Maximising Athletic Ability Through Analysis

Previously I spoke about how numbers can lie. This article received a great response and a lot of questions about how to go about choosing the metrics and then recording them.

When starting to think about your teams performance analysis, there are a number of factors to consider. What type of metrics are most beneficial to you? I believe there to be three distinct categories by which you can measure. Two of them are easy to quantify, the third is the hardest and the one neglected by the majority. Finding the right level of detail is a trial and error process. Too little data and you donít have the whole picture, too much and you may become lost in the numbers. Rugby is unlike baseball, itís a fluid live action game with many different factors, not just batting averages, on base percentage and saves for example.

In one of our team sessions at Dallas Athletic Rugby Club, I had a conversation with the scrum half who was complaining that he felt like he was damned if he did, and damned if he didnít. He was right, he was. We play such a complex sport, where a multitude of options present themselves at any time. The way I think about it, is that you have what I like to describe as a sliding scale of decisions. Itís not just black or white. One option may be better than the next, but is it the best possible one for that situation? The best teams enable their players to make the perfect choice for every situation every game day. Educating your players to do this should be a priority, as I spoke about previously . We must become more forward thinking with incorporating technology and with a head on view you can help your team develop.

Firstly, we have the raw count metrics. These are the physical ones, tackles made, rucks entered and metres kicked. These are the simplest to track. A spreadsheet, where you record them can easily achieve a base level to measure performances off. They may not paint an accurate picture though. In my first article, I used the example of tackles made versus tackles missed. I showed how looking at the numbers in a little more detail showed how one player was more effective than the other.

Adding context to these metrics is the second category. Every team has a game plan or system that they hope to play according to. Every plan is varied and different, therefore, it stands to reason that every performance analysis done should be unique to that team too. Incorporating statistics in an individualized manner is a lot more complex than just recording basic numbers. Before you begin to record the data, you first must break down how your own system works and what statistics enable you to paint a better picture.

At DARC, our attack pattern is one that focuses on ball retention and attacking beyond the gain line. We assess the following statistics for our Attack:

# of Possessions
# of Passes
# of Runs
# of Kicks
Handling Errors
Metres Gained
Metres Gained After Contact
Line Breaks
Beaten Defenders
These are still just raw numbers, but they are assessed in accordance with the guidelines of our attacking game plan. We have a system in place which is quite unique and we feel that the metrics we are recording provide us accurate information. When we combine our attack and our passing statistics, which I mentioned in my earlier piece, we get a complete picture of how that player is fitting into our system. Whether he is drawing the man, releasing teammates into space in behind the gain line or carrying strongly to set a platform to attack from.

The third category relates to the intangibles of the game. The decision making process is the main one followed by positional sense. This is something you cannot assess from the sideline view. It must be done with forward facing cameras. It is with these angles that you can see the space, see what the player has in front of him, outside him and in support of him. To track this is a lot harder than just a simple raw count. There must be unilateral agreement in what the choices are. We have simplified ours down to two or three options for every aspect.

Attack: Is there someone in a better position than I am? If yes, then pass now or take the ball to the gain line.

Defense: Who is my man? Is he the biggest threat, if not then who is.

Attacking Rucks : Am I needed? If yes, then pick and go or secure, if not then where should I be?

Defending Rucks: Is the ball available? If not, then where should I be?

This is just a brief summary of what we look at after games. It is time consuming, but relatively easy when you have defined all the parameters. I have spoken a lot about educating our players and the value in it. I firmly believe that just as much work should be done on preparing players to make the right decision in preparing them physically.

The more educated players are, the more belief they will have in their own abilities. As coaches we should be continually trying to maximize our playerís potential and ability. Itís not just about teaching them how to catch, pass and tackle. We must train them to recognize opportunities to exploit and be able to identify the best option in situations where many are offered. The more educated our players are, the easier it is for them to reach their maximum potential. In an area where the playing pool is not sufficient to support all the teams, maximizing each and every playerís ability should be priority number one.


Performance Analyst Women's National Team at USA Rugby
Gordon Hanlon. Performance Analyst Womenís National Team at USA Rugby


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