The benefits of consulting with a performance analyst

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In late September of 2022, Tottenham wing-back Emerson Royal was reported to have paid nearly 1 million pounds in performance improvements. Among those listed included a scouting report of the world’s best in his position – Achraf Hakimi, and detailed insights from a neuroscientist to help him handle the pressures of performance. While it hasn’t necessarily worked out in helping Emerson set the world on fire at Spurs, he’s continued to retain a consistent place for a top four club in England, and “performed” better than most will give him credit for.

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Alex Greenwood of Manchester City Women meanwhile commissioned a data report from Analytics FC prior to her move to the club, analyzing her own performance and the impact of her absence on the team’s results.

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While these remain anomalous examples in our sport (or at least anomalous in terms of media attention and awareness), it’s clear that professionals recognize the power of hiring observations and analysis from objective outsiders to their own environment. Emerson himself may already have access to performance analysis and data insights at his fingertips, but he took the decision into his own hands to improve his game from knowledgeable others outside the situation.

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While he’s sometimes criticized for his defensive displays, this has to be applauded. Even someone who had access to an entire department around analysis invested the time and effort into improving their game from all sides. Not every player is fortunate enough to have the same access to high-quality performance analysis at their own club like the 24-year-old, and it’s a mystery why more players do not take the time to supplement their technical training with other specialized coaching.

In fact, in many smaller leagues around the world, the capacity exists to pay a minimal amount of people at the club. The coaching staff and players come first in that equation, and it becomes difficult to even keep hold of those talented individuals at the club, let alone hire additional personnel behind the scenes to help those players and coaching staff improve. The perceived value of performance analysis simply isn’t there for the minnows in our sport. You can play without a performance analyst, but you can’t play without footballers or coaches. When most of your data insights can then be outsourced to Wyscout or StatsBomb, the perceived need for someone on the analysis spectrum then becomes even less.

But as much as these companies are wonderful in what they accomplish, this is the wrong way of thinking. Solely relying on reports and insights from data companies means that you are essentially skipping a step in the equation. You’re no longer having someone dedicate time and attention toward meeting the needs of your specific club’s ambitions, and your specific style of play. Instead you might spend time scanning through insights provided by an AI learning machine. That’s fine and dandy if you have a dedicated coach who can then centre discussions around how to use that data to improve performance. But most coaches at smaller clubs are already stretched thin enough, and might not even have the tools to properly assess the data and extract actionable insights from the key notes.

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Rather than outsourcing data science to companies like StatsBomb and Wyscout, clubs should look for options where they can outsource performance analysis to the same companies, or those more dedicated toward the performance end of the spectrum. StatsBomb may already have options like this built into their cost, where they can tailor the discussions and insights toward the club’s desires. Analytics FC most certainly does. But a consultation that can supplement data, video, presentations, reports, and individualized insights to the specific player or club, backed up by real-time discussions either in person or over a video call, should be what clubs scan for. It’s even better if that consultant has a small clientele, allowing for more dedicated time and energy to go back into that specific client.

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This is where the power of a consultation comes in for the select few clubs, agents, and players that are willing to take the chance. “The game is evolving” is a phrase I’ve heard from most coaches and managers I’ve spoken to in the past few years. The game has already evolved. Clubs that are not already considering how they can enhance their performance analysis, their performance psychology and their club’s social wellness, are already long behind. The clubs that are thinking innovatively are the clubs that are continuing to evolve and perform to the highest level, as others fall behind.

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I understand. This never existed when you were growing up. It never existed for you as a player with your club, and it never existed when you were going through your coaching licenses. But it exists now, and it exists with many hungry people dedicating degrees, diplomas and certificates toward their continued education in analysis.

It’s just up to you, and your club, to see the value in having a dedicated performance analyst bring insights into your environment, and have consistent conversations with your players and staff around how to improve, how to guide training, and what players to bring into the fold. It can’t continue to be up to the coaching staff, when they already have to focus on culture building, social dynamics, psychological performance and training periodization. We all know that managers and coaches wear multiple hats at every waking moment. The more they can offload tasks to others who specialize in one specific area, while keeping consistent communication with that individual over the way they want the team to run, the more they will be able to focus on the most important parts of the job.

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As highlighted by the examples from Emerson Royal and Alex Greenwood, when that person remains an objective outsider, the potential for biases to enter the frame are significantly reduced. As a coach, I often find myself becoming attached to my players, and invested in their success. I will continue to have faith in ones who have consistently proven themselves over time, even when their performance begins to wain. But an objective outsider could enter the fold, look at the video and the data, and come up with reasons for those performance problems that I may have blinders toward. We could then have actionable discussions around the situation, and guide training principles to help them succeed.

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The same level of objectivity cannot always be said for someone who lives and breathes the daily interactions with players in the club’s environment. But having that person in-house then allows them to sit down with players on a 1-on-1 basis, break down video footage, presentations, and data on their own game; or that of their opponents for an upcoming match. The discussions can then occur between coaching staff, players and analysts more seamlessly, as they all work in tandem to create the right training environments and bring out the best in players on the matchday. Arsenal have accomplished this wonderfully in the past few years, through a 27-year-old named Carlos Cuesta who works with players on an individual level to help them adjust to life as a footballer and understand the game on a deeper level.

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Simply having an AI do all that work, and then having a coach gather those data insights seems like so many steps in the process have been skipped. And if some data companies are not able to supplement their findings with video footage or a dedicated representatives to create actionable insights for the club, that becomes all the less advantageous for the club in what is likely a multi-million dollar partnership.

But performance analysis goes beyond just a need for clubs as a whole. Clubs can also recommend that their players see a performance analyst who knows the environment of the club, and remains that objective outsider. The fear for these clubs is that since they are working as a consultant for multiple clubs, that certain information might get around. A performance analyst would not do this, as it would jeopardize their entire ability to consult with clubs and players from the same league, and they would lose business in the process. Everything is kept confidential, and players/coaches/clubs can have in good faith that their insights are only for their eyes, and no one else’s.

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And again, as the examples at the top of the article illustrate, players can even seek out these consultants on their own. Recently, I’ve had players looking to improve their game awareness of when to take on the right shooting opportunities, and what areas of the goal to aim for in different moments. I’ve had players wanting to supplement their physical conditioning and mobility work with greater awareness of how to scan the field in defensive phases – putting two and two together. I’ve even had college and high-school aged athletes looking to understand how to dissect footage from their own matches, find the data they want to evaluate from their own performance, and have conversations with their coaches over how they fit into the master plan.

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As you can tell from all of these examples, it goes far beyond simply finding numbers and telling players of the weaknesses in their game. Despite my background in coaching, leadership, sports psychology, and performance analysis, I still get confused for a “data guy”. While I use numbers and data to support trends, patterns and actionable insights, it’s the trends, patterns and actionable insights that always come first. Data is nothing without proper backing into the overall context around the situation, and that is precisely why it cannot be used in isolation. Yet many are currently only accessing data, without supplementing it with a performance lens from anyone who isn’t already identifying what eleven are to play the next match. The eye test is being pushed to the side, and clubs are left to their own devices to identify what to do with that data.

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I leave you with this…

Earlier this week I was listening to Wrighty’s House, which I think is a wonderful but rare production that highlights the women’s game in equal amounts to the men’s. Ian Wright mentioned on one of the recent shows how he would spend an hour after training to practice his penalty kicks. That’s wonderful. But why spend an hour a day on a technical skill utilized once every seven games or so, when you can spend an hour a day on a tactical skill used just about every second of every game?

The art of scanning and its relationship to decision making, game awareness and tactical IQ can be honed in by every single player, and worked on to a greater degree with the dedicated attention of a performance analyst. The analyst can then guide perceptions of ball, opposition, teammates and space to the specific context that the player exists in (i.e. the manager’s style of play, the specific opponents, specific teammates, and all the strengths and weaknesses across the board).

Again, having someone in-house can do the same by supplementing the coaching staff’s current processes for identifying trends or patterns that they want to see within their own game model. They can then spend dedicated time with each player at the club on a weekly basis to breakdown their game, strengths and weaknesses, and how to overcome players they will face in the very next match. But all of these clubs already have the same access to someone who could do the same from outside of their environment, and many remain either unaware or unwilling to pay the price for something that’s already significantly less than the average player’s boot.

This is what my consultation aims to accomplish, and I know there are similar versions out there from Analytics FC and others that work with a smaller clientele, and have the ability to give more dedicated time to each club and person they work with. Clubs, and certainly professional players, are not currently accessing this to the extent that would truly take their game to the next level. Yet so many youth coaches and younger athletes at the youth level remain unafraid to make that leap. Soon it will be those coaches and players who are already investing in their development as they work through the game, that will leapfrog those that continue to fall behind. Whoever takes the shot first will reap the rewards, and it’s now up to the clubs and players to see the value.

If you are interested in learning more about my consultation process and coaching philosophies, please reach out.

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