In late November I was fortunate to be part of the backroom staff of the Northern Ireland U16’s for their two schoolboy internationals against Poland as their Performance Analyst. The opportunity to represent a National football team was a great experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
One thing I’ve realised in my time working in sport as an analyst is that no time can be wasted and that every opportunity that you find yourself with time to spare, there is the opportunity to improve or plan for the upcoming games or challenges. Being able to work on the go (in this case on a plane) is an added bonus as there’s only so many times you can read through the on board snack menu.
I also took this opportunity to get to know the rest of the backroom staff as its essential that the analysis is aligned with the coaching process and development needs of the players. Having previously travelled with this group of players before to Rotterdam and worked with manager Darren Murphy aka “Murph” I had an idea of what was involved and expected so I knew I was going to enjoy the experience more rather than feel nervous about the unknown.
Below is a breakdown of a typical two-day plan for the team schedule:
The first of the two games, unfortunately didn’t provide the result that we wanted. In front of a sell-out crowd of 3,000 people the team went down 4-1 to a very quick Poland team. The only difference on the day was defensive mistakes that left a frustrated mood in the camp as the match was competitive throughout. This left me with plenty of work to do but I had the luxury of the game being played at 12 in the afternoon which gave me plenty of time to tag and create playlists on each player for the following day.
So after an afternoon of getting a tour around the underground dungeons in the local town of Jaroslaw, we returned to the hotel to start one on one sessions with the players. These one on one sessions where led by the management team and kept positive throughout. The players seemed to love seeing themselves whether it was clips showing mistakes or any positives from the match. Once these sessions were finished, a short team session was held to show team shape offensively and defensively and one of the questions asked was whether the players thought the video analysis was going to be all negative to which almost every hand went up. It was good to see the players look happy after the session and this was backed up with players bombarding my room door looking to see more of their clips. Personally it was really encouraging to see such enthusiasm from the players to see more and add to their own learning.
The second game brought a surprising challenge for myself as a bumper crowd of almost 6,000 people were in the stadium, which meant I had almost no room to move the camera from side to side.
On a more positive note, a narrow 1-0 loss was an improvement defensively compared to the previous game and could have had a different result on another day with a lot of pressure late on in the game only without the reward it deserved. Unsurprisingly the players were immediately looking for their video clips and performance stats on the bus on the way home. As this game marked the end of the trip there was no formal analysis session while in Poland. However the players were eager to see their analysis, so during the 3-hour flight home to Belfast a number of them got to review their clips on my iPad, based on a first come, first served as the demand was high!
Having reflected on albeit a short journey I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this group and it will be a learning experience that I’ll never forget. It’s with passionate and inquisitive coaches like Darren Murphy and Steven Frail that I aspire to work with and would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. It was very much a team effort between the players and management that included Stephen Lynch (Kitman), Ryan Keating (S&C) and Linda Fettus (Physio) with a focus on player development and learning.
By Darren Devine, Performance Analyst