“The best examples relating to the use of technology is when players are at the heart of the process. A couple of years ago our U17 [England football] team won the World Cup. The players had studied the opposition and developed a game plan. Half an hour into the final they were 2-0 down but because they knew the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and because they had all bought into the game plan, they stuck to it and won 5-2. To come back against Spain in a World Cup final is no mean feat.”
Laura Seth is the Performance Analysis Education Lead for the Football Association, a role into which she graduated after spending years at the coal-face of video analysis. Although not strictly a coach, we have included Laura in our series interviewing coaches working across a number of team sports because, in her role, she is helping coaches to develop their analysing skills, giving them yet another tool to extract the very best from their players.
“I took the standard sport scientist route – an undergraduate programme at UWIC (now Cardiff Met University),” says Laura. “Back then there wasn’t a huge amount of analysis within that programme, we did a module in year two and then I did my dissertation in analysis, although that was on 200 metre running, nothing to do with football.”
Her work with the sprinters sparked an interest in performance analysis and, following a spell as a personal trainer, Laura applied for a role at the University of Bath as a video analyst.
She then spent 15 months working with different coaches in different sports – including the highly successful Super League netball team, the university football team and the British Bob-Skeleton team, who were based at the university at the time.
“It was a golden opportunity to develop the ‘softer’ skills around analysis,” says Laura as she reflects back. “It was also a chance to work across several different sports and see some different coaches in action.”
At the same time she enrolled on a Masters Course in Analysis back at Cardiff Met, so juggled the two roles.
In 2006, Laura joined the Football Association as an analyst with the international youth teams, working with both the male and female squads at every age group.
“I was fortunate enough to support at four World Cups and six or seven European Championships during my time in that role,” she says. “I have worked with some great players and some great coaches. Always during that time, my focus was on helping the players become the very best they could be.”
The life of an analyst can be a tough one. There is a lot of time spent travelling with the team, a lot of time away from home and hours spent in video towers watching matches or poring over video footage.
After a decade in the role, and following a restructuring at St George’s Park, the home of the FA, Laura moved from video analysing matches into education and her current role.
“My role now is predominantly focused on helping coaches that work in the professional game. I lead a team that helps people gain better, objective insights. This work is part of our Level 4 and 5 coaching courses.
“The other part of my job is spent helping coaches to work more effectively with performance analysts or developing the skills of analysis so they can do it for themselves. Every coaching role is different so a coach might find that they are in a position where they are working by themselves so they need that analytical skill and knowledge.”
Things are changing rapidly in the world of video analysis. Just four or five years ago, Laura says her job was a ‘harder sell’. In some quarter there was an underlying uncertainty around the value of video analysis. And even more uncertainty about how to most effectively use the information that analysis produced.
That has all changed now and most coaches across the majority of sports now embrace video analysis and recognise it as a vitally important tool for coaching.
“Coaches are very keen to learn more about analysis,” says Laura. “And there is a passion among coaches to learn how to analyse effectively. There are still times when coaches will trust their ‘gut instinct’ but if something can help confirm or challenge what their instincts are telling them, then that is a positive thing.”
Of course, developing a coach’s ability to analyse effectively is only one part of the story. As Laura points out: “When players cross that white line, they are the ones playing the game. They are the ones who are seeing what is happening in front of them. They need to be able to interpret what is going on and then make the appropriate decisions. I see analysis as a tool that gives players the opportunity to understand the game better.
“Long gone are the days when the coach stands at the front of the room and tells the players what to do. Now the players have to own that process for themselves.”
To achieve a state where the players and coaches can work together to formulate a plan or a strategy, it is essential that the right environment is created. Here, says Laura, is where the coach and the analyst must work together.
“We need to develop the skills in the players to give them the best chance to perform to their best and we can only do that when we create the right environment and culture within a team so the players can have a voice and an opinion.”
That means the coach must understand how to get the best from the players in that environment. Some players will be confident to give their feedback and speak in front of the group. For other players, the thought of expressing opinions in public will create emotions ranging from tension to terror.
Introducing players to analysis at an early age is one way to counteract this. Laura suggests that kids as young as 10 or 11 can be introduced to analysis in a fun, interactive way. “You can show the players clips of them playing. Show them enjoying success. Or give a group of young players a camera and ask them to film their own cross-bar challenge.
“It is a fun way of introducing content. You might ask them to watch five videos of goals from the weekend and then choose which one is their favourite. It is positive experience but it also allows you, as a coach, to see how they see the game. And from that you can tailor coaching to meet their individual needs.”
Within a club or team scenario, Laura suggests asking players to work in groups to problem solve. The challenge might be to study an opponent and identify strengths and weaknesses. The coach might ask another group to identify an opponent’s strategy and then arrive at a solution to counter it.
“The coach and analyst has to set up the right environment for the players to feel that they can make an input. The coach has to get to know the players and know what works best for them. For me, introducing analysis early, in the right way, is crucial. It is great tool for learning and development but, if players experience it in negative way early on, then that will turn them off. That means, as analysts and coaches we have huge responsibility in the way we use the information and we have to understand the effect it has on players. We have to prepare the players to perform the best they can the minute they cross that white line.”