Updated: Feb 8, 2019
I recently did a podcast with Liviu Bird where we talked about Marcelo Bielsa, “Spygate”, and the role of opposition analysis at all levels of the game. At the end of the podcast I explained my frustration with the “I do the exact same thing” response to Bielsa’s presentation from a number of people on social media. Of course, so many coaches participate in scouting and opposition analysis, but can we look closer at the quality of work and how it is presented to the players? There are so many levels of effectiveness when it comes to a number of areas in coaching but this one jumps out at me. Success will be judged not by the amount of numbers or the size of the report, but how effectively players can interpret it and how much it complements the overall tactical culture already built within the club.
I wanted to approach this from a slightly different angle and share my opinions and experiences on where I have seen myself and other coaches go wrong in the process of analyzing opponents and communicating that information to the players. Below are my top ten….
Don’t Give Too Much Information – Replicating the scouting reports that you see online may sound like a good starting point, but an abundance of information can do more damage than good. You can easily overload players with too much and you will struggle to prioritize when everything is presented as a key area. Once you get the information on your opponents, the staff should study it and decipher exactly what information will be delivered. Years ago, I made the mistake of bombarding my team with as much detail as I could find, only for them to forget the vast majority of it when it came to kick-off.
Don’t Forget About the Time – This was the number one mistake I made as a young coach on gameday. Delivering information three hours before kick-off that was never going to be absorbed by the group and more often than not, probably detracted from the messages that were sent throughout the week in training. If opposition analysis is going to be a focal point of your environment, I think linking it to the training throughout the week is vital in players understanding and seeing the pictures that you are trying to create. Therefore, the beginning of the week may be a good starting point initially to introduce ideas in relation to the opposition and then build upon those throughout the week, allowing the players to constantly see the “why” during practice.
Don’t Prove Your Knowledge – For the most part, coaches love tactics and find them way more interesting than our players do. When a coach feels the need to use terminology that the players do not yet understand, it can confuse, frustrate and disengage the group. As well as language, steer clear of thinking that you are alongside Gary Neville on the Monday Night Football pre-game show where you look to provide a number of scenarios that may result in a goal for either team. It’s highly unlikely that your players will remember all your predictions and attempting to add motivation to the information can blur the message even more.
Don’t Make It Boring – I hear so many criticize the ability of young player’s today to focus and retain information. We blame phones and motivation levels but is this really the problem? I remember back to my school days and how disengaged I was with teachers who read textbooks aloud for over thirty minutes, in the hope that we would understand the subject. Coaches today must adapt to this if we want our audience to engage. If our players spend more time on their phones, then maybe we need to update the way that we present the information and give much more consideration to technology and our ability to deliver with it. One experience I will always remember was when I was a young coach, we faced the league leaders who had one of the top scorers in the nation. Initially I was frustrated because it was before the days of online streaming and we had no footage of her goals. I knew if I stood up and talked about her stats, my team would be looking out the window for inspiration, so instead I screenshotted her bio pic and put it on every page of my pre-game PowerPoint and carried on as normal…. It created a little humor and everyone was talking about her before the game. We didn’t know anything about her ability but we knew who and where she was for the whole game. I wouldn’t say that was the reason we won, but I did experience an energy from the team that day that helped drive an intense focus during the game and I don’t believe we would have created that if the delivery had been what I was looking for initially.
Don’t Judge Success from Scoreline Alone – I think it’s important to understand that a team can fully commit towards a tactical plan and lose. They can also ignore pre-game instructions and still win. After a recent game between Manchester United and Leicester City, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted that he advised Marcus Rashford to take advantage of shooting between the legs of Kasper Schmeichel. It was refreshing to hear Solskjaer reveal that his forward ignored his advice…. and still scored. From a collective viewpoint, it may be helpful for staff, as well as players, to set certain tactical goals or KPI’s that they have identified with their analysis. Then, during or after the game, you can remove the emotion and see what worked and what needs to improve.
Don’t Hand Over Responsibility – Contrary to some believe, opposition analysis does not end when the information reaches the players. Some players may need reminders, others may need assistance seeing adjustments that the opposition are sure to make if you are successful in preventing them from building momentum. Therefore, your work as a coach has only begun when you address the team with the information. And please, whatever you do, fight any temptation that may enter your head to say, “I’ve done my part. It’s up to you all now!” as you conclude the tactical meeting. There is still plenty of work to do.
Don’t Go It Alone – Personally, I love processes and routines that are put in place where players understand expectations and responsibilities. However, they can sometimes come with a cost. If your meeting is always conducted with command-style leadership, players usually disengage and struggle to process the information. A good way to prevent the onset of boredom is to involve players in the process and constantly change the environment where staff and players can discuss solutions and ideas to deal with the potential issues that their opponents may present.
Don’t Be Inconsistent – Big games can be a time where coaches feel the need to add more detail and information to their players prior to the game. However, it’s also a time where emotions can run high as players experience excitement and nervous energy for the game ahead. If opposition analysis is not embedded in your culture, implementing it for a big game alone can have negative consequences for your team. Use pre-season and the regular season to build a tactical culture in your team can help the players become familiar with the process and allow the coaching staff to improve the detail when the big games do arrive.
Don’t Join the Fan Club – It’s easy to get carried away on the qualities of the opposition on a scouting report. As coaches we can appreciate good systems and respect what our opponents are doing with their personnel. However, be careful in how you communicate this respect to your players. Some teams can read that the coach is lacking confidence in their ability and drain the energy from the room. I experienced this when I wanted a team to play in a more defensive shape – explaining the “why” but not selling it to the group effectively. As well as being aware of language, a good tip to remember is to always give your team the opportunity to win the game. This moves your meeting/presentation towards talking about your team and the strengths that you possess.
Don’t Forget to Review YOUR Performance - Tactical analysis has exploded on social media in recent years. Every day there are new videos, article, and tweets that can help coaches understand and adapt to different concepts in the game. I would highly recommend you read and take as many courses as you can. But the biggest piece of advice I have for any coaching staff who are using opposition analysis and scouting reports to gain an edge for their team, is to review the process with the same level of detail as you do with players performance. If the report did not have the desired impact on the staff, look closer at the delivery and evaluate every aspect of it including the report, delivery, training sessions, and individual motivation. This will challenge your coaches to look beyond the numbers and instead how they relate to the overall environment.