Performance Analysis at Grassroots level - Revisited

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UCD winning the U19 final in 2016 Credit: Tom Beary

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Ireland falling at the final hurdle of World Cup qualifying was understandably a traumatic experience for fans, management and players alike, but the dust is beginning to settle and with that we look forward and an inevitable consequence is where will we get the next batch of stars to aspire to future success?

 

At grassroots level, the motto is ‘carry on regardless’! Regardless of whether the international squad is doing well or otherwise - International careers have a finite span and we constantly need to produce the next generation.

 

Hard to image that it was four years ago when I first explored the area of using Video Performance Analysis in Irish soccer.

 

‘Start off as you hope to continue’ is an often used and sometimes abused adage. Until very recently performance analysis, using video, in soccer was only used at the professional level and in the professional academies.

 

In Ireland the first exposure young players would get to this methodology would have been at youth level and even then it would have been patchy. However the FAI have taken a huge leap forwards recently when they signed a partnership agreement with Avenir Sports for the provision of a suite of software products to establish  Performance Analysis as an integral part of the emerging talents centres throughout the country.

 

Like all good intentions, the implementation of the ‘bright new dawn’ took time to get embedded. However, serious strides have been made in the game at development level over the past few years and with each movement forward there is a groundswell and a knock on effect. The Under 19 League of Ireland has now become part of the furniture since its inception in 2011, following on from U21 & U20 versions.

 

More recently the U17 & U15’s age groups have been added to the mix and while many may think that a majority of LOI clubs are neither ready nor willing to embrace the whole process, it has nevertheless arrived and the players are playing!

 

Ruud Dokter is the architect of the FAI’s plans for the development of the game. Recently in the Irish Examiner he told John Fallon:

 

“It is important League of Ireland clubs have academies so they can see players at a young age. 

 

“I know in the past it has all been about the first-team but more must be done. Getting the U15 league up and running with the U17 and U19 leagues is a vital step in developing talent.”

 

“I feel the future is bright for Irish football,” said Dokter. “We have talented players coming through from the U19 team which were very unlucky not to reach the European finals this summer,”

 

What essentially Dokter is doing is constructing a conveyor belt, if you like, with multiple feeder systems.

 

How do you best support that ‘feeder system’? Developing the basic skills at ‘Nipper’ level is paramount to having players arrive at the League of Ireland with equipped to cope. To do this, a culture of enlightened coaching is required right across the country and to grow that cohort a coherent and professional Coach Education system is vital.

 

In fairness to the FAI there has always been an aspiration to provide coaching courses and also and to the network of regional development officers, but under Ruud Dokter this seems to have advance to a new level. If you want to give the y9ung players the best opportunity to make it to the professional level you need a dedicated selfless group of coaches.

 

Currently on all UEFA Pro, ‘A’, ‘B’ licence courses, Performance Analysis is a key element of the curriculum. The FAI are using the Hudl platform now extensively with access given to all coaches as exercise in performance analysis are required to achieve the respective awards.

 

Using all the tools available to the coaching effort means that the player development programmes are aspiring to be the best they can be, thus enabling the young players to be likewise.

 

One clear illustration that Performance Analysis has become ‘a thing’ is the story of Abbeyfeale Community School, County Limerick. They are now in their second year of including a module in their Transition Year programme which teaches the students all the basic aspects of the performance discipline.

 

Tommy Conneely, Avenir talks to the class

 

Dan Burke, Avenir Sports explains: “We facilitate the course – it runs over six days and during that time the students learn about equipment usage, including cameras and extended tripods and the software. They become familiar with the Sportscode and Hudl platforms and are presented with certificates of accreditation at the end.”

 

Dan Burke, Avenir explains camera set up to the TY students at Abbeyfeale

 

“There are 22 students involved this year and they will get to record game footage, code games live and analyse and disseminate the footage – like professionals analysts. They love it and are very eager to learn.”

 

Performance analysis and the use of video at elite level is an indispensible tool in the coaching kitbag and is fast becoming ‘part of the furniture’ i young player development.