A Ron Smith guest post: On The Bench

Introduction

I have invited Ron Smith to write a post about the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) decision to “use of electronic and communication equipment in the technical area”.

Ron has been involved in football for fifty years and has integrated technology into his coaching from his early days use of film loops to share technical and tactical insights with players and coaches.

On The Bench

Simon Austin noted earlier this month:

IFAB, which decides the rules of the game, has announced that “small, hand-held electronic or communication devices will be allowed in the technical area “if used for coaching/ tactics or player welfare. This can include items as large as laptops.

It took years before approval was given for GPS systems to be worn during matches, so the introduction of devices for tactical and coaching information to be received on the bench, in whatever format, is not surprising.

The terms of reference are broad enough for anything to be relayed to the coaching staff so the relevant information will be determined by what the coach wants to know or see during the game.

Physical data could be useful if the weather conditions are different to what the players normally experience, but I would expect the coaches and physiologists to know each players’ physiological capacities and limitations.

Pre-World Cup warm up games could be used to simulate expected adverse weather conditions and identify players, if any, who may have problems.

With regards to the technical /tactical information a coach might want to receive on the bench during the game, I suggest the most useful would be of a quantitative nature rather than qualitative.

The coaches will be watching the game from the touchline and will know what is going on but the benefit of observations made by a colleague watching from an elevated position can be an advantage.

The qualitative information I would like to receive on the bench would relate to how well the team is carrying out our game plans in attack and defence, and if it is not happening to my satisfaction I would like the observations of a trusted colleague who has an aerial view. I would also have the opinion of other coaches on the bench to cross reference these observations.

It is difficult to make adjustments to the team performance during the game so whatever information I receive ought to confirm no change in the chosen strategy or lead to a change in strategy. A change would lead to implementation of Plan B or Plan C, which the players would have had to practice and be able to apply. This approach to adjusting tactics and / or team shape, or a player’s role would come from what I call ‘What If’ training based on game scenarios during the long-term preparation of the team. This is difficult but not impossible to achieve within the infrequent gatherings and constantly changing environment of international football.

I think quantitative data during the game would be limited to precise performance indicators such as attempts to play behind from specific areas of the pitch, which research has shown to have a profound effect on scoring opportunities.

I do not envisage a Head Coach watching replays of events on the bench while the game is in progress but selected passages might be viewed during stoppages in play.  The use of selected clips at half time would enable the coach to communicate visually with the players what he wants them to focus on in the second half, which he cannot do during the game.

Many sports have regulations about ‘time outs’. The availability of augmented information raises some important questions about how the IFAB decision might affect the flow of games. In women’s tennis, the WTA has permitted coaches:

to enter the court to provide tactical advice and support … armed with analytical evidence of what is unfolding on court, delivered via mobile applications supplied by the tour’s software analytics partner.

In IPL cricket,  there are four strategic time outs, each of two and a half minutes: the bowling side can ask for a break between overs 6 and 9 while the batting team can opt for the same anytime between 13 and 16 overs

I wonder if some form of time out will be the next initiative IFAB discusses.

The 2018 World Cup gives us a great opportunity to see how the availability of touch line technology works.

Photo Credit

Chertsey Town v Banstean Athletic (Chris Turner, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Substitutions (Ronnie MacDonald, CC BY 2.0)

2 thoughts on “A Ron Smith guest post: On The Bench”

  1. Coaches access to succinct, critical analysis during a game is a wonderful innovation but I agree there are always some governance issues to consider. Firstly may I say, we already provide local to international head coaches with ‘live data’ during games through ‘Pattern Recognition’ using innovative Qualitative Analytics. Both individually and collectively they give coaches brief, critical data on the Why behind what you see happening as well as alerts and opportunities. Thus lifting the level of performance and chances of winning. We call that Intelligence Augmentation (IA) in sport science terms. We operate in secure and trusted environments.
    On the other side, governance includes integrity and security – the starting environment and Ron is right to ask questions because football is often targeted by the ‘dark side’ which could include electronic interception. So security of process and content is paramount. Thus overall, it is improving performance but when introduced into a new sport, governance at the beginning is critical.

    1. Thank you for raising these governance issues, Tony. I sense that the type of information shared in a network is open to a number of positive and negative uses. It will be interesting to see how the World Cup deals with these governance concerns.

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