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.
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