Upping your game

By Andrew Butterworth

Performance analysis aims to get the very best endeavour from a team. After analysing games in minute detail, coaches use the data to shape and modify training programmes. The same techniques can also pre-empt opposition tactics, allowing a coach to arm their own side for the battle ahead.

In its basic form, performance analysis (PA) aims to improve coach and athlete performance, such as by correcting technique faults in order to throw a longer distance in a field athletics discipline. A PA practitioner may make use of one of three main strands of PA: technique analysis, tactical analysis and video analysis. Performance analysts work with many professional sports teams. Often specialising in a single sport or discipline, an analyst will have studied sport at undergraduate level, performance analysis at Master's level, and is expected to work well with technology and know their sport inside out with rule changes and game know-how particularly important areas.

PA in team sports

In association football, the vast majority of clubs use PA and employ at least one full-time analyst, although many teams choose to invest further. In the Championship, for example, Leicester City FC employs at least four analysts: a technical scout who combines traditional scouting methods with video technologies for the recruitment of new players; an opposition analyst who analyses upcoming opponents' previous matches; plus two match analysts. With the introduction of new academy football rules, many youth teams now employ analysis at this level too. Other sports also using PA extensively include rugby union, cricket, golf and netball, to name a few.

Tactics and methods

A performance analyst is not limited to looking at his or her own team's performance. Many analysts now review performance of opposing teams for trends or patterns that their own team could potentially annul (if a strength), or expose (if a weakness). When working pre Olympics with Badminton England, I looked at opposition players for our mixed doubles and men's singles entries before presenting the findings to our coaches and players.

Feedback methods vary by player and coach sometimes statistics are presented through tables and charts, sometimes visual graphs are preferred, or raw video footage. Whatever the approach to data, analysts must respond to the needs of the player or coach and adapt accordingly. The work I do with Hertfordshire Mavericks netball franchise involves opposition analysis for every game, and reviewing previous footage as necessary to find ways of improving the team's chances of victory.

Figure 1: Statistical feedback from a Hertfordshire Mavericks Superleague match

The technology

Making use of the latest technologies, performance analysts 'capture' performances live using an external video camera. This is often linked to a laptop where footage is saved and stored using PA-specific software. Analysis continues to develop at an exponential rate, with the use of tablets rapidly gaining popularity because their portability enables instant analysis at any location, by coaches and players alike.

By using video streaming to a laptop or tablet, a performance analyst is able to code (flag up) specific key performance indicators (KPI) pre-set by the coaching team. KPIs in football include shots on and off target, completed/incomplete passes, and possession. As significant events happen in play, the analyst uses PA software to code all those that are wanted for reference later on. At the end of the performance, derived from the coding, the analyst can provide the coach with full performance video footage, individual videos of each coded KPI and full statistical feedback (Figure 1).

Software options

Acquiring appropriate hardware and software for PA is a costly business. However, some versions of PA software are starting to be available for free download. Although they have fewer advanced features than their commercial counterparts, these equivalents do provide a realistic alternative for those wishing to engage with PA who cannot justify the cost of professional packages. Popular packages include Sportscode Elite, Sportscode Gamebreaker, Dartfish and Focus X2.

Objectivity is key

Perhaps PA's main attraction is the objectivity derived from video and statistical data, rather than subjective coach or athlete perceptions of performance. Objectivity brings accuracy and intense detail to every aspect of performance, and the coach can also use this data to form detailed training programmes as part of the wider coaching process. Objective data helps minimise coach bias in planning and sessions, thus performances can be improved impartially for the benefit of all involved.

However, despite the proliferation of PA in coaching, there is a lack of data that can prove its worth. Few studies thus far have set out to measure the impact of PA on performance, or to seek a cross-section of coaches' views on it. This will be explored further in future issues.

Correspondence

Andrew Butterworth is a Sport Project Officer, Hertfordshire Sport Village, University of Hertfordshire, UK and a Performance Analyst with Team GB Paralympics, Badminton England, England Netball and Hertfordshire Mavericks.

Please contact Andrew with your comments and queries:
Email: a.butterworth2@herts.ac.uk

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Research Review - Volume 3