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Building an Analysis Culture at Bristol City - TrainingGroundGuru


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Very cool article from TGG. https://trainingground.guru/articles/sam-stanton-building-an-analysis-culture-at-bristol-city

 

IN the summer of 2013, Bristol City had just been relegated to League One and were rebuilding.

This was when I was brought in by the club from West Brom, where I’d been a Performance Analyst for two years, to become their first Head of Analysis.

The Director of Football, Keith Burt, and the manager, Sean O’Driscoll, wanted me to create, develop and manage a performance analysis department, as well as a means of using analysis to recruit players.

At that time, the club had only one member of analysis staff and no systems, software or equipment in place. Furthermore, the 2013/14 season had already started, so it was a case of ‘building in flight’.

Despite these challenges, we managed to set up a clear analysis structure, as well as processes for training, pre, live and post-match analysis. Sean left two months later and was replaced by Steve Cotterill who, thankfully, was also heavily into analysis.

My aim was to improve the analysis department season-on-season through the use of technology, while continuing to develop buy-in from the players and coaching staff. This was the start of building an analysis culture at the club.

Lee Johnson arrives

Lee arrived as manager in February 2016 and, together, over the course of the next four-and-a-half years, we were able to take the analysis department into a new realm.

I’m proud of what we achieved together, although it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the staff and players.

An analyst’s job is to be an extension of the manager’s tactical brain and to help him get his style of play and philosophy across to the players.

Along with an ever-growing team of analysts and our senior opposition scout, Luke Coles, I helped the team prepare for matches and also linked Lee’s playing philosophy into the recruitment process.

Working closely with the recruitment team, data analysts and chief scouts, I filtered transfer targets over the short, medium and long term and made sure they were capable of doing what Lee wanted technically, tactically and physically.

As a club, we were innovators and worked on a number of analysis projects that changed the way the team prepared and played.

That’s what this piece is mainly about, so here are seven of those projects:

1. Outdoor screen

We started using the outdoor screen in 2019, but had actually wanted to do it much earlier. Lee had spent time in Germany in 2018 and witnessed how some clubs there were using screens on the training pitch to bring analysis to life.

This really cemented our desire to acquire our own screen to use as a coaching tool and we pushed the decision-makers at the club even harder to get one.

Eventually, we were given the green light to buy an all-weather 12-foot square screen designed bespoke for us by LED Synergy In Andover. I had come across them after speaking to more than 20 different screen companies around the world.

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LED Synergy were the best fit for us because they'd worked with hundreds of sports teams on stadium screens. All their screens are made in the UK at their factory and they offer round-the-clock support.

The screen was on a roadworthy trailer, allowing it to be used both at the stadium and training ground and came with mains power and a generator, meaning it could be used all over the training ground, not just close to mains sockets.

We were the first club in the country to have a screen this size for use on our training pitches and once Sky Sports got hold of the news my phone didn't stop ringing! More than 10 Premier League clubs got in contact to ask about the screen and how they could get one too.

It gave us a different way of presenting team meetings and reduced the time the players had to be sat down in meeting rooms for video analysis.

It also gave us the chance to instantly review and feed back video, without losing the flow of a session. On the screen we showed video that had been filmed by the drone (more of that below) which we used at every training session.

The screen allowed us to review details live, so the players understood tactically what we needed from them going into a match. If something wasn’t going in the right direction, we could rectify it there and then.

In summary, the screen allowed us to:

  • Give live feedback direct from drone footage.
  • Show opposition analysis live during tactical/ shape sessions.
  • Present post-match video reviews during training and re-run parts of the matches that needed to be improved as a way of catering for different learning styles.
  • Use best-practice video during sessions.
  • Show session plans/ live diagrams to aid flow and understanding of the sessions.
  • Reduce the time in meeting rooms. This was especially important under the Covid-19 guidelines imposed after March 2020.

2. Drone technology

Throughout Lee’s time at the club we used drone technology to film both first-team and Academy training sessions on a daily basis.

The reason for using drones instead of an IP camera solution or teletowers is because we wanted to be able to change the view of the session easily, as well as film in all weather conditions.

The drones allowed us to take a variety of different vantages - we could go directly above a session, or to the side for a panoramic view, or behind the goal - at the click of a button. Each view allowed us to see different parts of a training session.

Our training pitch was a distance away from the main building, which meant the drone was the easiest solution in the absence of data cabling nearby.

We used the video to monitor and review training sessions and incorporated it into our pre-match preparation. We also used it to monitor training in line with Lee’s tactical periodisation programme.

I know a lot of coaches want to film training, but unless the video is used to analyse and improve individual players or team performance as part of the coaching process it’s a waste of both time and resources.

For me, analysing training is as important as analysing matches. Otherwise, how do you know whether you're fully prepared for a match or not?

Our use of drones was a massive success and, even though Lee and I left the club earlier this year, it's still ingrained in the working practices of both the first team and Academy.

3. Using data to develop players

One of our remits, as both coaches and analysts, was to develop players. I think we can look back and say we did that, because we achieved more than £100m in players sales in our final four years at the club alone.

Having good data analysts is key to this. They create outputs; read and measure the data in line with the club’s philosophy; and highlight potential areas of improvement in both team and individuals.

Data analysts are highly skilled in creating different visuals to help players and staff to easily absorb information. We had two full-time data analysts, fresh from the University of Bath, as well as four performance analysts who had the ability to work with data.

They were all tasked with creating data projects that could show areas in which the team needed to improve and how this could be done. Working closely with Lee and the coaches, we would then work out how to incorporate the learnings into training sessions and his tactical periodisation programme.

These statistical projects could be anything from how to be more effective in the final third to how a particular individual needed to add things to his game in order to improve.

One example would be crossing and final pass decision-making. We used statistical data to show how we could improve our probability of scoring through working the ball into areas in the attacking third.

We also benchmarked players against the league's top-ranked performers on specific metrics in order to show what they needed to do to improve.

Data was used to highlight things the human eye might not have picked up, which could then be worked on in training. For example, a player might be turning down opportunities to play forward when he had a amount of options ahead of the ball, and the data would objectively highlight that.

We also used data to prepare for opponents, creating fixture clustering to pinpoint historic games the opposition had played and how effective they had been against different set-ups.

Having players and staff who were open-minded to data analysis was key. To gain trust, players and coaches often have to be shown how effective data analysis can be in improving them. Everyone wants to improve.

4. Hudl application

We moved to Hudl, the video analysis platform, two seasons ago. This was after we'd trialled different application providers and products.

We settled on Hudl because it integrated into their Sportscode software, which we had used for a while, and because it offered the most features while still being user-friendly.

Hudl provided the club with a central point to share video and information between the analysis staff and coaches/ players. This meant they had video, group chats and schedules available at the click of a button on their phones, laptops or tablets - a million miles from the days when players had to ask to be sent clips after a game or were given a DVD.

Once you’ve developed a clear analysis structure and processes, as outlined above, the use of video can become ingrained in the working week for both players and staff.

5. Video telestration tool

Three seasons ago, after a process of research, I decided that ChyroHego’s Coach Paint could be a great tool to take our analysis to the next level.

The software enables video presentations to be annotated and brought to life, introducing extra tactical detail into video through the use of touch-screen technology. We found it helped the players to take on information more easily.

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We could move players on the screen to highlight positions they could have taken up and use the annotation tools to spotlight, zoom and track them.

Coach Paint became a key part of our pre and post-match processes and allowed us to cater for the different learning styles of players and coaches.

We could sync the fitness data from matches to measure distances between units, review team shape and calculate pressing distances in games.

Bringing data and video together is crucial and was a big area of development during my time at the club. Our analysis became more detailed and engaging and Lee could really convey his philosophy of play.

In fact Lee went a step further by having Coach Paint installed at his house, which meant he could prepare meetings and tactical detail before arriving at training the next day.

What an example of the way our analysis culture had grown at the club.

6. Opposition analysis

During my last four years with the club, I developed an opposition analysis application that every player could use. With Apple software, I created a club-bespoke app that had video, written information and statical data on every player in the Championship, as well as any Cup opponents that the team may have come up against.

The application was loaded onto 40 club-owned iPads and given to each squad player. This tool allowed us to cater our analysis to different learning styles to make sure players and coaches were getting the information they needed.

Its use grew from season to season as the analysis culture continued to develop and players wanted more information going into matches to help them prepare for what they would be coming up against.

Stanton and former Bristol City assistant Jamie McAllister

Stanton and former Bristol City assistant Jamie McAllister

There were clips and written reports on opposition players' strengths and weaknesses and how these might be exploited. The app also had previous line-ups, results and a team video overview for players to watch anytime in order to gain a better understand of how our own team played.

Players are increasingly hungry for information and the app enabled them to be analytical even when they were away from the club, at a time that suited them.

7. Developing analytical coaches

As I've hopefully outlined, analysis has moved away from the old-school view of ‘a geek with a laptop’ to being recognised as a form of coaching in its own right.

Now coaches and managers realise how much it can add to their effectiveness, be it in performance or recruitment. The importance of analysts in today’s game is highlighted by the number of assistants at top clubs who began their careers as analysts: Joao Sacramento at Tottenham, Danny Rohl at Bayern Munich, Kieran McKenna at Manchester United and Joe Carnall at Millwall to name a few.

Soon we will see an analyst becoming a manager of an elite club, I'm sure of that.

During my time at Bristol City, I was keen for the coaches to understand the analysis process and systems. I wanted to move away from it being a one-way process, in which the analyst simply gave coaches and managers their work, to a two-way process in which coaches understood how to be analytical in their work.

The first step was to give coaches the tools they needed for this, including MacBooks and analysis software. Next up was the software and we chose Hudl's Sportscode, because it’s easy to use and very in-depth.

Every coach had Sportscode enabled on their laptops to watch games and create their own clips and movie files, either from training or matches (both pre and post-match). Now they were a part of the analysis process and Lee was among the modern managers, like Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, who can use Sportscode.

Across the club we had 35 Sportcode licences for analysts, coaches and players to be able to use.

The three managers I worked with at the club would all watch multiple games, giving me the chance to use what they were seeing and to understand how they saw the game tactically. Suddenly, me and my team of analysts were part of the ‘game plan’.

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Great article thanks. IMO LJ got caught up in this technical approach. Over analysing the technology he had available rather than go with his gut instinct . The chopping and changing of formation and personal doesn’t work in the Championship. Maybe at elite football. 

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4 minutes ago, Red Army 75 said:

Great article thanks. IMO LJ got caught up in this technical approach. Over analysing the technology he had available rather than go with his gut instinct . The chopping and changing of formation and personal doesn’t work in the Championship. Maybe at elite football. 

I think you need a bit of both. Example might be Leeds- they were best known for a 4-1-4-1 but played a fairly complex 3-3-3-1 or something at times too. Back 3 vs back 4. When players were available they were also not averse to a 4-3-3, a shape I think suits them very well but injuries would've been one reason why it wasn't always first choice.

As for LJ, he went way too far with it though, in his final 12-18 months IMO. Smacked of scrambling around looking for something that worked or would work. However tweaks within a basic framework- I don't think we should be averse to that. 

We know in the League it will be highly likely to be Bentley, Back 3 and wingbacks- but our depth and range means you can work around that I think. Tweaks to account for certain opposition aren't such a bad thing.

Eg for some games, you might play 2 in CM, two wide forwards- for tactical reasons able to go in and out you might go with Weimann wide right, Paterson wide left and Martin or Wells central.

For other games, 3 true CMs- for others Paterson alongside 2- then forwards take your pick- Martin and Wells feel like first choice but not necessarily the only choice- Weimann leading the press with Martin doing his thing might be suitable for some games, whereas Weimann leading the press and Wells with his approach may help in other games. Not saying chop and change every game but there can be merit to tweaks within an overarching base, with analytics forming part of this. Is a squad game though- most of our squad will be needed at some stage this season.

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10 minutes ago, Red Army 75 said:

Great article thanks. IMO LJ got caught up in this technical approach. Over analysing the technology he had available rather than go with his gut instinct . The chopping and changing of formation and personal doesn’t work in the Championship. Maybe at elite football. 

Agreed, it's fascinating but it's probably a bit too much for some players.

Interesting article though

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I think a lot of this is responsible for the "tombola" and the poor starts, and the mass changes at half time and 60 minutes. "This team is weak to this" so if we entirely change our style and play then we stand a better chance of winning. "This team does this" so you should set up this way. Well what if they don't?

Did we spend enough time analysing what we did well? And making teams adapt to us, rather than us to them? I think that's why Holden is sticking to one system. (So far)

It's definitely a useful tool, there's some really good things about analysis, like being able to point out things with the outdoor screen. Being able to coach effectively and give examples of what players are actually doing  in order to improve.

But it's not everything. And if an analyst takes over a club, I've got a Callum O'Dowda I want to sell you, his running stats are off the charts!

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Like every sport...it has to be learnt and ingrained on the training pitch, but not 'thought' about during the game... that's detrimental and slows down thought and response.

Having a game plan, and knowing an opposition's weakness is one thing...sticking to it regardless of opportunities that arise on the pitch during a game is fool hardy and detrimental.

There was often time's during the tail end of LJs tenure, where the players looked shackled by thoughts and often made unatural (fevs😉) moves during a game, that were obviously made because of a game plan, rather than taking advantage of a natural opportunity in the game that had arisen.

Some of the movement was laughable.

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I think if you don't use high levels of data and analysis these days you'll get left behind. It's clearly working pretty well for recruitment.

Like everything though it's about how you use it. Too many ideas or used inappropriately and it becomes a detriment rather than a benefit - which it seems to have here.

Hopefully Holden and co continue to use it all, but in moderation and more appropriately... It should be there to supplement coaching and scouting etc. not replace it.

Edited by IAmNick
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1 hour ago, Alan Dicks said:

Wonder what Brian Clough would make of all this if he were to come back?

Hopefully as a bright man he'd see it as a brilliant tool for analysis, data collection, and another tool to inform the coaching process. 

Honestly, if you're not using data/performance analysis in football then you're a relic of the past. I do paid, part-time performance analysis for a local club at Step 4. Step 4!!!

I have to say that every single aspect of this would be the wet dream of the Head of Coaching at the club I'm at (and myself tbh). We use a Veo camera and budget telestration software via NacSport, but the amount of value you could get from drones and big screens for live telestration is huge. 

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2 hours ago, Prinny said:

I think a lot of this is responsible for the "tombola" and the poor starts, and the mass changes at half time and 60 minutes. "This team is weak to this" so if we entirely change our style and play then we stand a better chance of winning. "This team does this" so you should set up this way. Well what if they don't?

Did we spend enough time analysing what we did well? And making teams adapt to us, rather than us to them? I think that's why Holden is sticking to one system. (So far)

It's definitely a useful tool, there's some really good things about analysis, like being able to point out things with the outdoor screen. Being able to coach effectively and give examples of what players are actually doing  in order to improve.

But it's not everything. And if an analyst takes over a club, I've got a Callum O'Dowda I want to sell you, his running stats are off the charts!

@ZiderEyed thanks for posting, I read on twitter yesterday....makes you wonder why Stanton left doesn’t it? 🤷🏻‍♂️ Stanton has a decent reputation.

@Prinny Not enough analysis and understanding of both what went right and wrong.  If you make huge changes at h-t, e.g. double sub and system change, how easy is it to understand the real impact.  Two years ago I called it the placebo effect.  Basically results achieved without knowing why, both wins and losses.  No decent period of time to test, evaluate, tweak, re-test, re-evaluate.  I’ve seen little to change my mind on that.  I later referred to it as a sledgehammer approach.

The only time I genuinely saw something resembling a subtle change was Charlton when he went from 442 to a diamond to match them up.  I gave him some credit for that.

On the flip of that example I remember PNE (h) 0-1 (18/19).  A typical City v PNE game, we know the drill.  We’d lost the previous 2 games, and LJ swapped your a back 3 (from a 442)....but to make matters worse LJ came out after the game and said he’d matched them up.  PNE played a 4231.  Go figure?  I think it was this game that prompted my placebo post.

On Saturday we got a little glimpse of Holden making subtle changes at half-time....get the side-CBs wider, Weimann moving into a lopsided LM position (not sure where he was 1st half mind you 🤷🏻‍♂️), coupled with subs....but sticking to 352.  Still work to do, nothing to get away by...but something to watch over the coming weeks.

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2 minutes ago, Davefevs said:

@ZiderEyed thanks for posting, I read on twitter yesterday....makes you wonder why Stanton left doesn’t it? 🤷🏻‍♂️ Stanton has a decent reputation.

@Prinny Not enough analysis and understanding of both what went right and wrong.  If you make huge changes at h-t, e.g. double sub and system change, how easy is it to understand the real impact.  Two years ago I called it the placebo effect.  Basically results achieved without knowing why, both wins and losses.  No decent period of time to test, evaluate, tweak, re-test, re-evaluate.  I’ve seen little to change my mind on that.  I later referred to it as a sledgehammer approach.

The only time I genuinely saw something resembling a subtle change was Charlton when he went from 442 to a diamond to match them up.  I gave him some credit for that.

On the flip of that example I remember PNE (h) 0-1 (18/19).  A typical City v PNE game, we know the drill.  We’d lost the previous 2 games, and LJ swapped your a back 3 (from a 442)....but to make matters worse LJ came out after the game and said he’d matched them up.  PNE played a 4231.  Go figure?  I think it was this game that prompted my placebo post.

On Saturday we got a little glimpse of Holden making subtle changes at half-time....get the side-CBs wider, Weimann moving into a lopsided LM position (not sure where he was 1st half mind you 🤷🏻‍♂️), coupled with subs....but sticking to 352.  Still work to do, nothing to get away by...but something to watch over the coming weeks.

I think people fail to realise how much control the manager and coaches have now. The analysis dept. is viewed as almost entirely subservient to their whims, often. All the information this setup provides is gold dust, and the management's failure to use it is their failure, not the analysis department. There are plenty of other critisisms that are more than valid to aim there, but the actual data provided through this is not one. 

Youre right on Stanton. I've met SS once and we had a 5 minute chat -  I found him extremely bright and open, completely willing to explain the sort of things he talks about in this article. 

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Interesting article , I think the information is important, how you decipher that information is more important and how you pass that on key. I loved the fact Johnson was so keen on learning new ideas and tactics, but I was not so keen on him trying to use everything in a short period. How many times have to seen/heard a coach say it's a simple game, then mention they don't want to over complicate things for players. It's not that they are stupid (well not all) but if you have too many things on your mind you can't give your best. I've seen countless cricket and golf coaches explaining that point, over complication .

I hope Holden still uses all the info at his disposal, but is more selective in what he passes on to the players. Great point @Davefevs, that subtle change you mention would probably been a system change and at least one sub used under LJ. 
Against Northampton I think we might have seen the first real signs of change, I have been critical of previous matches, hadn't seen a great difference from the LJ City, but the other day the movement was massively improved. The next few games will show if that is part of Holden's influence or not.

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40 minutes ago, S25loyal said:

“I’m amazing, I’m unemployed give me a job”

if you don't sell yourself no one else does. don't knock the man you don't know the politics behind his leaving.

 

by the way I don't know either.

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10 minutes ago, Alan Dicks said:

All these new fangled gadgets and we were still crap last year .

We were worse than that.

Dull, uninspired, negative anti-football. 

While analytics has a role, it can majorly impact on the freedom to express yourself and the instinctive ability to read to a game. 

Would always prefer a team of natural artists play the game than a bunch of robots. 

 

LJ definitely fell into the analysis-paralysis trap. 

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On 17/09/2020 at 18:00, Alan Dicks said:

Wonder what Brian Clough would make of all this if he were to come back?

He would have been all over it...he was a forward thinking manager who played possession based football and loved fast counter attack football...all whilst the rest of the UK was playing aggressive long ball.

On 17/09/2020 at 23:16, Alan Dicks said:

All these new fangled gadgets and we were still crap last year .

We introduced it properly during SoDs time... we've gone from being a (I'll use what I think fits) average 3rd division side to a side in the top half of division 2. 

The majority of teams use or have better... don't use it and you end up like the Gas. Just saying...

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On 17/09/2020 at 21:11, ZiderEyed said:

I think people fail to realise how much control the manager and coaches have now. The analysis dept. is viewed as almost entirely subservient to their whims, often. All the information this setup provides is gold dust, and the management's failure to use it is their failure, not the analysis department. There are plenty of other critisisms that are more than valid to aim there, but the actual data provided through this is not one. 

Youre right on Stanton. I've met SS once and we had a 5 minute chat -  I found him extremely bright and open, completely willing to explain the sort of things he talks about in this article. 

Thanks for posting. 

 

Have to say though that my face hit my palm when I read that they were trying to cater to players different learning styles. Enough cognitive science research has proven that tailoring learning to someone's preferred style of learning doesn't work. Perhaps if they listened to the science on that one they would not have spent vastcsuns of money trying to do what the science proved a long time ago doesn't work. 

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8 hours ago, redrob said:

Thanks for posting. 

 

Have to say though that my face hit my palm when I read that they were trying to cater to players different learning styles. Enough cognitive science research has proven that tailoring learning to someone's preferred style of learning doesn't work. Perhaps if they listened to the science on that one they would not have spent vastcsuns of money trying to do what the science proved a long time ago doesn't work. 

Really? My wife who is a teacher would challenge you on learning styles. It's not what they prefer though it's what they need. A lot of thought goes into individuals learning profiles. 

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