Coaching Insight: Balancing between Coach & Player, as Analyst - Tadhg Dornan, Dublin Camogie
As part of our coaching insight series we spoke with 'up and coming' talented GAA Performance Analyst Tadhg Dornan, about his journey of learning from Player, to Coach, to Performance Analyst. Did we mention that he's still playing!
How did you reach your current role? Tell us about your analysis journey so far...
'I did the Performa Level 4 course in Athlone about a year and a half ago, at that stage I was both playing and the analyst for our club football team. From then on I persuaded the club to buy a license then I just completely took off. We had all the videos for our club Championship games so I analysed these and just learnt hands on. They were blown away by it and it just continued through the club. I also got involved with the club hurlers which was great because it gives you both sides of the codes.'
'But at that point I was the player as well as the analyst so I knew everybody and everybody knew me. I was used to what was going on in training and I had my own ideas as to what was working and what wasn’t working and I could then manipulate this, not just subjectively but I could show the coaches what we as players thought was working or not - so I was able to stray that line quite well.'
'Despite there being a big number of dual players, the hurling set up had a completely different philosophy, totally different way of playing the game. They’d been quite successful but they wanted to know what was working for them and what wasn’t. So again I got a whole backlog of games that I got to go through and was able to show them what was happening. It was a different perspective as well because I didn’t know what their game plan was. When they told me what it was, I was able to show what was working through video analysis and we had a great campaign. That year I was involved in generating loads of stats and we got to the Leinster Club Semi-Final and lost, but up to that point it was great. It basically showed that I was able to do both codes and later I applied for the Dublin senior camogie analyst role and I got it as well which was great and that threw me into a whole new standard of things!'
'Obviously the management have set out a game plan and a system of play. I try to come up with KPIs around that, to see what would work best for the outcomes that they are looking for. So during training we started off - I had these grand ideas of filming every training session and try to come up with repeatable drills that have quantifiable outcomes - like number of passes per minute, number of dropped balls per minute or something like that.'
"These are good intentions but sometimes you can drown in video footage and data, and sometimes it just doesn’t materialise or really help."
'The player base can change too, for other county teams this might be different but for camogie there are different reasons why people can’t play - so you might have a changing player base all the time. So these things don’t always work out but sometimes they do.'
'But aside from this, I’m still a player. So I still stray the line of the player and coach/management team. I coached the U16s team at our club at the same time as playing and being the analyst and they won the County Championship so I was able to have a whole year of coaching under my belt, especially with juveniles.'
'Then when I went into the Dublin set up they didn’t have a goalkeeper coach so I became the impromptu goalkeeper coach for a while as well which was great. One of the major things in hurling and camogie is puckouts. The managers had their ideas for puckouts strategies and a system of play in the forwards, and from talking to the goalkeepers we came up with some ideas. The puckouts weren’t working but I had two weapons - A. I had footage of them not working, and B. I had different ideas from the players because I was sort of integrated in that set up as well. I’m a similar age to a lot of the players so they would have a different rapport with me than with the management team or they don’t see me as a senior member of the management team so it's more of an open conversation. I use that to my advantage.'
"I don’t have big video sessions all the time - we do before big games, but in training and before training starts because the iPad is so easy to bring around I just go up to players and have a chat with them or bring it up, so you can ask them how they’re doing so you’re building up a rapport with players, instead of just straight up saying I need to show you this. Involve them in a conversation and make it interesting to them."
'On top of that you target which players are more interested and you have to feed them more, and then for other players just every now and again you can top them up. You can see who is logging in or not on the online platform to see who’s interested and who’s not.'
Supporting the link between management and players? Role of the Analyst
"For a player, the biggest thing is transparency."
'Whether it be for stats or video, or letting a player know that they’re not playing - even for the players that were playing in those games and felt they played well - to give them an answer as to why we were losing matches was probably more beneficial. While for the players who were coming on, there were some very clear reasons why they weren’t being picked. Or for some players there’s that unknown reason why they’re not being picked or you can’t put your finger on it. Even as a management team you might say ’she’s not there yet’ - but what does that mean? When you can put a number behind that or even just show it - you can see ok, that’s the reason why - they’re just not impacting things the way other players might do.'
What does your analysis process look like? Pre-Game, Live-Game, Post-Game
'If you take the Championship game against Galway as an example and look at the week before. We had implemented a style of play, but we didn’t want to throw a huge amount of information at them. I break the analysis down into three main areas - puckouts, attacks and what’s Galway’s defensive shape.'
'I had prepared 2-3 games on Galway in advance and on the Tuesday we set aside 15-minutes before training to review and discuss. I don’t really offer the players anything before that meeting but they know to expect the three main areas to work with.'
'On the Monday, I would look at the results of the analysis and give it to the management team and see if that fits in with the training plan or to see if I can come up with a drill or variation to a drill to help implement what we’re seeing through the video analysis. That could be as simple as - like Galway played one sweeper in the first half and later in games if they’re winning and they really want to win they put in a second one. So in training they were playing a game of backs versus forwards and towards the end we would take one player off the attacking team and put in a sweeper and then put in a second one, just so the players get used to it.'
Then on Thursday is when I get more time. But what I wanted to do was re-emphasise how good they are as players. For this Championship year we had a huge amount of debutants so I just wanted to re-emphasise the fact that they had played all year and they’d done really well.
"As the players were coming in before the training session I would just grab a few minutes with individual players and show them videos of games they were involved in. If they’re a defender - it would be clips of them making tackles, making rucks, starting attacks, things like that and then re-emphasising to them what they have to do when they get the ball. This helped build up a Championship atmosphere as it was quite a big game but also re-emphasised the fact that they are capable of playing well."
'That’s pretty much my week, prior to that I would have used analysis from previous games to hark back on what worked well and what did we learn. It’s important to re-emphasise - because at a high level you can’t be reactive as much in that so you should take the materials provided before a match so you’re prepared for certain styles of play rather than reacting to it and being caught out.'
How do you use objective data? Evidence based insights.
'There were very broad, vague descriptions being used - like you have a good short grip of the hurl, good hands, very quick, but they had no solid evidence as to how the player was progressing or how she compared to other players. That’s where I came in - to review the stats from every game.'
"I just exported everything from Performa for each of the games and blocked them by game type. We could see how players had progressed through the games which was really easy. As we had played so many games it gave me a good average to look back on. I had all this done before the meetings, so let’s say we have a half back playing, a half back is there and she didn’t start or play any of the league games but wanted to know why - I could go back and look at things like the average tackle count or the average possession lost or the average attacks that they created and see where they stood. To see what they were offering us in comparison to other players and I spun it in a more positive way, whereby I made sure that we just didn’t look at why they didn’t start but looked at what they are offering us versus what other players are offering us."
'I was able to workout a KPI influence score for players and look at this over the course of a game. It turned out that the 10-minute period after halftime was when everyone fell flat. It just showed as a team, we were consistently dis-improving in the second half of games and that correlated with when the other teams were scoring most against us. Using the past game data we set benchmarks and performance targets.'
What’s your analysis approach within the team? Can this evolve and change to suit?
'The big thing that affects my answer is that I was coming in from the cold a little bit in Dublin. Nobody knew who I was, I wasn’t attached to any clubs so I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to come in and be negative or having the attitude that I know everything.'
"I started more like a student of the game, whereby I took things in or if I saw small things that were really good I would offer that to the players early but I’m now at the stage were I think I can start to be the fixer - showing a player a clip and asking why did you do this or what are the options available to you?"
What’s it like to be Analyst? What have you learnt so far?
'I would say that this isn’t for everybody. Maybe not what you’d expect me to say but I remember going through this with different management teams.'
"Why this isn’t for everybody - is that if you join a coaching set up you can unfortunately find yourself in a scenario whereby the coaches feel that they have to have video analysis and they have to have stats and its there as a standalone thing - whereby you just give a presentation and the players might take something from it but it’s not impacting anything else, it’s not interacting with training sessions or impacting the game plan."
'It’s just there to be found out and to be left alone. So that’s one thing, and the other thing is that you do have to be quite objective to do this and you almost have to sacrifice a certain amount of enjoyment of the game. So if you find yourself getting caught up in the game a lot and being full of emotion this may not necessarily be the aspect for you. It may mean that you do things post match to look back over things - but I’m just giving the other side of the opinion.'
'Being an analyst is brilliant, as in you can provide real insight into things and I love the feeling of proving coaches wrong about players because as a player myself I can feel that certain players are underrated, so I want to find out why.'
"That’s one of the real enjoyments, if you see a player that you think deserves to play and then you can show them reasons why and video clips why and they do start and they play well there is a sense of satisfaction about that, in that you’ve done a service for that player."