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Tom Fordyce | 15:06 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

If you were to see England defence coach Mike Ford playing with his iPhone during a team training session, you should fight the temptation to shout at him and tell him to leave his emails till later.

He'll be watching a video clip of the move just completed, filmed from both the halfway line and an elevated camera behind the posts and sent directly to his phone by the team analyst. With a drag of the finger he'll then show the players in question exactly where they went wrong, and what they should be doing instead.

Forget clipboards, chalkboards and screaming from the touchline. Rugby analysis has been revolutionised, and the professional game altered forever as a result.

In charge of England's set-up is former Bath captain and coach John Hall, with Tony Ashton (son of former England and Ireland coach Brian) and Mike Hughes (analyst for Britain's Olympic track cyclists in Beijing) embedded with the elite squad, others with the Saxons, under-20s and under-18s and a backroom support team at the company's offices in Wiltshire.

"I'm a practical guy - I don't believe in ghosts," says Hall, and when you see how much data is collected, analysed and used, his meaning becomes clear.

Training sessions first. When the elite squad comes together, the analysts have every drill, every practice, filmed and recorded from two angles. "It gives a panoramic view of the shape of the game," explains Hall.

England video analyst Tony AshtonTony Ashton films an England training session

Coaches can access the clips instantly on the iPhones. Once the session is complete, they can download all the video onto their laptops, and micro-search for specific items - all line-outs from that training camp, for example (hands up Steve Borthwick), or scrum five in session three on Thursday last week.

In the team room, four or five viewing stations are set up for the players to do the same. In one corner is a grey hard-drive containing every England-related match from the last four years.

"The coaches now have more time with the players than ever before, but it's about using that time efficiently," says Hall.

Through a central web portal, players and coaches can watch and download any international or domestic game from recent seasons. To save time, there are different edits of each match available - one for the home team, one for solely attacking and kicking, another for defence and contact. Footage is available from a wide angle, reverse camera on the other side of the pitch and hoist camera high behind one set of posts.

Should they want to dig deeper or be more specific, a search function allows them to select a particular competition, match and player, and pull up a video package to match. If a coach wants to examine every line break Ben Foden made last year for Northampton, it's a couple of clicks away; if they'd like to see every example of Nick Easter's ball-carrying in Six Nations matches away from home, they could do that too.

"A lot of coaching is done on gut instinct, and not backed up by raw data," says Hall. "What we do is provide the coaches with the material to make their own decisions from. Stats aren't a replacement for rugby knowledge - they're for backing up what you think."

During training, players can be given a small GPS device to wear in a small harness between the shoulder blades. This records how far each player has travelled in each session, to which parts of the pitch, how fast they have travelled and what G-forces they've been hit with in contact.

"You want to have players exactly right for matches," says Hall. "The extra data enables you to make training specific to each player. Two open-side flankers could have completely different stats, so you'd adjust their programme accordingly. It's the same with players' heart-rates. Their overall heart-rate in a session might be low, but if you can see that it hits its maximum in short bursts, you can feed that back to the physiologists so they can adapt training to make it more specific to what they do."

During matches themselves, the analysts will be sitting with laptop open just a few feet away from Martin Johnson and his coaching staff.

On his screen is a live stats window - line-outs won and lost, percentages of ball kicked and run, tackles and passes made and missed. A simultaneous video window allows live match footage to be paused, re-wound, highlighted and chopped into clips to be sent to those iPhones for half-time team-talks.

Tony Ashton

If Johnson wants to see any incident again, it can be pulled up for instantaneous replay. If a player has been injured, medical staff can review the clip to help ascertain what treatment is most appropriate.

"A good analyst should be able to second-guess what a coach is looking for," says Hall. "They should be the eyes and ears of the coaches."

England are not alone in employing an analyst's skills. Ireland have Mervyn Murphy, ensconced in what the players call The Bunker. Gavin Scott, Scotland's expert, uses a radio-controlled helicopter called the Cyberhawk to video training sessions from 60 metres overhead. Wales's Rhys Long is defence coach Shaun Edwards's key colleague ("I probably spend more time talking to Rhys than anyone else. I probably speak to him four or five times a day," Edwards told me).

England's analysts and their enormous online database are intimately involved before big games. Opposition matches can be dissected, referees' traits examined ("it's not 'he blows his whistle 30 times' but more 'he's hot on offside from kicks, or he calls scrum engagements like this...'").

Should Johnson and his management team be debating the merits of various players in a selection meeting, stats can be pulled out to turn hunches into fact.

Which England-qualified hooker is the best carrier of the ball? Johnson might have a rough idea, but by clicking on number two he can bring up stats for all the players at his disposal and make instant comparisons. If he wants first-hand evidence of George Chuter's work, another click on the stat brings up a video clip featuring every single one of his carries that season.

An example of the statistics available to the England management and playersA screen-grab of the online stats available on England-qualified hookers

It's a staggering amount of information, accessible in so many ways. There are also detailed sets of data logging every minute played in the Premiership by England-qualified players (which is used to monitor player burn-out and calculate payments from the RFU to clubs under the elite player agreement) and a tracking system to follow the progress of players through the age-group and Saxons squads. A rugby fan could keep himself amused for days, pulling up clips from different matches, watching Player A's tries from one season or another's crunching hits from a particular part of the pitch.

But... is it good for rugby? Doesn't so much scrutiny threaten paralysis by analysis, turning players into robots, leaving them unable to play with spontaneity and freedom? Hall is convinced otherwise.

"It's never the driver, only the support. To be a successful coach, you have to have your own style. If you want to play off the cuff, you use analysis to support that. I'm all for open, flowing rugby."

Has it narrowed the gap between the big international teams? Is there room for surprises when every single move has been studied, rewound and studied again?

"If we make one or two per cent difference, we've done our job well," says Hall. "The big difference is the players. How good are they? How good is the coaching? The analysis is a component in the coaching matrix."

I ask him how the players feel. When it's possible to highlight every missed tackle made, on which phase, in which area of the pitch, there's no hiding place left.

Hall smiles. "That's the way the game is going. The rewards are so great now. You can't expect to find a hiding place."


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  • Comment number 1.

    "if they'd like to see every example of Nick Easter's ball-carrying in Six Nations matches away from home, they could do that too." Surely the shortest video in the entire database...?

    While I can see some benefit to analysis of some areas, I can't help but feel this is way way too much. And I think there are two telling reasons why:

    The first is that there is no comment from a player. Tom, what are the chances of getting players' opinions, and I mean their REAL opinions not just the part line? I wouldn't be surprised if many of them felt it was boring, uninspiring, and didn't add any real value. It's important and potentially vital to know key things about the opposition. For example, as a scrum half I used to pick up early which foot an outside half kicked with so I could try and charge him down/force him onto his weaker foot. But overloading players with masses amount of information? Do they remember it really?

    The second reason is that for all this in depth analysis, England are still a mediocre team who haven't strung together consistent selection or performance for more than a couple of matches in the last 5 or 6 years. At times they have struggled to do the basics like passing in front of the man, kicking well, and running hard. Does the analysis go that basic? Does anyone ever get pulled up on a video for passing as poorly as a 10 year old school boy? And for all of Borthwick's in-depth analysis of the opposition lineout, all it has meant is England haven't been as poor in that facet of the game as they have in others.

    Ian McGeechan, around the time of the Lions last year, said something along the lines of "players don't remember what you tell them in training, but they do remember how they feel". I just wonder if all this makes they players feel cold and uninspired. When a player other than Borthwick comes out raving about it, or England start playing good rugby and winning consistently, I be persuaded that all this helps. But in an average team who generally bore us all to tears, I reckon it must be a bit of a hinderance.

    After all, the only statistic that really matters is the final score.

  • Comment number 2.

    Is that what Jeremy from airport is doing these days?

  • Comment number 3.

    I think the use of video analysis like suggested in the article has its place in the game, but moreso in deconstructing the opposition, than using it as a selection tool. The South Africans in the Lions Test last year scored 2 tries (2nd test) off 1st phase ball, you dont do that without top not analysis.

    But using the analysis as a statistical tool, and using it to backup selectional issues is pointless, as you can justify everything with stats.
    Eg. You could have an instance where Borthwick ran 5k in a game, with a low average heart rate, and offloaded 5 times. Great. Yipee. But on visual inspection, he was anonymous throughout the game, like any game for england/sarries.

    Rugby players need to get back to playing rugby, and increasing their skill levels. This in itself would allow them to not play automatons and be able to solve problems, in real-time, on the pitch.
    Eng training must be chronically dull at the moment.

  • Comment number 4.

    Very interesting blog Tom. Cheers. Ultimately, for me and - I'd guess - most other Rugby fans it all boils down to the question you ask at the end: Does it turn players into robots?

    The response you quote from the England camp is enlightening: "If you want to play off the cuff, you use analysis to support that. I'm all for open, flowing rugby."

    So essentially, if you want to play an unpredictable game where you're not sure what decision you'll make in the next few seconds is going to be (and therefore the opposition don't have the foggiest either) then the one essential is....... that you use analysis to support that! Sorry, but it sounds like a contradiction to me.

    I'm sure the England management would argue and say that all players are encouraged to express themselves but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. On the pitch England do look like a team of robots. They look like a team of players who have spent a huge amount of their time together reviewing video data rather than getting ball in hand and developing the confidence in themselves and their team-mates to use it however they fancy.

    The same could be said about most Northern hemisphere sides and it arguably goes some way to explaining the decline in NH Rugby of late. Who were the team that reacted quickest to in-game situations during the 6N? The team that was the most unpredictable (in a good way)? France. No coincidence in my view.

    Tom, I realise that this blog is primarily reporting what is going on in the camp rather than offering an opinion but bearing in mind you've been given an insight that none of us are likely to get it would be interesting to hear your views on all of this.

  • Comment number 5.

    Delon Armitage let slip earlier this week that he felt a bit robotic playing for England... you can kind of see where he is coming from.

    I agree with a lot of what poster 1 says, this is taking things a bit far and starting to miss key failings of the England team quite seriously. This unswerving faith in technology highlights a really limited approach to the game.

    Nobody doubts that England have a lot of preparation and rehearse a lot of drills backed up by statistics and video analysis. Does that really get you anywhere there though or is it a load of reductive nonsense that is actually quite far removed from the skills and thought processes used on a rugby field?

    It reminds me of that stupid clip you see during rugby advertising breaks - the players are running some moves in some digital netherworld and at each stage choices appear before them: throw to the front / middle / back, attack / defend / kick, etc. Its got nothing to do with rugby and in fact totally misunderstands the fact that playing the game is about instinct, doing the right thing without thinking about it. The game, much like the world doesn't break down into three well rehearsed options and certainly you rarely have time to see what is in front of you and break it down into a category where you know what you have been told to do... clearly there is a place for practicing drills and game situations but this moves into the realms of control freakery that I suspect effects players natural approach.

    PS Not to mention the expense of all this - I'm sure you could run a small rugby club on the costs of all this technology! Lower the Twickenham ticket prices and bring in a top notch skills coach instead!

  • Comment number 6.

    #5, Hookers_armpit...

    Agree with your comments, but most especially what you've written in your 'P.S.' Although I think you could probably run a fairly decent size rugby club. I don't think fans would resent the ticket prices at HQ so much if they could see that the revenue was going towards developing an entertaining, attractive and - most importantly - successful national team. This patently isn't the case at the moment.

    Incidentally, this was also the least grumpy post I've ever seen you write ;-).

  • Comment number 7.

    With all the gadgets, recorders and stats, I can't help but feel that rugby is becoming over complicated. Eddie Jones started the rot in Australia. It seemed like every news conference he held would contain a quote along the lines of "32% of 5th phase ball is recycled through the 10/12 channel..." As a result of his style of coaching, teams predicted exactly what would happen on the 5th phase and the romance of rugby, i.e naturally gifted athletes playing what was in front of them vanished.

    I remember my u/12 coach telling us, "Rugby is a simple game. The ball is important- never pass the ball to somebody in a worse position than you. Never catch the ball standing still. Never stand still looking at the ball on the ground."

    Sounds about right to me.

  • Comment number 8.

    I believe this should be used only as a coaches tool and not for the players. When I coach, I am constantly changing my position to get the best angle to see for instance, a backs move and be able to guide the players towards whether it could be done differently, but every move is different and being able to see it from different angles would be helpful to a coach. Rugby is always looking to develop and this is the latest tool being used!

  • Comment number 9.

    ..i didnt know jack osbourne was into rugby?

  • Comment number 10.

    The England coaches must be delighted with the new iphone announced this week. Now they can take coaching to the next level and have video calls with the players during the actual game to explain what's going wrong...

    What a load of nonsense, no wonder our players look like they are playing rugby by numbers.

    As willre13 says, rugby is a simple game. Run at pace, look for space.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thinking about is some more, I think this resort to facts and figures shows a coach bereft of ideas and philosophy with little faith in his own set-up. He has to rely on statistics to validify his work.

    Statistics don't tell the whole story. Shontayne Hape probably has very good stats. Hardly any missed tackles, good at recycling, etc - however, they probably don't highlight the fact that when he was Bath's starting 12 they were relegation fodder and that it wasn't until he was replaced by Barklay that the team started playing decent rugby. Barklay's stats probably show he missed a few tackles so was automatically ruled out.

    That said, Hape might be the right choice for this game to nullify Giteau.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hookers_armpit - your last line reflects the way the current management think. They'd rather play Hape to nullify the opposition's threat, than play Barkley and maybe cause a threat of our own.

    You can see what the players are thinking - if I take some risks, Jonno's iphone is going to show intercepted passes and ball lost in contact. If I play safe, we'll lose the game but my stats will be awesome.

  • Comment number 13.

    Very interesting post, BennyBlanco. The fact that all international teams use video and stat analysis - even the ones we associate with more spontaneous, free-flowing rugby like France - suggests to me that both coaches and players are convinced of its merits. At the same time, the main stat that matters is the score, and as you point out, England's record over the last five years is average at best.

    DavidBlack - that Sa v Lions example is a good one. Think too about Foden's try v France in last season's Six Nations - England had studied Basta and spotted the way he had a tendency to come too far up out of the defensive line, and that long pass from Flood that led to the try was the result. Basics before then like getting over the gain-line and quick ball led to it too, of course...

    Deep-heat - I like the quote from Hall - "analysis is never the driver, only the support". If you asked me the primary reason why England have struggled recently - not the only reason, but the main one - I'd probably say the current crop of players. How many of the starting XV this Sat would have got into the team that toured Down Under in the summer before the World Cup? Hookers_armpit - what are your thoughts?

    wilre13 - nice line from your old coach...

  • Comment number 14.

    I fail to see how people are blaming video analysis for England's problems.

    If any of you support a Premiership club then your team will use analysis to learn about their opponents and also to learn about their own game. Some clubs play great rugby, others don't - all teams need analysis just to be competitive, what happens on top of that is down to the coaches.

    Players spend hours every week learning about their opponents through watching video of them. All professional sports do the same.

  • Comment number 15.

    "analysis is never the driver, only the support"

    Yeah - but people only see what they want to see and very quickly with this technology would be able to only ask questions that give them the answers they want. Real intuitive brilliance isn't quantifiable and will go missing on the data sheets or at best a piece of breathtaking skill will just get another tick in the line breaks column.

    Re the 2003 touring squad - Thompson, Shaw, Wilko and Tindall were all a bit better back then. Moody is probably a better player.
    Cole doesn't quite offer a much round the park as Vickery did but looks a damn fine scrummager (except against France). Croft needs his Lions form, Youngs could be brilliant, Foden on form is class, Ashton is still to cut his teeth but looks a better finisher than Cohen. The rest wouldn't stand a chance.

  • Comment number 16.

    Never has the expression paralysis by analysis been more apt!

  • Comment number 17.

    The underlying point of view here is that there is no heart and no soul within English rugby...

    And this I think is very true. Every English rugby fan i know...even the die hards are disillusioned with the way the team plays rugby these days...and to report on the technical wizardry that is MOVING English rugby forward is like a slap in the face...

    Although in saying all this I say as a Welshman...long may it continue...

    And my final thought is quite simply that you can sum everything that is wrong with English rugby up in 2 words...James Haskell...

  • Comment number 18.

    Welcome to professional sport. The practice of video analysis shouldn’t surprise anyone, I assumed practices were being videoed in the 90’s but maybe I’m being naïve. American sports such as the NFL have been taping practices as far back as the 80’s with “film study” sessions part of the weekly routine for decades. Often the best American football players were the ones who were always found in the film room. This practice is vital for spotting trends in opposition, and making sure your players are in the right place at the right time. The genies out the bottle for professionalism and there’s no going back, if you want a game with open spaces and missed tackles pop down your local rugby club on a Sunday fro a game many would find much more exciting.

  • Comment number 19.

    American football is a game consisting solely of set plays, video analysis is essential. In rugby, set plays are just a part of the whole.

    The danger of analysis is making a selection of a player for a sole purpose, which at the end of the day, being only human, they may not be able to perform to the standard you expected, in the match.

    Let the coaches have their gadgets if they wish, but the players need to be free to do what they do best. Hit the opposition hard, throw the ball sideways and run forwards fast. The players aren't generally scientists, so don't treat them that way.

  • Comment number 20.

    Am I right in saying Sir Clive started this in depth video analysis with England? I think I remember reading this in Rugby World mag many years ago. Well that didn’t end up so bad did it?

    I think it has more to do with how it is used by the coaching team – it’s fine giving the players the knowledge but pointless if you do not empower them to make decisions on the back of it. Surely they are chosen because they are the best players in their positions – this is simply a tool to help them achieve their collective goal.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't understand why most of you are moaning about it. It's a tool to analyse their performance, nothing more, nothing less. To let players and coaches to know why something might not be working or why something is working.

    We have this sort of stuff (in different guises) in all our working lifes.

  • Comment number 22.

    AGAIN - you can't blame England analysis for England's form. New Zealand and South Africa use just as much video analysis as England do.

  • Comment number 23.

    ""if they'd like to see every example of Nick Easter's ball-carrying in Six Nations matches away from home, they could do that too." Surely the shortest video in the entire database...?"

    No, that would be the similar clip of Ryan Jones.

  • Comment number 24.

    Tom, I see your point about the "analysis is never the driver, only the support" quote but I'm not sure I fully agree for reasons a couple of posters above touch on. Will try and expand:

    1 - Player's fear. Completely agree with the suggestion someone has made above that players will become more fearful of trying anything different if they know that their every move is being recorded. No amount of analysis can sufficiently address the risk/reward issue that individualism brings into play, or the mentality that the analysis itself induces in the players.

    2 - To what extent does analysis contribute to selection. With the cost of these systems, staff to operate them etc. I find it hard to believe that it doesn't play a very significant role. As such, we end up with relatively identikit players who hit the stats as it were. Only in the final game of the 6N did we see the introduction of some genuine flair (for want of a better word) into the backline, and the results were immediate. Yes the team lost, but it was their best performance of the tournament against the best side in the tournament.

    Probably haven't explained it too well. Bottom line is that the quote doesn't tell the whole story. The implication is that the analysis is used as supporting evidence for decisions taken by the coaching staff. It doesn't state the degree of importance given to this supporting evidence in relation to other considerations. Hope that makes sense!

  • Comment number 25.

    I feel the reason that at the moment 'paralysis by analysis' is evident is because the players clearly are playing with a lack of confidence. If a player genuinely felt confident and comfortable that the coaches thought he was the best in that position; it would free his mind and allow him to start playing how he naturally plays - this is where the coaches can then start adding value by using the technology to then improve his game positionally, his lines of running and pointing out weak points and strengths of the opposition. At the moment it seems clear to me that, watching England play, they are trying too hard to impress the coaches and are too uptight and worried about making mistakes in the knowledge they'll get dropped the following week.

    Coaching should be about motivating players and helping them to be the best that they can be - this doesn't happen when you are constantly picking faults with video evidence - it seems there is more of a big stick than a dangled carrot as a form of motivation. If you look at the potential back line we should be tearing teams apart - if the pack could be more aggressive and start intimidating teams we could then start to cut loose out wide where we have some super finishers (The coaches should be concentrating some of their efforts on getting Monye to run with his head up and looking for team mates - if the boy could look up and pass we would have won a few more games these last twelve months.)

    You can't blame the technology for how we are playing but the coaching team's use of it.

    Rant over - I'm not trying to have a go - I want England and Johnno to do well but there needs to be a catalyst to improve this set up and I'm not sure where we get it - maybe a stunning unbeaten tour?!?!?!?

  • Comment number 26.

    Some good points on here, and an interesting debate.

    The truth is that this type of analysis is part and parcel of the modern game and all teams deploy it - SCW may have pioneered it, but it certainly isn't the preserve of the English. It's all about balance though: it has to be used in a constructive and appropriate manner, and it has to supplement coaching - not replace it.

    My fear with Johnno is that he is a self-confessed stats geek and detail monkey. SCW - and, indeed, all successful coaches - value the analysis, but let somebody elso worry about it, leaving them to focus on the big picture. What I see far too much of from Johnson is diving into the detail, and pinning wins and losses on a specific mistake or telling moment. This is, indeed, what most games hinge on - but somebody needs to sit above that level of detail and concentrate on building a team culture and direction: an atmosphere that inspires confidence and togetherness. Who is fullfilling that role for England at the moment? Because, as McGeechan proved again with the Lions, that element is as important in modern rugby as it ever was.

  • Comment number 27.

    Everyone bemoans the quality of the English players at the moment, however, it wasn't long ago that we made it to the 2007 WC final,and at that time the quality was also derided. With the right coaching set up and game plan England once again can be world beaters. In terms of the analysis, how can you argue against making players stronger and fitter by specialising every players training regime. The balance is required between instinctive playing and coaching, but that is exactly what Hall says. Also in the time I can remember, England have only played entertaining rugby in the Carling/Guscott era and preceding the 2003 WC.

  • Comment number 28.

    "Also in the time I can remember, England have only played entertaining rugby in the Carling/Guscott era and preceding the 2003 WC."
    Personally I don't think England have ever really played "entertaining rugby". England's game has always been based around a strong pack bullying the oppo into submission - the Carling side had the outside backs to make it more entertaining (Guscott etc) but they weren’t used enough..
    The 2003 WC side were predominantly a forward dominant side although this team I will admit could play with more width using the likes of Jason Robinson, Ben Cohen and Josh Lewsey.
    I think that the technology being used can really help the team develop individually and as a unit (if used properly) however will never make huge amounts of difference on an individual game as so many teams/nations use it.

  • Comment number 29.

    Analysis certainly has its place in professional sport and is a very valuable tool for a coach. I wouldn't, however, call it a "coaching tool". Rather a "strategy / tactical aid" that enables a coach/manager to make changes to the way his players approach the game. Those who commented earlier that "coaching" should place emphasis on player skills are spot-on. When you consider the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Jason Robinson & Shane Williams, this point is starkly illustrated. With the element of surprise on their side, all 3 were devastating at international level. As opposition sides got familiar with their strengths by way of video analysis, their effectiveness was reined in but NEVER halted altogether. They could spend 75 minutes of an international seemingly anonymous in attack as the opposition defences would use their analysis-led defensive patterns to stifle them. Still, these guys have such high skill levels that they only need one small opportunity, one tiny gap in defence to break through and score/create a try. Skill.
    I fear that a Martin Johnson-led England has seriously neglected the importance of individual skill and decision-making in terms of selection and on-field gameplay. Martin Johnson is a reknowned NFL fan and one of the most knowledgeable men on American Football outside of the USA. When I watch his England play and listen to his post-match comments, I am struck with the image of a man who believes it possible to dictate exactly what happens in every stage of a rugby game by studying hours and hours of footage and repeatedly drilling manouvres into his players. He never expresses dismay or disappointment at the stuttering, uninspired play of his charges. Instead, he constantly talks about the small patches of play where he felt the players executed what they'd worked on in training and repeats the mantra that they need to get to a point where they can do that for sustained periods of time. He doesn't see what we do which is 15 robots on a rugby field delivering a standard of play below what they do at their clubs where, analysis or not, they are at least allowed to play rugby with the creative/problem-solving halves of their brains rather than the halves reserved for memorising monotonous routines.
    Basically, Johnno approaches the job like he is the Head Coach of an NFL franchise. Rugby Union is not broken into bite-sized chunks of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Downs where a coach on the sideline can dictate every single play that he wants his team to execute. As our North American cousins would put it, he "needs to wake up and smell the coffee".

    As for using stats to support player selection, reading John Hall's comments it strikes me that this is the same approach you find in a lot of big organisations: "don't blame me if thinks went wrong, we looked at the stats and they told us Borthwick was the best second row in the country". In other words, the use of statistics by senior and middle management to absolve themselves of all responsibility for decision-making and problem solving.

    Don't blame the tools, blame the workman.

  • Comment number 30.

    @28 Please don't start that old chestnut again...

  • Comment number 31.

    I must be honest; thinking about it, if every time I trained with my school, who are a highly competitive force on our rugby circuit, I was aware that there were three cameras pointing at me and a GPS tracker on my back marking my every move, I'd feel uncomfortable. I think it would make it more difficult to think about the game, as I'd be thinking about how something might look on the cameras or on my stats at the end.

    And, really, is it necessary? Something tells me that England would actually be playing better rugby more consistently if they didn't have this. I think it disillusions the player, and makes him do things that he wouldn't under normal circumstance.

    On further thought, I would hate to be under such scrutiny ALL the time, and I think it would have a negative impact on my all round game. I disagree with all this technology, and I think disillusioned is likely to be a good word to use for describing the players and management in the England camp.

  • Comment number 32.

    Some great comments and chat here.

    unounos - good point. Hookers - looking forward to seeing what current England front row could do to their Aussie counterparts on Sat - thoughts?

    Howard, Holdem, Rugbyfan10 - all very valid. Deep-heat - yup, that makes perfect sense...

    Adam, ManicDancer - interesting thoughts re Jonno's love of NFL. Certainly in his post-match press conferences during Six Nations and autumn internationals that notion of defeats being down to one small error, where a plan wasn't executed or situation controlled, was a constant theme. Realistically, how often will you get 15 men to produce a totally error-free performance?

  • Comment number 33.

    Rapid advances in neuroscience are demonstrating what an extraordinarily powerful onboard computer we have in the form of the human brain - far more advanced than anything our clunky technology is capable of.

    I think outstanding coaches (and players) like McGeechan and Ashton have in spades what we would describe as an 'intuitive', even 'emotional' understanding of much of the game and it is the effective use of these forms of intelligence that ultimately make a great coach or player.

    For me, the use of technology actually dulls 'instinct'; the understanding of that which happens in the blinking of an eye and is processed by the brain at a speed that is beyond rational thought - something that England seem to be somewhat inept at.

  • Comment number 34.

    Spot on.

  • Comment number 35.

    All producing a team of robots with little of that flair and playing what's in front of you. Blanco, Campese, JPR, etc of the past and the Quade Cooper, Shane Williams etc of today. What do they think of this?

  • Comment number 36.

    As a sport science student, ive seen first hand how notational analysis works, especially with children and adolescents. If you tell someone that theyre performing badly or performing a certain amount of errors, often they will disagree with you. If you can show them using video footage of themselves, then they cannot argue and can often see where they are going wrong. Furthermore, at lower levels of ability, technique can be compared to an elite template, allowing themselves to see how their performances compare to people of a higher/highest ability.

    Notational analysis is arguably the fastest growing sector of sport science, and from literature and practice it is possibly one of the most useful to coaches with the abundance of otherwise missed information (coaches reportedly only recall 25% of info from a match), that allows informed decision making, when actually coaching.

  • Comment number 37.

    It is impossible for onecoach to keep track of excatly what 30 people on pitch are doing, how they intereact, and where the ball is all at the same time. How often have we seen on TV after a try or big gain by one team on the replays the commentator pointing out that it all started some time before in acompletely seperate part of the field? With video, the coach can spot that, and work out whether anythign could/should have been done differently.
    On teh missed tackles front (for example), the stats might show one player A has more missed tackles than player B - but teh video will show that's because player A trys to make the more difficult tackles, or that the outcome of A's missed tackles are never as bad as B's.
    Rugby will always be unpredictable - there wil lalways be the(un)lucky boucne, the tackle evaded, the slips and trips that bring things in a nd out of reach - not to mention that each player doesn't have perfect information about what every player is doing.

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi Tom, great blog as always! I have read your Blog Bio though, and do think you need to think outside of the box somewhat - is the future!

  • Comment number 39.

    I suppose it's kind of good to get all this retro-spectively available data as a means to show players where mistakes have been made, what has been done well, to adapt more specific training regimens...

    BUT! For discourages thinking on your feet, which is the most important part of any sport. Its all well and good going up to James Haskell after a game with and iPhone and showing him clip after clip of him going over the top of rucks, or watching Tim Payne repeatedly struggling to get a strong bind on Castro...But how does it incourage individual thinking and anticipating? For me, showing someone area after area of stuff that needs tightening up will be a bit of a buzz kill...

    As someone earlier has said: Save the money spent on the tech and get some good basic skills coaches involved, when we are properly proficient and organised at putting the ball through the hands and clearing rucks effectively, THEN we can start worrying about how far (if at all :P) and fast Joe Worsely moves over 80 minutes.

  • Comment number 40.

    agree with hookers armpit assessment of this squad vs 2003 lot, except for Wilko, not sure he was better then than now, just had better, quicker ball and Greenwood and Bracken/Dawson either side of him.
    Was at 2nd Lions test vs SA and thought that the two tries that SA scored from first phase came from errors ( croft and wallace for first, BOD was concussed for Habana's) but in fairness didn't notice that live, only on TV later, point being that don't think SA had noticed flaws in Lions' defence.
    Think pack looks strong for Saturday, except Easter, although was in Paris when Cole had rough time, he needs a strong showing although great l/t prospect.
    Disappointed in Hape's selection ahead of Barkley, smacks of playing Erinle at 12 vs AB. Wish him good luck all the same and deserves more than one cap.
    Flood deserves chance at 10, think he should play both tests whatever happens, Wilko made some mistakes at the same age (RWC 2003 was far from perfect, just the memory of the final always comes to the fore)and Flood needs a decent run rather than being shifted around from 10-12 according to Flutey/Wilko's fitness or form

  • Comment number 41.

    Excellent. If the English continue the search for exquisite rugby in the pursuit of ever more minute detail, with the resulting atomisation of their play, even the Scots will find it possible to beat them, home and away. For kerist's sake, inspire them with the examples of the best players ever, get them fit, and let them play free flowing rugby . . . that means selecting intelligent, inventive, and quick players with good hands who love the game and who want to experience the thrill of making it up according to the opportunities the game presents. Don't turn it into a game of chess. I desperately want to see Scotland beat the English, but I want it to be a great English side that they beat, not a team whose spirit has been sapped by the processing of excruciatingly detailed data, and endless examples of their mistakes, with a squad of time and motion men watching them from every angle . . . . a little system might be good, too much system certainly kills, and the best players are the most vulnerable to system coaching. But all this is obvious, so it must be a ruse . . . or is it a genuine attempt to assassinate rugby?! Just give them the ball and tell them that this is what they were born for . . .

  • Comment number 42.

    I think that a balance obviously has to be found. Whilst it is invaluable to be able to see what a team does at 1st phase so you can de-construct their line-outs, I think making your own attack too video-based can lead to predictable results.

    I think I'm right in saying that the only common factor in the last two world cup winning sides was a visual awareness coach (I forget her name, Tom didn't you write a blog on her at some point?) - she taught teams to be more aware of what was happening in front of them and do what all coaches bang on about, play the mythical "heads up rugby".

    Of course tries will be scored by knowing how teams defend first phase (like SA vs. Lions), and video analysis definitely has its place there, but more tries will be scored by backs looking up and seeing they're running against a forward (O'Conner vs. Mears earlier this week), or that they have an overlap and space to exploit it. It is so frustrating to watch talented, fast backs not look ahead of them and see a fat prop that could never stay with them if they turned on the after-burners.

    A mixture of the two is vital - analysis definitely has its place, but, as Tom and Tony say, as a supporting aspect of a coaching strategy.

  • Comment number 43.

    The 2001 Lions tour failed because Graham Henry over complicated things to much. Martin Johnson as a player was never a big fan of over analysis and he was a great player, hes now a stuggling coach who seems to be analysing everything.

    England were undone on Tuesday by a young skillful player who played it as he saw it against players who have been over coached and over analysed. A certain stucture is always needed or you end up playing like Wales but too much coaching and analysis will never make a great player out of one who lacks flair, nouse and skill.

    The England managment should trust the players to play whats in front of them and express their talent, its no suprise that Foden came into the England team for the last game of the 6N and was like a breath of fresh air, running the ball back from deep, taking the french on. Whos betting that come Saturday he will be kicking the ball back at the Aussies everytime he gets it.....the Aussies of course will give it to their golden boy who will run back and score leaving our lads scratching their heads and wondering what happened " Should they be just kicking back?" " have they never heard of playing the kicking game?" No they play the full on, risk taking rugby that doesnt rely on computers,Ipods and god knows what else. It relies on good coaching, good players and a degree of fun.

  • Comment number 44.

    #33, Batori - best post on this blog.

    I don't think that anyone is denying the necessity of analysis in the modern game. There has always been analysis in rugby, the difference now being that it has been computerised and as such can pull off reems of data at the click of a mouse.

    The issue is that this data is exceptionally limited unless used alongside 'human' analysis or corresponding data etc. Basically, it all gets a bit tricky.

    A couple of examples spring to mind: The 6N game against Ireland this year. Most of the England backs will have had their stats boosted admirably by the number of completed passes. But this data only becomes relevant when viewed alongside other info, e.g. the number of line breaks. It is generally accepted that the team who make the most tackles in a game are usually on the back foot, but we need to ask what territory the tackles are made in and one would also need to look at a ratio for no. of tackles made against no. of points conceded. The list coud go on and on, and I'm sure the England software can pull off this information, but the bottom line is that any knowledgable fan watching that particular game could identify England's problem. Poring over the data generated by one game could quite easily be a distraction from addressing the matter in hand.

  • Comment number 45.

    0darroch - i completely agree.

    This is a such an interesting topic. I think performance analaysis is key in sport and should not be the excuse for a teams bad performance. As sport is such a competitive industry teams are also looking to get that extra point, extra inch, extra second in order to succeed - they need to have that understanding into what works and what doesnt work.

    Anaylsis in sport has been occuring for years and used through both highly successful teams and those who are striving to be consistend high achievers. I defintaly agree that there of course must be a balance, but i do not think we should be quick to judge and dismiss the advantages that anayalsis can provide the coaching team. As John mentions analysis is an aid to help them towards success not something that will be the answer to their on-pitch success. Players are not entirely picked in stats and should not jeoprodise the players into not trying different things and new initiatives in the game - how else can they shine above the rest. I work in the sport industry and i know that coaches are very much aware how much information players can process and ensure they don't overload their players with a vast amount of information. (Analysis is carried out in many football clubs and this does not jeoprodise a lot of their performances...)

    A team's success relies on various different parameters, and not solely on one areas so i think we should respect the direction sport analysis is going. This will, i am sure, continue to advance over the years. And i hope the belief that it is hindering performance is changed.

    I believe that those teams which will succeed in sport need to rely both of intuitions and on analysis. Having a strategic balance between the two is key and every club should manage this to ensure they get the best results for them.

  • Comment number 46.

    Sounds cool, Rugby players are so equal in terms of stature and ability these days and Rugby has become a game of attrition that it's only right that they use this sort of technology.

    Tom, do you know what it's called? I coach a school team in South West London and think the guys I coach would love to have this kind of technology available, they all have iPods anyway.

  • Comment number 47.

    This may have been said before but i think analysis is essential, i cannot turn players into robots, players still make their own decisions at the end of the day during the game, they still act instinctively, on the call they make for a particular play at any point, or the heads up style they choose to play at a point. Analysis will allow you look at errors and weaknesses in a players particular style of play and can allow you to focus on that and turn them into a better all round player, it can also help you to identify their strengths and contributions to a team. it can aid in selection as well. One blindside who scores 10 tries a season will undoubtably stand out to the observer more than a blindside who scores one or two. the first one as a result may be selected on the basis of his try scoring ability, but what if analysis showed that the other was invloved in creating more tries for the team, being a better ball carrier and offloader of the ball, lost the ball in turnover less, made more tackles and covered more ground. Analysis allows you to see a bigger picture. formerly it was a guy with tick sheet marking tackles and carries, now this technology is the next generation of that and tbh it sounds fantastic and could have so many applications, you could use it to identify where work needs to be done where you may not have seen it before.
    A few seasons ago we won almost everygame and didnt think much needed changing half way through the season, then a regular fan approached us with a clipboard and told us that 'you do realise that although you won by 40pts you got turned over at around 60% of contact areas, its been the same for all the matches ive watched this season' he handed over the clip board and many lads sniggered at him, but his facts were sound, this was a basic level of analysis but because we were winning we didnt see this massive flaw in our game, by the end of the season in our last 4 games we only got turned over twice. all thanks to this guys analysis. its essential in any teams development and is a cog in the clockwork of training and development of any side striving for success, to think its unnecessary or will turn players into robots is naive because to win without it is simply lucky that you arent playing good oppoisition.

    This software sounds great, would be handy to have this at grassroots level, even if it was only a basic cheaper version. i wonder where we could get it from? if the RFU would supply versions for grassroots if we had our own camera/laptops/smartphones. Most people have a smartphone now, and you could guarantee that someone within a club would have a laptop, probably even a camera that could be utilised, even at the poorest of clubs.

  • Comment number 48.

    Detailed analysis clearly has a considerable value - as a Tigers fan a key example in the GP Final was Matt Smith's try which was born of analysis which indicated that the Saracens defence stayed narrower than most and quick hands off decent 2nd or 3rd phase ball could get you round the outside of them.

    On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the analysis doesn't drive the team selection at Tigers, and I would never want it to. My suspicion with England is that it worryingly close to the point where it does. Selecting Hape is a clear example of this. He's simply not played that well or been that effective for Bath this year, and everybody who's watched a decent amount of GP games knows that, even if that's not what the stats say.

    The other problem with selecting via stats is that you are more likely to end up selecting individuals, and don't necessarily get the best unit. E.g. the selection of the 10, 12, 13 va Oz Barbarians, where you have a more lightweight not so good at tackling fly half in Hodgson, a 10/12 not renowned for hard running at 12 in Barkley, and a relatively lightweight 'flair' outside centre in Mat Tait. I'm not disputing the individual merits of any of the 3, but it doesn't really make sense as a balanced combination at any level of rugby.

    If you go back to England in 2003 it wasn't just about having great players, it was consistently selecting the right combinations of players throughout the team.

    Am a little surprised by Johnson, as the level of detail and drill involved seems surprisingly akin to the disastrous efforts of the Graham Henry coached Lions tour, which Johnson knows the results of!

  • Comment number 49.

    'the Aussies of course will give it to their golden boy who will run back and score leaving our lads scratching their heads and wondering what happened " Should they be just kicking back?" " have they never heard of playing the kicking game?" No they play the full on, risk taking rugby that doesnt rely on computers,Ipods and god knows what else. It relies on good coaching, good players and a degree of fun.'

    You are so ignorant. The Aussie backs will have used just as much video analysis as England. Their 'golden boy' will have spent hours looking at his opposition, knowing their weaknesses, how to exploit that and who to run at and who he can out pace. Attacking in 2010 rugby relies alot more on computers than you realise.

  • Comment number 50.

    I agree, the players will have spent hours analysing the opposition's defence and knowing how to counter attack, and saying that the Aussies do not rely on analysis just as much as England is ridiculous - but I also think that the English way seems to be to try to avoid losing, rather than looking to win. Apart from Ashton and Foden, the English backs seem terrified to make that decision to counter attack at pace, rather than the safer option to kick back. It is the mentality of the players that is different, not how they use the analysis.

    Also, no amount of video analysis can teach you to look up and asses the situation before and when you get the ball. As I said earlier, I admire the Aussie backs who see a forward in front of them and relish taking them on. I don't think the English backs are anything like as aware of type of player in front of them when they attack.

  • Comment number 51.

    Here is a link to the company the Scottish rugby team use for aerial overhead video:

    Other references:

  • Comment number 52.

    I notice how there is no mention of performance analysis being used in England's 2003 world cup win? Knowing Darryl Cobner myself I know how critical he was in England's success. This isn't a new form of technology being used, it has been around for many years. The software available has become much more advanced in recent years, but performance analysis has been used in many sports for a long time. Just for your knowledge, theres only one place in the world that currently allowes students to train to become performance analysists.....and that place is in Wales, at UWIC. Most of the top positions have been filled by ex students, and the provisions available are second to none.

  • Comment number 53.

    Small point, but given Englands more recent issues should they not be watching videos of how it is done right ??

    Also re performance analysts, a friend of mine (i know sounds spurious) is very good friends with one of the England cricket analyst. Ex Camdridge lad whole taught rugby at a top school.

    Yes, a rugby coach becomes Cricket analyst jobs for the boys me thinks ??? Would it not make more sense for MEDIA Experts to film, edit etc and EXPERTS SPECIFIC TO THE SPORT(who have played the game) ... to break down what it all means ?

    Britains top cycling analyst providing advice to the england rugby team .....come off it, you film it from different angles and slow it down ??? I wont even charge them for that little nugget. I bet Englands 'team' of analysts dont come cheap... Thank goodness the RFU can still charge £100 for a tick to the Autumn Internationals !!!

  • Comment number 54.

    A female friend of mine who works in business has a little catchphrase I'd like to share with you all.
    "Statistics are like a bikini,
    what they reveal is suggestive,
    but what they conceal is vital."
    In other words statistics and analysis can be interperated however you want to. It just depends upon your point of view.

    I have plaedy rugby at a reasonable amature standard in the London leagues and even we get stats thrown at us. When I was at university 2 years ago playing in BUSA 1 south and BUSA 2 south we got bombarded with stats.

    And every single week for the last 6 years I have paid absolutely no attention to anything at all except the opposition line-out, went out and played what I saw in front of me and as far as I am concerned I have relied on my experience of playing the game for 10+ years to know what I am going to do based upon where we are on the pitch, where the opposition players are and who has the ball.

    If we have the ball I look for a gap between their tight 5 forwards to exploit a difference in pace or a small back I can hand off or run over. If they have the ball I check to see that the fullback and wingers are in position then I look for gaps in the line that I would attack in possession and fill in there.

    So how come professional players need specialist coaching to do this yet me and my mates who train once a week, and show up with a hangover every saturday can do it without millions of pounds being spent on statistics and analysis?

  • Comment number 55.

    "You get what you measure" - in rugby's case - error count, missed tackles, set pieces, carries, distance traveled.

    The piece that is missing from all of this is the link with preparing match-specific training scenarios. E.g. if Leicester saw an opportunity with Sarries - great. How do they get through it? Set up a drill with live opposition to defend the same situation, then run it several times - sometimes tight (like Sarries), sometimes not. The attack have to put themselves in a position to take advantage of the opportunity, and then make the right decision if it is on or not. The call has to come from the man in space, and has to be executed by the man in possession.

    American Football has had it for years - the coaches actually train some of the reserve players to execute known opposition scenarios. They find it helps to be able to run against them, and it helps get into the head of the opposition to figure out the motivation for their tactics.

    In rugby, an over-focus on internal team play and structures leaves out the most interesting part of the game - beating the opposition.

  • Comment number 56.

    Paralysis by Analysis.
    Analysis is useful to a degree but players should be given freedom and encouraged to express their skills and attitudes. Not train and play with the knowledge that their every move is analyised from different angles. I think it shows the way players play when they get to England, they seem unsure almost scared to make a decision or try something different.

  • Comment number 57.

    As someone who is an avid rugby fan, and also involved in video analysis in Edinburgh, I feel that it is in every way a good thing. Players themselves are usually the ones asking to see specific parts of the game and to see where they went wrong and why they went wrong as well as what went right and why.
    I dont see how it can make a player become more robotic if all it is doing is showing what went right and wrong. In no way will video analysis diminish a players ability but it makes it a lot easier for players to work out strategies to beat defences etc before they have come up against a new opposition.
    In this day and age should every aspect of a players game not be under constant scrutiny as they are professionals and should strive to be better and get better using all tools available.

  • Comment number 58.

    Great point jdxv.
    I think in a sport environment the coaching staff have a knowledge of how much information a player will take on. Players who request access to this analysis are looking for ways to improve, rather than acting as a distraction or detrimental to their performance - they will use this to understand what went wrong and what to do next time. Players are expected to perform. This is what they train for, and what they are paid to do and this ability to have feedback and actually see what went right/wrong is a grat way for them to learn.

    I think is another point that has been missed - positive feedback on how players hve done things right are also included. It seems to me people think the negative areas of the game are picked up on - and this is not always the case. Analysis covers all areas of performance.

    Coaches do have to realise what to feedback and what not too, but many in this position have had vast experience in this position and know how to handle this. Intuition is vital aswell, but clubs need to back these feelings up with analysis. A mixture of both are key.

    However, not all parts of the game is reliant on anaylsis key aspect players need is the drive, and the passion from the players which i think is being shown in the Football World Cup at the moment. So many world class players being managed in a bad way pays dividends to how they perform as a team. Getting that right is just as important as getting your strategy and game plan ready. That can only be acheived by the coaches and no amount of analysis can help this.

  • Comment number 59.

    They're doing the same thing here in the States. The video revolution in sports is starting to pick up really fast. I wouldn't doubt that in fifteen years every aspect of sports techniques are perfected. That doesn't mean everyone can do it though.

  • Comment number 60.

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  • Comment number 61.

    It is amazing to hear the power of technology we have today. Its so beautiful to see that these kinds of advancements can be used to continally improve coaching, training and strategies.

    I love that Hall has the view that there are no ghosts. That being able to see and anylize more and more data allows for better understanding. This gives more control over the variables involved in improvement.

  • Comment number 62.

    I like your analysis and this blog. I'm still learning from you,During matches themselves, the analysts will be sitting with laptop open just a few feet away from Martin Johnson and his coaching staff.

  • Comment number 63.

    I have always believed that video analysis would bring improvement to almost any sport and coaches being able to have instant access to such statistics in rugby is very much welcomed.

  • Comment number 64.

    I know that Ashton was joined on the scoresheet by six other players as Groves demolished GMC FC 12-0 in the Premier Division. Kevin Fields (2), Cameron Forster, Ian Mitchell, Simon Thelwell, Danny Duffy and Liam Davenport also got in on the act. Here yon will take more information, if anyone need.
    Goals from Carl Ngiam, Ben Powell and Chris McNeill helped Westminster to a 3-0 win over Woodlands, while Grace saw off Groves Villa 3-0. Wing Half defeated Old Wirral Hundred 2-1 and Cat clawed their way to a 2-1 success at Sporting Westminster.

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  • Comment number 69.

    Its impressive too see how technology has changed and improved to allow us to improve in new and better ways. Being a perfectionist I know if i could afford it I would take advantage of such powerful tools.

    I can only imagine how technology is going to continue to change and improve in the future. Next thing you know the players will use iPhones as they play!

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  • Comment number 73.

    Well, the England management can argue that every player is encouraged to express themselves but its obviously not true. The England team is robotic. They probably spend more time reviewing video data rather than honing their skills on the field and building confidence.

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  • Comment number 87.


    Another complaint is, using your iphone while it is charging, you can get an electric shock

  • Comment number 88.

    Now I got Orange to admitt there is a fault with the charging system and will be getting a new phone plus a voucher of £150.00 of an ipad. Just goes to show if you complain enough you can get something done .

  • Comment number 89.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 91.

    There is clearly a bundle to realize about this. I assume you made certain nice Testking MB5-858 points in features also.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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  • Comment number 97.

    One should note that the top coaches in ALL sports use video analysis software. Having said that i really believe it has far more to do with how it is used by the coaching team – it’s fine giving the players the knowledge but pointless if you do not empower them to make decisions on the back of it. Surely they are chosen because they are the best players in their positions – this is simply a technological tool to help the team and coaching staff achieve their collective goal.

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  • Comment number 99.

    Agreed with # 42: “A mixture of the two is vital - analysis definitely has its place, but, as Tom and Tony say, as a supporting aspect of a coaching strategy.”
    Bear in mind, the video analysis does not just have to pertain to what happens on the field. Injuries happen in sports, and it is important for athletes to recover as quickly and as fully as possible before returning to playing with the rest of the team. By analyzing video of the training and rehabilitation of a player, a coaching staff can determine the stage of recovery the player has reached. If a player is still favoring an injured leg or ankle, he may need to be kept from jogging and running drills for additional time to make sure there is no chance for re-injury.

  • Comment number 100.

    I have a few friends who work on programing software for the iphone that has similar features. It is incredible to see how technology and sports combine to improve continually.

    It seems so useful that other teams could notice a difference in the perfection of their plays that this could become a standard feedback strategy.


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