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5 ways the best football teams use data to win

9th November 2021

Data and those who work in football have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for many years. Leagues, teams, and practitioners now have a wealth of data that they use to influence their performance strategies. Wearable technologies, like Catapult Vector, have made it increasingly easy to obtain the athlete-specific data that impacts performance.

Now, managers, coaches, and analysts are challenged by turning this wealth of data into actionable insights. In response to this challenge and to help aspiring coaches and teams unleash their potential, Catapult recently held a four-part webinar series, called ‘Empower Your Team With Data’.

Part four of the series featured the incredibly experienced Paul Balsom, who has worked in football for more than 25 years with Bolton Wanderers FC, Southampton FC, and Leicester City FC. Over his career, he has routinely surrounded himself with data, technology, and science and championed all things that push football performance forward. Balsom currently sits within UEFA’s Fitness Advisory group.

Throughout his webinar, Balsom reflected on his career, the football industry, how best to develop coaches, before finally wrapping up with insights on technology and recent innovations. Watch part four of the series below:

Webinar Insights: Five ways the best football teams use data to win

  • Learn how other sports use data

“I’ve previously looked at a number of Formula 1 teams, and they have an insurmountable amount of data with more than 200 people working on two cars and two drivers,” said Balsom.

“Training should simulate game-like instances, so other sports are not necessarily reflective in that regard, but monitoring how other sports teams use data is interesting and insightful.”

  • Work with a unified philosophy, but encourage challenge

“I prefer to work in a team of ‘mavericks’ and those who do not think the same as myself. Different coaching, performance, and data perspectives are key to challenge the status quo and ensure you are progressive,” explained Balsom.

“Encourage diversity of thought amongst your team. That said, you have to be creative in line with your collective team’s philosophy. Do not be different for different sake, be different because it enables you to see and do things in a positively different way.”

  • Slow down, gain experience and improve your education

At times, upcoming coaches want to be in the elite space as quickly as possible, perhaps before they are ready. But sometimes that isn’t the best option.

Balsom said: “Spend time in the lower leagues and grassroots level to gain the necessary experience with data, so you are ready to move up the performance ladder.”

Coaching ego is another barrier to progression. Balsom explained that coaches should lean on specialists and empower those more knowledgeable in their area to influence decision-making.

As you progress through your career, “it is important to learn that you cannot do it all. You need specialists – nutritionist, psychologist, physiotherapy – to help to maximise your use of data and, therefore, performance,” mentioned Balsom.

Through relying on specialists, you can then spend time developing your education to respond to industry changes.

“For example, you could improve your understanding of coaching a women’s or youth team, learning the challenges they face,” said Balsom.

  • Manage transitions effectively

All too regularly, team managers come and go, which can be tricky to navigate for the staff left behind.

“That does not mean that the performance team behind the manager has to leave the club … coaches and teams need to work more sustainably for the long term,” said Balsom.

To do so, coaches should complete regular team needs analyses to understand what resources are needed and where. 

“Auditing is something we all need to be better at to ensure you have the right resources for effective data use and performance,” explained Balsom.

This auditing should also be completed with every team at a club, from the first team to youth teams. Why? Balsom mentioned: “it enables club coaches to collaborate, plan any implementations, and assess any changes needed … enabling youth team coaches to equally learn and improve.”

  • Objectively monitor your athletes

“Do not solely focus on distance-based metrics, like total sprint distance. Instead, focus on metrics based on time and intensity,” said Balsom. Those metrics more closely reflect key football performance outcomes.

He added that coaches should also experiment, “but also present the metrics that line up with what the manager wants to see and understand.”

Balsom recommends using Movement Profile for Football to objectively measure a football player’s performance.

“The Movement Profile helps coaches clearly understand football-specific movement intensity/time, and especially the micro-movements and their influence on athlete workload,” he said.

“Compliment your use of Movement Profile with the traditional metrics your manager asks for. Traditional GPS metrics are limited by their capacity to track indoors, whereas Movement Profile uses inertial sensors in the Vector device, allowing you to track wherever you train.”

Movement Profile for Football

Introducing the new standard for workload monitoring on the pitch:

Football is a dynamic multidirectional sport with periods of low-intensity activity interspersed with intermittent bouts of high-intensity movements. This is called mechanical work. With the Movement Profile for football, Catapult quantifies the mechanical component of football.

To enquire about Movement Profile, click here.