Performance Analysis at Southampton Solent University – Part 2 of 3
Part 1 finished with us looking at the role of the analyst, looking at how performance analysis was born to glue the coaching process together. Part 2 looks deeper into the role of Performance Analysis, specifically looking at the career experiences of Louis Langdown.
As you know from Part 1, Louis Langdown is a lecturer of Biomechanics and Performance at Southampton Solent University, we will now look into his interesting career in football Performance Analysis.
Seeing a game in numbers can create an atmosphere – a good one, but it’s not just about getting a Nacsport licence – it’s how you use it and the data that it gives.
In principle, when it comes to Performance Analysis “context is king”, Louis describes the context behind the statistics in the analysis as paramount and how statistics alone are worthless without context behind them.
You have to ask ‘why’ first. The quest for meaningful data is the mantra of a good analyst. For me, the beauty is the ‘reason’ and it can be so different for each level or organisation. But understanding the context behind what you are measuring and analysing is key. We can all collect data, the differentiator is the human behind the data. What are you doing with it? How are you using it to improve preparation or performance? This is why I love the role, it offers freedom to the intuitive and committed sports mind.
Louis and I spoke about the ‘feel good factor’ to analysis. You don’t need to use it to pick apart what went wrong, you can use it to show ‘that goal’, ‘that passing move’, even if there were only a few positive moments in a performance. You can use these to generate conversation with your athletes or the coaching team and often this powerful discussion can plot a synchronised plan for training or empower the athlete to take ownership and improve.
Video analysis can diffuse the arguments on what someone thought happened in a performance and show you what happened.
It makes coaching more proficient in the messages and just makes a club a better place to be, generating conversation to discuss with all the players, even those that may be despondent after a loss in a positive environment of learning and improving. Athletes want to learn, they need objective and subjective feedback.
Even at non-league level you can supply footage to scouts and use video analysis for recruitment purposes. It engages everyone- you can use the videos for lots of other things too i.e. social media.
Louis is very passionate about analysis in football and where it all started, just think of a day when you needed video cassettes to do your analysis!!!! (Gives me shivers)
Louis shares a charming insight into his career so far –
I started at Prozone as one of the early day pioneers in match analysis in the early 2000’s and became one of 15 or so match analysts attached to a Premier League club. We were a small ‘band of brothers’ trying to convince the footballing fraternity that numbers have significance and teams could gain a competitive advantage through objectives measures. I had a wonderful experience at my first club, Crystal Palace FC. I was a young inexperienced man with little or no credible footballing background as a player, and I was among footballing icons chatting tactics and training. I was used to chatting football with my mates over a pint or two after a non-league game but this was something else. My audience had overnight changed to high profile celebrities for want of a better phrase. I had the ear of successful businessmen in Simon Jordan, respected and highly qualified football coaches in Iain Dowie and Kit Symons, and celebrated international players like Andy Johnson and Dougie Freedman, and I had to convince them that ProZone and the analysis I produce was worthy of airtime and significant financial investment.
Personally, I have vivid memories of my first day. A nervous and naive 22-year-old man I pulled up to Copers Cope Rd training ground in most definitely the worst car in the car park (a B reg Ford Fiesta). I had on a suit I had hastily purchased from a charity shop, and my interview was at 12:30, smack bang in the middle of lunch. A very happy and packed canteen of 50 odd footballers greeted me and to say I got some ribbing for the outfit was an understatement. But I loved it, this place felt like home immediately and the infamous ‘changing room banter’ was in full flow. What struck me was the warmth and down to earth approach of the players, each one took time to shake my hand and say hello.
Iain Dowie (First Team Manager) immediately made a huge impression on me. He could hold a room, he was a big character that exudes confidence, and he had every right considering his impeccable record since being appointed. He introduced himself, told me to go and find Brian (the kitman), ask him for some training kit and join us for an afternoon gym session. Ok, so now I’m thinking am I really about to train with the Crystal Palace First team? The second lesson I learnt that day, the first being no matter what you wear you’ll get ripped, was that getting kit from a kitman is a not an easy task, they guard it with their lives and anyone requesting kit is viewed with suspicion and contempt. So now I’m jogging the 500 yards to the public gym the team uses down the road from their training base, and I’m supposed to be the ‘video boy’ or ‘prozone lad’, as we were all affectionately known at that time.
John Harbin, the first team fitness coach, the stereotypical hard-nosed Australian who’d made his career in both Rugby and Boxing, had put on a fitness circuit. The staff took part with the players. This was ‘one team’ and I was throwing punches on the bag, and lunging as if my life depended on it. An hour later, dripping in sweet the session finished and I walked back with Iain, Kit Symons and John (all of which later became significant people in shaping my career path) and Iain asked about me, my life and what made me tick. Not once did we talk about Prozone, numbers or football, and I’m now questioning all my interview preparation. By the time we had walked the 500 yards and I’d waffled about myself to the staff, Iain turned and said to me “we start at 7 am here, see you tomorrow”. It was surreal, I was the performance analyst for Crystal Palace FC.
Iain later confessed his reasons behind the unusual interview process. He explained he wanted to see how I would interact with the players and staff in an unfamiliar and spontaneous setting. He was, in fact, sizing me up on a human level. He also wanted to gauge the players’ reaction to me, after all this was a tight-knit team, 25 players in the squad and 4 members of first team staff that had gone through a lot together in a short space of time. The power of soft skills cannot be underestimated in my instance. Had I not mixed well, communicated or took up the challenge to be part of the team, to do what they do with effort and determination, I would have failed this interview. This is why I write live briefs, this is why we develop the art of communication and teamwork on the performance analysis modules. Statistical power is lost without the ability to communicate the message, to verbalise the context, and building rapport with the key influences on the coaching process is paramount. Students that want to measure and improve performance must have the trust, respect and ear of the management team. It is the one crucial element that turns a good analyst into a successful analyst.
I enjoyed my time as a Premier League and Championship Analyst and loved the challenge of a ‘one-man band’ but I had an urge to be on the grass. In our time you must remember that ‘the analyst’ would be responsible for all the major elements of the role you now see devolved to specialist individuals or even departments. Long long hours were spent on compiling pre-match scout presentations, post-match debrief’s, physical player and team reports, not forgetting the filming of training and games in real time, plus reports on player targets, coach and player education etc. It was an all-encompassing role. We worked off video cassette, we had 11 videos post game that had to be transported to ProZone HQ in Leeds to be digitised before these could be ‘evented’ or ‘coded’. In the early early days, us analysts would drive these to Leeds, it would take 15 hours to turn the product around on arrival in the late/early hours of a Saturday night, and then we’d drive back to work on the debrief to be ready for training. It was a mammoth task and the relief in the power of the internet and file transfer capabilities that advances in technology brought a few years on was palpable.
I transitioned from analyst to S&C coach in 2006. Progression or development at clubs is unique and dependent on so many factors. I took the chance that was presented to me by the staff after supporting John previously with the Academy set up. I was later promoted to Head of Strength & Conditioning before leaving in June 2009, I had worked with over 50 people at first-team level. My journey then took me to Chichester University to study an MSc in Sport and Exercise Biomechanics where I combined an Associate Lecturer role at Solent with two-part time positions as the Head Football Coach at Team Solent, and Strength & Conditioning Coach for The English Institute of Sport. The EIS role took me out of my comfort zone in that I was working in another sport and culture in the form of Springboard and Platform Diving. I soon realised that the scientific theory of improving power and the science of peaking performance for major competitions is transferable. The divers had great success winning National, International and Commonwealth titles. Later came roles at Southampton FC and Portsmouth FC in S&C with a position as Head of Sports Science at AFC Bournemouth in between. I continued to work with athletes and had notable achievements in professional boxing with our boxer winning the WBC Middleweight Championship to be a crowned World Champion.
Each of the roles post Crystal Palace have continued the link with University in some guise. I continued to teach one day a week and created mutually beneficial relationships that saw clubs utilise the facilities and expertise of University staff, and students gain access to the athletes and world of professional sport. Solent University became AFC Bournemouth’s official sports science support partner, with the Uni logo emblazed on the official kit shots (not sure this would happen now). What we have achieved is phenomenal in terms of the placement, internship program and student mentoring scheme at each sporting organisation. The proud record of Solent Graduates who undertook internships and now work in elite sport supporting talented athletes is the validation of our course design and commitment in creating and nurturing industry links. We have two graduates working with National teams at the FIFA World Cup for example. I enjoy helping to shape the lives of young undergraduates and love supporting clubs in mentoring the new generation of sports practitioners.
My goal now is to make our new course (MSci Football Science) the number one choice for students wanting to work in professional football. Personally, the success of our course and my reputation within the education sector will be determined by our graduate employability figures. To that end, our team devise pioneering modules that spark and enthuse student learning which is why we invest in our partnership with AnalysisPro and Nacsport.
Wow! Thank you, Louis, what an insight into your career!
A few of my favourite quotes –
A nervous and naive 22-year-old man I pulled up to Copers Cope Rd training ground in most definitely the worst car in the car park (a B reg Ford Fiesta).
I was a young inexperienced man with little or no credible footballing background as a player, and I was among footballing icons chatting football tactics and training. I was used to chatting football with my mates over a pint or two after a non-league game.
We worked off video cassette, we had 11 videos post game that had to be transported to ProZone HQ in Leeds to be digitised before these could be ‘evented’ or ‘coded’. In the early early days, us analysts would drive these to Leeds, it would take 15 hours to turn the product around on arrival in the late/early hours of a Saturday night.
How the world has changed from B reg Ford Fiestas and video cassettes!!!
Some great advice from Louis –
The power of soft skills cannot be underestimated in my instance. Had I not mixed well, communicated or took up the challenge to be part of the team, to do what they do with effort and determination, I would have failed this interview. This is why I write live briefs, this is why we develop the art of communication and teamwork on the performance analysis modules. Statistical power is lost without the ability to communicate the message, to verbalise the context, and building rapport with the key influences on the coaching process is paramount.
In conclusion to Part 2, we have explored some reasons on why we would have video analysis as part of an organisation. We have also heard a charming insight into the life of an analyst from the emergence of video analysis and how it can cross over to and from coaching and other avenues within the sporting spectrum.
And, like we mentioned in Part 1 – one size doesn’t fit all. How do you incorporate an analyst or analysis program into an organisation, and like how Iain Dowie was looking for a certain type of character for his team at Crystal Palace, how do you go about getting the right fit for you? Where do the students get involved? How do you know what context to implement with an analysis program?