From Past Actions to Future Decisions: the Use of Visual Feedback

When discussing decision making in sport you could be forgiven for focusing on match officials, often the source of frustration and controversy for coaches and fans alike. Whether it be awarded penalties, sending offs or wrongful offside calls, this topic has always and most likely will always be a point of discussion amongst athletes, coaches and spectators.

With this being said it is the athletes themselves that require a higher level of decision making skill to produce optimum performance. This is noticeable in the performance skill of agility. Often defined as the ability to change direction at fast pace, agility is a vital component in most outfield team sports. The previous definition captures the physical skill of agility yet fails to address the use of mental function; a more accurate and potentially more applicable definition would be ‘’the ability to change direction in response to situational stimulus’’ this incorporates the reactive properties of agile athletes.

Using this information agility can be split into two equally important skills; Changes of direction at speed and response to stimulus. Change of direction encompasses the physical (speed, strength power, reactive strength) and technical skills (Acceleration, deceleration, cutting, and side steps).These attributes are targeted with sport specific movements in training and the use of strength and conditioning work throughout the preseason. Responses to stimulus focus on perceptual skills (visual and audio scanning) and decision making skills (available options and speed of decision). As these are not physical attributes they can potentially be neglected during training as coaches and backroom staffs fail to understand their in-game importance or struggle to apply correct interventions in the absence of qualified professionals. For these reasons the improvement of perceptual and decision making skills often seem complex and unnecessary to many coaches, as ever the physical attributes are easier to train and sport specific skills are easier to view and improve.

Yet this notion may be a thing of the past due to the increasing use of technology in sport. Using applications such as CoachCam coaches of all levels now have the ability to record, analysis and share footage with their players at the touch of a button. Performance apps may well be the future for teams/individual athletes unable to spend money on qualified backroom staff. To utilize these applications the user only requires; (a) knowledge of the sport, and (b) a clear definition of their objectives/aims. Using Gentiles information processing model of skill acquisition the use of video feedback can improve the sport specific agility of athlete. Firstly by improving perception of in-game situations, the athlete may select the action ’’goal’’ in relation to their opponent’s movements. Secondly decreasing the decision speed through ‘’selective attainment’’.

If we first look at perceptual skills within sport, studies have shown one of the significant differences between elite and non-elite athlete is their ‘’anticipatory response’’ during play. This can also be stated as pattern recognition or the reading of play. It is thought that a minimum of ten year or the accumulation of 10000 hours within a sport is necessary before being considered an ‘’expert’’. The use of video feedback does not fast forward time to cement the athlete as an expert in their sport but it does allow the coach to select footage of opponents play and highlight patterns to educate the players and begin the process of pattern recognition. This information can vary from simple information such as a players preferred foot to more complex information such as likely set piece attacks and likely sources of attacking play.

Recent research has highlighted self-reflection as a significant difference between elite (international level) and sub elite (national level) football youth players. As time spent on soccer related exercise was similar in both groups, the players in the elite category had higher self-reflection scores. This is another benefit of performance apps as the coach can individualise the video data for players to view their own performance and allow them to self-analysis. By highlighting specific points of the athletes game you allow them to view their past in-game decisions and view missed opportunities that may present themselves in the future.


The use of video analysis in coaching may not be new to elite coaching; Laurent Blanc stated that during his 1996-1997 season with Barcelona he would ask Jose Mourinho to supply video clips of forthcoming opponents. Mourinho known for his in depth analysis due to his years as a scout encouraged all his players to do this. Yet it would seem that video analysis isn’t as well received within the non-elite sporting community, this is most likely due to expensive equipment and staffing costs. Thankfully with the advancements in technology such as; handheld tablets and affordable high speed cameras this is no longer the case. Amateur clubs will now be able to turn the touchline into a haven of knowledge, capturing the good and bad points of each performance and evolving play based on their own needs. Ten years ago this would have been unthinkable for coaching professional outside the elite field, now it is simply unthinkable that coaches do not fully utilize this gift.

David Boor


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