting the Pyramid, a book that talks about the history of football tactics and how these were shaped by different eras.  

Given that Wilson is a fine writer who can pick up any topic and make it interesting, it goes without saying that this is a great read that will be enjoyed by anyone who follows the sport regardless of their interest in coaching (although the latter will probably have more reason to pay closer attention). 

What is particularly masterful is the way that Wilson has managed to link together various footballing schools of thoughts, identifying how different modes of viewing the game influenced each other.  Throughout the history of the game there have been few ideas that have been completely original and most of the changes are the fruit of evolution; they are the result of managers carrying out the tweaks needed for a system to work better.

This means that there is little that managers can do in the future that hasn’t been done in the past.  It is why they have to know how tactics have evolved since in that knowledge lie the seeds for any future evolution.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Madrileno Pulling Guernsey's Strings in the Ryman League

By Kevin Graham
Guille Fernandez hit the headlines in the UK when he signed for Ryman League South team Guernsey FC back in July.  The Spaniard has been a big hit with the Channel Islanders in his first few months there and, given my more than passing interest in Guernsey football, I was keen to catch up with Guille to find out about his experience so far, and dig a little deeper into his thoughts on how English football culture compares with the Spanish football

Blueprint for Football: How have you settled into life in Guernsey?
Guille Fernandez: I’ve been very busy so I haven’t yet had the chance to really experience many parts of the island lifestyle! My family visited the island recently and it was the first time I had been able to explore the coastline and some of the historical sites of interest.

I work at a local hotel, I play and train for Guernsey FC and I also coach in the GFA’s academy.  My employer is very helpful allowing my working hours to fit around my football.

In terms of adapting to life here, my team mates, coaches and the many people involved in Guernsey FC and GFA football have really helped – they are very friendly and I am lucky to play with a group where the spirit is so strong and supportive.  It helps that the Guernsey FC environment is such a strong organisation – the coaching staff are very good, all the support staff and volunteers do a wonderful job, the club is run very professionally and has a great media presence locally too.  It is very impressive for a club that is not professional, and I have been made to feel very welcome.

BfF: Can you tell us about your background?
GF: I was born in Madrid but moved to Benidorm where I grew up from the age of two.  I grew up playing football there before moving back to Madrid to become part of Atletico Madrid’s youth system, where I stayed until I was 19.  I then played in the Divisions 4 and 5 of the league system in Spain for Villalba and Las Roczas, during which time I enjoyed three promotions as well as playing in the play offs for promotion to the 3rd Division.  This was all part time and, though we were paid, due to the financial crisis the money was not enough to live on and so I also worked as a coach as well as in the football media.

I did some coaching work for Real Madrid and that was how I came to be in Guernsey, whilst doing some coaching in the summer of 2014.

BfF: So how has your experience been of playing Ryman league football in the English non-league pyramid, and how does that compare to your time in the Spanish lower leagues?

GF: Firstly, the pitches are generally bigger and better.  In Spain, many of the pitches are small and of poor quality, so the football often adapts by being more direct and teams playing off the second ball in the opponents’ half.  The best teams did play good football and as you went up to the Third and Second divisions, the facilities were better so all teams played more of a passing style of football.

Ryman league football is ok, some teams do play good football but the game is quicker, less patient and also more aggressive when teams are out of possession –the defensive aspects and challenges are more physical.

BfF: How about the culture and behaviours you see?
GF: There is more respect in the English game.  Despite the game being more physical, the individual duels are forgotten straight away – players show respect to each other and after the games there are no problems.  Maybe the coaches are not always the same, particularly during the game from the sidelines, but the players I think are very respectful of the game compared to Spanish players.

BfF: How about Guernsey FC? How do you see their style of play and compare that with your opponents?
GF: We have good technical players, and Tony (Vance, Guernsey FC Manager) likes to play attacking, possession based football – other teams sometimes do but sometimes are more direct.

Playing for Guernsey FC is difficult sometimes though as we never have the same team for away games due to player availability and even training is affected because the players have to give up so much time from work to play the games.  If we had the same team and had more stability we are a very good footballing side.  We could develop more together with our style of passing and movement.

BfF: And how about English football in the media? How does that compare to Spain?
GF: I love Match of the Day! It is much better than what we have on terrestrial TV in Spain.  The analysts are good, I like that they stop and pick out key moments in the game, it’s great! Our (Spanish) football shows have too many analysts and they all have their own favourite teams so it is not a balanced view.  Spanish people also focus on the celebrity lives of the players too much – it should be about the game! Monday Night Football on Sky Sports is also good to watch – very detailed.

BfF: You coach kids in the GFA Academy – how is your experience of coaching in English football?
GF: Well I think in Guernsey we are lucky, and maybe have better options for kids than in England perhaps (outside professional academies).  The coaches and facilities here are very good for children.

I do think that the players should play together more though – from ages 12-16 teams in
Spain train together 3 times a week and play matches too.  Here the players train two or three times but with different groups and coaches (for instance club, school, academy and performance group).  I think a player learns and improves more from September to May if they work in a group and stay together.  The next season it can change and a different coach or team mates can help the development but not when it is changing every week.  But I know that is difficult here because we live on an island and the possibilities are not the same as they are in Madrid for example.
BfF: So let’s talk philosophies and playing styles – you are a central midfielder who likes to get on the ball and dictate possession and are always calm when you have the ball.  I can draw comparisons with some top Spanish players here like Xavi, but is that how you think the game should be played?
GF: For me, Pep is the man – I am a Real Madrid fan but Barca under Pep, that was something!  I think you need to ensure the team is constantly moving, that passing options are always there and that when you lose the ball you get it back quickly – press, press, press! That team was beautiful, probably the best ever for me.  Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets – so simple but so much better than the others.  Real Madrid have no footballing identity – so for me it’s all about Pep!

BfF: But nothing in this game is new, right? Guardiola’s way isn’t completely new surely?
GF: Maybe not the principles, parts of which had been used before by great teams, but put it all together his way and wow! I played the football against teams that Barca B played against but they were so good, so much better.  And he had the confidence to put Busquets straight in, replacing big players like Yaya Toure, straight from the 4th division? He knew how good he was.

And now at Bayern he is playing with two at the back – always making things better and being different.

BfF: Do you have any other coaches you admire?
GF: I liked Benitez at Liverpool – he is not the same as Pep but their pressing game under him was excellent, I mean the team with Alonso, Kuyt, Gerrard...lots of energy even if Rafa is not in the same style as Pep.

I also love Paco Jemez at Rayo (Vallecano)  – he is crazy but does things his way.  He takes a team to the Camp Nou, gets beat 6-1 but does it his way – crazy high press, very ambitious and very attacking but it works against the teams lower down and he doesn’t just park the bus against Barca and Real.  I love that!

BfF: So you wouldn’t play a deep block like maybe Mourinho’s Inter against Barca in the CL semi final a few years ago?
GF: (smiling) If I was boss? No, never.

Kevin Graham made more than 200 appearances for a number of clubs in the upper reaches of the non-league pyramid (Whitby Town, Guiseley AFC and Goole AFC).   He is now working as a coach and a football writer.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

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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