Celia Brackenridge’s notational analysis journey

In 1985, Celia Brackenridge co-authored (with John Alderson) a discussion of Match Analysis for the National Coaching Foundation.

At that time, Celia and John were working at the Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Both were part of a small group of staff in academic departments in the United Kingdom who were starting to explore, in a disciplined way, the notation and analysis of performance in sport.

Their Match Analysis paper summarised discussions held at a seminar on match analysis co-hosted in April 1985 by the British Association of National Coaches, the British association of Sports Science and the National Coaching Foundation.

Celia and John had been exploring hand notation and computerised notation for some time (see, for example, Brackenridge, C.H. and Alderson, GJK (1983) ‘Interaction analysis in a team game with particular reference to the use of microcomputers’, in D. Brodie. (Ed.) Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society of Sports Sciences, Liverpool University, September).

The Match Analysis paper shares ten examples of notation. Example 7 is Celia’s BRACstat system that she used with lacrosse, hockey, basketball and football. In her system:

The resulting transcription is read rather like a musical score and gives a permanent record which can be consulted in subsequent seasons or can be compared with past performances.

One of the notations shared by Celia is a lacrosse game with notations compiled in columns. An example from other work by Celia is an 1984 game of lacrosse between England and the USA:

In this notation “you follow the movement of the ball by reading from top to bottom of the columns”.

In a separate discussion of match analysis (Brackenridge, nd), Celia reported:

Thanks to a grant of £1200 from the National Coaching Foundation I was able to spend some time developing and pilot testing the lacrosse notation system around 1983-84. It was a laborious process! First, I divided up the field of play into sections and decided on a set of symbols to represent these, the players and the techniques. Next, I used a hand-held dictaphone to speak a running commentary of these elements from the pitchside. After each game, I replayed the tape and notated the match using a set of vertical staves and the set of symbols: I called this system ‘BRACstat’. A full match of 50 minutes would cover 7 or 8 pages. From the notated score I could then extract frequency analyses of passing and shooting patterns, individual player profiles and various other things. It was possible to read the score to see different tactical ploys, e.g. fast breaks, zone defences, and whether or how they were effective.

Celia used this system when she was an assistant lacrosse coach at Harvard University. Her colleague, Anita White, used it for hockey notation too (Celia and Anita had captained their national teams). Both shared their work at the 1984 pre-Olympic Scientific Congress in Eugene, Oregon.

Celia was the England head coach at the 1986 lacrosse world cup tournament. That tournament marked the end of Celia’s notation work and she moved into a new field of research that took her on a four decade journey as a researcher and activist in child abuse and violence prevention in sport.

Celia reflected on her analysis of sport experiences thus:

Looking back, I am proud of my few years of match analysis work in Women’s Lacrosse. It certainly helped me and many of my national squad members and perhaps helped to boost the acceptance of science in sport.

I think her work is a vital contribution to the notational analysis of performance in the formative decade of the 1980s in the United Kingdom and its integration into coaching. She modelled disciplined inquiry for other female analysts to follow.  In doing so she combined a long career as player and coach, forensic academic insight … and a love of music that made notation a perfect opportunity to share her observations and analysis.

Vale Celia

Celia Brackenridge has died at her home after a long illness.

It is the news we (my wife Sue and I) have been dreading for some time. Now it is here we are at a loss. Sue has known Celia since the 1960s.

I am one of her late 1970s friends.

I have been wondering how to celebrate a life that has touched so many people in so many different fields.

For now, I am going to remember a cello playing lacrosse player who brought music to the lives of those she touched.

I was fortunate to say this in person to Celia when we met for our last time.

I imagine there are people all over the world, like Sue and myself, who are lamenting the loss of a most wonderful friend.

Today, we have found ourselves smiling as well to celebrate a special life. This comment from The Guardian broadened our smiles for and about our friend.

By nature a rebel, Celia would challenge authority, whether at local, national or Olympic level, to take action to protect young people in sport – often facing hostility from those who would not believe that such a problem existed.

She helped anyone who was prepared to listen to understand that these problems did exist.


ChangeMakers: Celia, Anita and Friends

Celia Brackenridge playing lacrosse in the snow

The Anita White Foundation, the University of Chichester and English Lacrosse hosted a gathering at the 2017 World Cup to celebrate the life and work of Celia Brackenridge.

Mark Coups (English Lacrosse) and Mark Mason (University of Chichester) welcomed guests to the celebration.

The Anita White Foundation has established a website to aggregate, curate and share Celia’s work. It has involved painstaking research and design facilitated by the University’s information technology service and energised by Lombe Mwambwa and Lucy Piggott.

A picture of Lombe Mwambwa and Lucy Piggott

Elizabeth Pike provided the background to the project and to the impact of the Foundation in becoming a centre of excellence and a global reference point for women in sport.

The event was concluded with delightful presentations from Anita White and Diana Woodward. Both shared their stories of their learning journeys with Celia.

A picture of Anita White

Diana, Celia’s civil partner, read out a message of thanks from Celia. The sad part of the day for me was that Celia was not there to see her friends celebrate her life’s work with awe and love. I think she would have relished seeing Lombe and Lucy present the website and the assurance two young women have in the nurturing environment that is the Foundation.

A picture of Diana Woodward

It was a day for Celia, Anita and friends to celebrate shared passions.

A picture of the Foundation ChangeMakers team

Photo Credits

Celia (Anita White Foundation website)

Anita, Lombe, Lucy and Diana (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The AWF ChangeMakers team (Lucy Piggott, Twitter)