The integration of performance analysis approaches within the practice of competitive sports teams

Wright, Craig Michael (2015) The integration of performance analysis approaches within the practice of competitive sports teams. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The current body of research has used positivistic approaches to establish performance related variables emerging from various levels of play associated with technical and tactical parameters within elite football. However there is a dearth of knowledge considering how information derived from performance analysis (PA) techniques has been implemented within elite football environments. As a result the purpose of this thesis was to explore the focus of analysis by coaches and analysts and subsequently how PA techniques and approaches were utilised within sporting environments to facilitate this. In order to address this area of research, five chapters were completed to build upon the existing literature and create new knowledge in the area. In doing this a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches were developed in the studies identified below.

Chapter One: The initial literature review investigated how the evolving role of PA and the associated proliferation of positions and internships within high performance sport have driven consideration for change, or at least wider use of PA. In order to explore the evolution of PA from both an academic and practitioner perspective this study considered the wider conceptual use of PA. The key aim of the chapter was to provide a critical review of the use of PA and considerations for practice. This section acts as a grand literature review to set the context for a number of key themes explored in the subsequent chapters of the thesis.

Chapter Two included two parts, the primary aim was to investigate the PA tools and approaches employed by sports coaches and analysts and their perception of its value. Study One Part A focused on the coaches’ approaches. Method: A stratified sample of forty-six coaches were selected to complete an online-survey relating to their engagement with match, notational and technique analysis. Results: Most coaches (68%) were provided with a DVD or edited clips after every game, whilst 16% would receive this service following most games. 64% of coaches used PA tools to provide video clips for other coaches and their support staff, 68% provide a video of the opposition, 64% collate quantitative game data and 55% use PA to create video based motivational DVD’s. Just under half of the coaches (43%) would use some form of live coding and analysis during games, whilst 39% would also receive a written post report including game statistics. PA information informed the coaches’ short term planning (93%), medium term planning (80%) and long term planning (70%). 91% of coaches identified that their coaching philosophy would impact on their selection of KPIs, whilst 43% also identified that their ‘gut instinct’ would often impact on their selection. Discussion: The key findings from this study provided specific insight relating to how coaches engage with PA approaches. In particular, these findings inform specifically on how PA impacts on their coaching practices within a number of different contexts. Study One Part B, identified the role which performance analysts play within football clubs and how these roles differ within professional and academy settings. Comparisons were drawn between the two levels because of the potentially varied approaches. This study also addressed the dearth of research regarding the role of match analysts, in relation to the provision of feedback via match and notational analysis techniques and systems. Method: An exploratory study was conducted using an online questionnaire formed using knowledge collected from current match analysts working in elite football, academics working within the areas of PA (tutors who teach PA and interact with student and analyst employers within football clubs) and from the current literature. The questionnaire was completed by 48 match analyst practitioners working within elite football clubs. 32 of the analysts were predominantly working in a professional team setting, while 16 were predominantly working in an academy setting. Results: When comparisons were made between the two groups of analysts a number of key differences were identified in relation to the provision of pre-match feedback, post-match feedback and the value the analysts gave to certain PA approaches. Discussion: Further insight has been provided into the importance of the role that analysts play in enhancing the observation, analysis and feedback strategies employed by elite level football teams. The key findings established within Chapters One and Two provided a platform to establish themes which would be central in informing interview discussion points in the subsequent phase of data collection.

Chapter Three: Study Two quantified and described player perceptions of PA. Despite the wider spread employment of PA within the coaching process little, if any, consideration has been given to the context in which PA delivery takes place and subsequently impacts on the players receiving such information. The objective of the study was to identify player perceptions of PA use within football environments. Method: A mixed methodology was employed, 48 male footballers from three different English Championship Football Clubs completed an online questionnaire. Following this 22 players were selected using an opportunistic sample to complete a semi-structured interview. Results: Individual perceptions and practical realities surrounding the different consumers’ interaction with PA were explored during interviews and the results were analysed and presented using hierarchical content analysis. Discussion: Through the systematic analysis three important features emerged, all of which were consistent across all clubs and standards of play: (1) the level of debate and player interaction differed greatly during video feedback sessions, (2) the use of video analysis is central to player self-reflection but the level of engagement with self-reflection varied across players, (3) The majority of players preferred some delay before receiving video feedback. These factors have provided further insight to the practical contexts in which PA is used and perceived by elite players.

Only limited consideration has been given to how coaches might view performance and how this is translated into analysis, match insight and subsequent behavioural change. To address these shortcomings Chapter four (Study Three Part A) attempted to provide an understanding of the individual perceptions of coaches and analysts, how they view performance, and thus work jointly to conduct subsequent analysis. Reflecting these factors Study Three Part A aimed to: (1) Establish what factors elite coaches and performance analysts value in terms of their assessment of performance; (2) To examine the congruency between the values and philosophies of coach and analyst with specific reference to how they view and assess performance. Method: A sample of 25 coaches and 23 analysts from 5 clubs across the top 3 tiers of English domestic football were interviewed to establish the use of PA within their club. Results/Discussion: The hierarchical content analysis established 71 higher order themes and 287 lower order data themes from the results. Key themes which emerged suggested that central to congruence were factors related to role clarity, effective communication and discussion via the means of post and pre-match reviews. A central concept to congruence was the extent of the ‘buy in’ by each coach to the process and content associated with PA, and fundamental to this was the rapport and trust established within these relationship groups. A number of important concepts were also identified relating to what factors were valued in terms of their assessment of performance. In a number of instances dissonance was identified between a coach’s conceptual description of their philosophical approaches and their practical utilisation of PA and their analysts.

Currently little is known about the specific and effective integration of analysis in an applied setting within high performance football clubs. As a result Study Three Part B was primarily concerned with the practical issues and solutions coaches and analysts face when implementing PA techniques within their everyday practice within football clubs. Specifically this thesis was concerned with exploring how elite coaches and analysts employ PA techniques in practice and how their PA strategies facilitate feedback, planning and preparation for performance. Results/Discussion: Hierarchical content analysis established 72 high order themes and 308 lower order themes. PA clearly had an impact within a number of applied practices within football clubs, these included: pre and post-match planning, transfer of PA information into deliberate practices and the setting and monitoring of individual and team training objectives. Evidence also established that performance analytics were employed in reviewing a range of sports science related information to answer key performance questions each club might have. PA was central in the use of feedback, de-briefing and pre-match opposition meetings. Despite this the extent to which coach and analyst had an understanding of pedagogical issues surrounding the delivery of such sessions varied greatly. A number of practices were used to encourage player self-analysis and independent learning. Self-reflection processes were also central to the implementation of PA. Based on the information collected in Study Three Part A and B, key themes and discussion points have been presented to provide additional analysis within Study Three Part C. Specific case studies and cross club comparisons further illustrate key themes emerging from the thesis findings.

In Chapter Five, as a result of the collective findings and analysis, an integrated model of the factors influencing PA within the elite football environment has been presented in the final section of the thesis. This model presented an overview of the factors impacting on the implementation of PA within the football environments investigated.

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