2015 marks the 15th year that I have been working in soccer. In that time, I have had thousands of conversations with coaches, parents, and players, at virtually all of the different levels of the game. Upon reflecting on these conversations it has become apparent to me that many of us subjectively think and feel that we are experts in soccer, and that we know and understand the game better than everyone else around us. Last week, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed how and why our subjective opinions can hamper player development. This week, in Part 2, I will provide some insight into strategies that we as coaches and fitness coaches can use to ensure that we remain objective in our work.
To start with, I have provided below an excellent and apt quote from Yogi Berra (not a soccer player, but certainly a world class athlete, who played baseball for the New York Yankees in the 1950’s and 60’s):
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else.”
I really like this quote because it captures in a very brief and concise way – in my interpretation at least – just how important it is to measure performance in sports. “knowing where you’re going”, to me, implies that a coach or fitness coach must know very clearly how the players and team has performed, in order to set specific objectives aimed at improving performance and “wind up” where they want to go.
If we accept that measuring performance in sports like soccer is important, then the next challenge is to determine simple and effective ways to eliminate subjective opinions from performance measurement. The best way to do this is through the collection of objective data (facts, which are not subject to anyone’s opinion, about how players have performed in training and match play). The use of technology such as GPS, and video-based software programs like Pro Zone or Game Breaker are certainly very effective tools to measure performance, however, they are expensive and time-consuming to use, and thus are not a practical option for the great majority of amateur youth soccer coaches in Canada. A more cost-effective way to collect objective data is to use alternative methods of measurement which do not require any expensive technological equipment or computer software. These methods must provide coaches and fitness coaches with objective data that is similar to the kind of data that can be generated from more expensive technology and software, but is also simple to understand, disseminate, and eventually present to their players and teams. Below are three examples of simple and proven strategies coaches and fitness coaches can use to objectively measure their players’ performance in training and match play.
- Rating of Perceived Exertion scales (to measure training and match intensity and load)
Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE is a scale of measurement used to determined players’ opinions about how “hard” their level of physical exertion was during a training session or match. There are several different RPE scales that have been used in scientific literature. I prefer to use one developed by Borg (1982), which requires players to answer the question “how hard was your workout?” The scale is scores from 0-10 (“0” being “rest”, and “10” being “maximal”). I have provided a link to a PDF copy of the Borg 0-10 RPE scale below. Coaches and fitness coaches can simply show this scale to their players following every training session and match, and record their scores. Because these scores represent measurements of intensity and loading, once the data has been collected, coaches and fitness coaches can then use it to plan and adjust the intensity/loading in their training sessions in order to achieve desired results.
- Standardized, technical performance assessments (to measure technical skill performance)
In high performance youth soccer environments, the development and improvement of technical skills has to be of paramount importance to coaches and fitness coaches. Technical ability, after all, provides the foundation for players’ future potential development. If a set of standardized, objective technical assessments is implemented by a team’s coaching staff, players’ level of ability, as well as their rate of improvement in technical ability over the course of a season, can be easily measured. Over time, if the same standardized system is used over multiple seasons and – even better – by multiple clubs across multiple age groups and both genders, then a set of standardized normative data for technical ability can be generated. Players and teams can then be evaluated based on comparisons to these age- and gender-specific normative standards. Over time, youth soccer clubs can then be evaluated based on how well their players and teams improve on these standardized tests, relative to the improvement of other competing clubs. The Ontario Soccer Association has seemingly already recognized the importance of technical assessments, having developed its own Technical benchmark Exercises for the Ontario Player Development League in 2014. Below is a link to the OSA’s Technical Benchmark Exercises PDF document.
- Free or low-cost mobile apps (to measure tactical performance)
There presently exists an abundance of mobile applications, available for download on mobile devices including phones and tablet computers, which can be used to measure performance in training and match play. These apps range in price and functionality from the free ones (such as iCODA, Tag&Go, and Pocketcoder), to low-cost options (such as Performa, or FootyTracker). These apps typically require a coach to watch a training session or match with their phone or tablet in hand, and manually enter data or “code” the actions that occur. Many different types of objective data can be collected and analysed in this way, including pass completion percentage, ball retention, ball possession, shots on target, tackles/challenges for the ball, numbers of corners or free kicks, and so on). If coaches or fitness coaches can collect this type of standardized, objective data over multiple training sessions or matches, they can then measures and assess their players’ performance over time and. As would be the case with technical assessments, they can also evaluate their players’ improvements relative to other age- and gender-specific standards and norms.
In conclusion, the use of standardized, objective performance measurements like the ones discussed in this article does not necessarily need to completely eliminate or discredit coaches’ subjective opinions. On the contrary, when used properly, objective performance measurements can be used to challenge and refine coaches’ own opinions and analysis. If we as coaches and fitness coaches truly want to become better at maximizing the development of the players we work with, we need to keep an open mind and accept the use of standardized assessments and furthermore, we need to be willing to use the data taken from them to change our own approach to training and match play if needed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.