Introducing Technology within Coaching
During an interview with Sir Clive Woodward, (who managed England to the Rugby World Cup in 2003), the idea that coaches should aspire to become a ‘positive deviant’ was discussed. Although the phrase itself is rather strange, the reasoning behind it seems to make perfect sense. In order to improve current coaching practice, each sport requires its coaches to embrace innovative ideas and creative methods. That said, the importance of evolving coaches quality and effectiveness makes even more sense – in order to develop elite players; elite coaches must first be developed.
Having conducted some background research into the area, combined with my own personal experiences of coaching I decided to turn this ideology into my undergraduate research degree.
Introducing technology within the coaching process itself is one possible innovative technique which could be embraced by coaches seeking to break from tradition in pursuit of becoming a ‘positive deviant’. After searching the market looking for what I believed to be the best and most appropriate software available for football, I choose TactX (https://tactx.co.uk/). Launched by UEFA in 2010, TactX computer animation software enabled me to create 3D animations of coaching drills as opposed to traditional 2D illustrations.
For coaches to be successful, having a positive influence on the development of their player’s, communication skills are vital. However, it research suggests that coaches focus primarily on technical aspects of training sessions or games, creating complex and demanding drills, whilst providing little if any consideration to the most effective method of communicating their ideas to their players. I believed that with the ability to create 3D visual demonstrations, TactX could have the ability to affect coaching, in particular with communication, demonstration and skill acquisition.
The aim of my research project was therefore to investigate the effects technology has on the quality of coaching, as perceived by professional youth football players.
Players from a professional football academy within Scotland were recruited for the study which involved them being supplied with TactX videos of their training sessions a week in advance. After 4 training sessions players took part in focus groups where they discussed many aspects of the integration of TactX within their usual coaching routine. The results of the study provided some thought-provoking and interesting reading.
New Training Phase
The concept of a new training phase emerged through the identification of a combination of two higher-order themes – ‘player independence’ and ‘alternative step’ in the coaching process. Players reported that they obtained a greater sense of player independence when using TactX within the coaching process. The sub-themes of responsibility and ownership of learning provided evidence for this finding:
“It felt like training was more in our hands and that we had a say in the coaching session and was more responsibility for us”
“We could do them independently instead of the coach taking everything all of the time”.
It is clear from the aforementioned statements that introducing technology into the sessions had a profound impact on the way in which the participants viewed their duties as a player, demonstrating an impact on their perceptions of training and the realised potential of increased independence from the implementation of communication technology.
Another emergent aspect of the results was the idea of ownership of learning. This involved players conveying the themes of homework and self-improvement as areas which affected the quality of their coaching sessions in relation to increased knowledge and enhanced enjoyment. Players compared watching the videos prior to training similar to academic homework where they are completing tasks to improve knowledge and understanding:
“Watch them as homework and it would increase our knowledge of the game”.
The conceptualisation of the alternative step in the coaching process was evidenced by the integration of 3 sub-themes, motivation; time efficiency; and pre training. Players advised that introducing technology had an effect on the instruction time required for understanding of the drill, whilst limited the amount of verbal instruction communicated by the coach:
“They spoke less and didn’t take up time explaining drills”
Within the notion of time efficiency the players also noted that the training drills reached the required standard in terms of intensity (tempo) and errors made:
“The standard of drills is much better from the start”, “We lacked tempo when we never seen the video’s before training”
Understanding refers to the player’s perception and awareness of the drill, in particular what they had to do and how they should do it, impacting their understanding of communication and fostering an appreciation for alternative communication methods. This higher-order theme was produced from the combination of the sub-themes – quality of drill and multiple video demonstrations. The data shows that players believed the quality of the drill improved through an increase in their understanding of the drill:
“The coach is explaining it he will normally only explain it once so if you don’t get it then you might struggle”
In this example the player suggests that the level of understanding is crucial to being able to perform the drill to the correct standard required. The data indicates that when the players had access to the TactX videos prior to training, they perceived that their understanding improved which then had a direct effect on the playing standard of the drill in practice.
The videos were proposed to produce a more effective demonstration in comparison to traditional demonstrations instructed by the coach:
“It’s much better… when you are down on the field it’s hard to see everything, but in the video it’s like a birds-eye view so it’s much easier to see everything”
The implementation of technology into sessions saw an enhancement of the quality of the individual drills, as identified by the players. Here, the players themselves began to acknowledge the distinctive link between optimal communication (visual and verbal) and their enhanced playing ability.
An additional effect which stems from the players perception of improved levels of understanding was the notion that confidence levels improved in accordance with the level of understanding:
“Once you have viewed the videos it makes you more confident to get on the ball because you know what you’re doing”
The higher-order theme of knowledge was communicated directly within the data. The players perceived that as a result of performing the drills more effectively through increased levels of understanding, the coach could provide more valuable coaching points:
“We could go almost straight into the technique of how we should be doing the drill, like our passing”
Coaching points were suggested to be split between drill specific instructional information (player must run from cone A to cone B etc) and football specific techniques (the way in which to perform an action – contact point between foot and ball) when the TactX videos were not implemented within the coaching process. Conversely, players perceived that less drill specific information was communicated by the coach, as the standard of the drill was higher when exposed to the technology allowing the coach to provide more useful and game related coaching points.
This study demonstrated three main outcomes; new training phase, player intelligence and future considerations. The concept of involving a whole new phase of training could possess the potential to revolutionise the coaching process and bring with it entirely new standards of communicative coaching. Improved player intelligence creates better players, with increased understanding and awareness, which could dramatically accelerate the rate of transition from development to professional. Lastly, future considerations provided evidence that these outcomes could be further increased by way of diversifying uses within football.
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