Xavier’s search for smarter players
Servette Hockey Club is one of the foremost hockey clubs in Switzerland and has been in existence for well over 100 years (founded 1911).
The men’s first team competes in the eight-team National league A Division, which the side last won in 2014. Other recent titles include: the Swiss Cup in 2010, 2012 and 2016 and the EuroHockey Clubs Champions Challenge I and II in 2011 and 2017 respectively. The women’s team has a shorter history. They were formed in 2010 but they had a swift impact as they reached the semi-finals of the Swiss Cup the same year.
As one of the top teams in Switzerland, Servette HC is a club with high ambitions and an active membership.
And there is none more active or energetic than coach Xavier Santolaria.
Xavier has huge experience within hockey. He played and captained Belgium club team Royal Evere White Star Hockey and then became the assistant coach to the Belgium Women’s national indoor squad.
Having moved to Switzerland for professional reasons back in November 2015, he took the Servette HC Women’s team Head Coach position until the end of the 2016-2017 season. He was then offered the Head Coach position of the Men’s team in the summer of 2017. Still occupying this role, he is using his vast and varied experience to good effect with the current squad.
Coach Logic caught up with the Belgium coach to chat about technology within the sport and his own coaching philosophy.
First and foremost, Xavier is a firm believer in the necessity of player input into any decision-making processes. It is a trait he shares with most contemporary and progressive coaches, and is miles removed from the days when the coach attempted to dictate and control what was happening on the pitch.
One way of improving players’ decision-making abilities is to spend time analysing performances via video playback.
“It [the analysis process] is very important because ultimately the players are the decision makers on the pitch. They need to understand how they performed in specific situations and then give and receive feedback in order to improve. In the learning process, you have to be active, not passive.”
For Xavier, one of the most important reasons for using analysis tools is to bring all the players’ knowledge to a higher level. Within each team, coaches around the world will agree, players’ ability to analyse and understand the game differs from individual to individual. But, by using analysis, a coach can ensure that even those players who struggle with the tactical side of the game, can still have a higher level of understanding, which will ultimately improve their and the team’s performance.
To that end, there coaching team at Servette HC hand over much of the responsibility for analysis to the team: “The most important aspect of the Coach Logic tool is that it’s not longer the case that the coaching staff does the entire video analysis,” he says. “Players have to take ownership, and through this tool they can take ownership. This is our biggest gain.
“Using video feedback and analysis we can fix and correct weaknesses or a mis-understanding of our tactics almost instantly. We can see something that has happened at the weekend match and build that into the next training session. It is all part of self learning and that is a key concept at the club.”
Multi-directional communication is key to Xavier’s coaching strategy.
Underpinned by Coach Logic tools, the players can discuss strategy, tactics, general match and performance thoughts with each other and with the coaching staff. A few months into using the system and the players are more open with their interactions and as Xavier says: “Discussions, thoughts and feedbacks flow much more easily.”
Xavier explains that at Servette, the most used Coach Logic feature is the Feed Feature. The team uses Coach Logic as both its Video Analysis Platform and as the major communication tool for the team.
By centralising the information on the Coach Logic system, communication between various groups is simplified. For the players, the mobile app has proven a tremendous tool as they can access information wherever they are. Such availability means the players are able to watch clips and give feedback when it is most convenient for them. As Xavier points out, by making it easy for the players to communicate, it makes it easier to instil good habits of giving and receiving feedback.
For the head coach himself, the best feature is the ability to synchronise the Hudl SportCode timeline with the video on the Coach Logic Platform. It means players and coaches can go directly to events that have been previously tagged. “A very nice feature,” he says enthusiastically.
When it comes to a coaching philosophy, Xavier believes that there are four dimensions to success: physical, technical, tactical and mental. He also believes that what you do on the pitch spills over into real life and vice versa.
“By developing better human beings, you get smarter players,” he says. “Decision making on the pitch is no different than in real life. You need to understand where you are, what situations you can control and the ones you cannot, so you can mitigate risks.”
And one of the keys to getting smarter players is to get everyone talking the same language on the pitch. “When it comes to performance, video analysis is a channel to get the feedback process started more easily. I think by asking and getting feedback helps clear up a lot of misunderstanding and gets all the players to talk the same language on the pitch.”
And with a hint of the flamboyance that animates his coaching style, Xavier adds: “We want all eleven players on the pitch to be moving as one. Like in a beautiful ballet. That’s what you get with smarter players.”
Written by: Sarah Juggins for Coach Logic