Netball observation and analysis connections: Sheffield City Polytechnic

When I attended Celia Brackenridge’s memorial service in October 2018, I had an opportunity to meet some of her colleagues from her time at Sheffield City Polytechnic.
One of those colleagues was Nicky Fuller.
Nicky has had a lifetime involvement in netball. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she joined the game analysis research group at Sheffield City Polytechnic as an MPhil student.
Nicky submitted her thesis in August 1992. The title was A Computerised Analysis of Netball. It is available from the Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive (Link).
The abstract for the thesis includes:

This research stemmed from the observation that much netball coaching is based on relatively superficial and subjective observations of a team’s performance and a lack of longer term coaching strategy or recognised ‘benchmarks’ for relevant aspects of technical and strategic play. … The findings of the literature review, combined with discussions with the national coach for netball, led to the development of two main aims for this project. (My emphasis)

The aims of the thesis were:

To develop a means of providing netball coaches and players with useful post-game feedback from individual matches, which of itself could be accumulated into individual and squad performance statistics over periods of time.

To investigate the possibility of developing a model of ‘winning’ netball performance which coaches might use as an aid to coaching.

Nicky worked closely with the national netball coach, Heather Crouch, to identify parameters of netball performance that should be analysed.
The game analysis group at Sheffield had been using microcomputers for some time. Their experiences informed the design of a software system and a modified keyboard for Nicky’s research.  She used a lapsed-time analysis method to collect data from 28 matches taken from two international tournaments.
Nicky’s research led to development of a ‘profile’ of winning performance that was statistically different from losing performance. She identified nine performance characteristics.

Nicky’s supervisors were John Alderson and Malcolm Brewer. With them and others, Nicky wrote in 1990 for the National Coaching Foundation a state of the art review of match analysis in sport.
The review included details of the work of the Sheffield game analysis research group. These included:

Brackenridge, Celia H. with Alderson, G. John K. (1982) ‘The implications of sport classification for sport science’, in R. Bartlett et al.. (Eds.) Proceedings: Sport and Science Conference, British Association of Sport Sciences, pp. 2-14.

Brackenridge, Celia H., and G. John K. Alderson. (1983) “Interaction Analysis in a team game with particular reference to the use of microcomputers.” In Proceedings of the Sport and Science Conference, Liverpool University.

White, Anita and Brackenridge, Celia. (1983). Understanding and developing team interaction. Paper for the seminar on ‘Coaching Team Games’, West Midlands Regional Sports Council.

Brackenridge, Celia H. (1984). Match Analysis.

Brackenridge, Celia H., and G. John K. Alderson. (1985) Match analysis. National Coaching Foundation, Leeds.

Alderson, G. John K. (1985). Scene-setter paper to the BANC/NCF/BASS workshop “Match Analysis in Sport“, Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Mackinnon, Gordon. (1985) Racket sport analysis; computer applications. Paper to the BANC/NCF/BASS Workshop, Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Mackinnon, Gordon. (1986) Match analysis of squash rackets; applications for coaches, unpublished paper sports science scholarship seminar, The Sports Council, London.

The game analysis research group played a very important role in the emergence of notational analysis in the United Kingdom. My meeting with Nicky brought back memories of my visits to Sheffield to meet analysts there.
As with other people interested in notational analysis in academic institutions, the Sheffield group mixed a passion for sport, educational technology and coaching. Nicky’s supervisor, John Alderson, had an academic interest in skill acquisition and studied for his PhD with HTA Whiting. John published a number of papers in the early 1970s including:

Whiting, H. T., G. J. Alderson, and F. H. Sanderson. (1973). “Critical time intervals for viewing and individual differences in performance of a ball-catching task.” International Journal of Sport Psychology.

Alderson, G. J. K., Diane J. Sully, and H. G. Sully. (1974). “An operational analysis of a one-handed catching task using high speed photography.” Journal of Motor Behavior 6, no. 4 (1974): 217-216.

Alderson, G. J. K., and H. T. A. Whiting. (1974). “Prediction of linear motion.” Human Factors 16, no. 5: 495-502.

His PhD at the University of Leeds was completed in 1974. The title was The development of motion prediction ability in the context of sport skills.
Nicky’s MPhil research took place in this epistemological context. She was an early adopter of the BBC microcomputer that enabled the use of a programmable data input instrument (a purpose-built keyboard using microswitches).

As such, her work was a seminal contribution to cumulative research interest in hand and computerised notation. I think it makes invaluable reading for students interested in the analysis of sport performance.
When I met Nicky in October she was working with coaches in a variety of sports and was still an active coach in her local netball community … thirty-six years on from her Sheffield days.
Photo Credit
Sue Keal flying at Wembley (Our Netball History)
Nicky Fuller (Women Make Coaching)


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