Cooney academy
Director of Video, Jay Cooney

On The Path: Individual player tracking aiding development at Union youth academy

Anyone who played high school sports probably had to sit through some sort of film session at one point. The session typically consists of grainy footage that a coach has seen 30-plus times and a complimentary lecture about all the mistakes and blunders any given player has made.  You know – the fun part of sports.

But as nostalgic as film sessions may be, the Union Academy has taken a more modern and productive approach to the film experience.

First and foremost, the Union want to collect as much film as possible. They’ve been successful on that front, as they’re able to film 90 to 95 percent of the matches across all age groups. That’s where the simplicity of the Academy’s technological endeavor ends.

Of all the film collected, about 85 percent of it is live coded. That means that while a game is in progress, someone will be tracking all of the Key Performance Indexes (KPIs), which are any metrics such as chances created, shots, goals and assists. With these different KPIs collected, the Union use a video editing software called Sportstec to create “code windows” for all the different match events.    

The code windows are used to create player databases and match-instance databases. This means a player can go in and watch every single touch they had throughout a match. Or a coach can go in and watch clips for every goal, chance created or anything they may be looking for.

The great thing about all of this is that the film becomes incredibly easy to navigate. No rewinding and forwarding needed for these film sessions. You can find exactly what you’re looking for right away.

Also, all of this is done live, so the coaches have all of the information available right away. Midway through a game, the coaches receive a stat sheet that contains possession facts, number of shots, and other first half statistics. This is incredibly helpful for adjusting game tactics. Immediately after a game, coaches go through the film and start preparing a presentation for their players. There’s not a lot of time to spare around the Academy, so efficiency is crucial for both coaches and players.

If a game is on a Saturday, the players will typically have access to the game footage by Sunday morning. This gives players time to ingest the film, create their own clips and even prepare their own presentations by the time they return to the Academy on Monday. Rather than get lectured on film they’ve never seen before, the players have an opportunity to open a dialogue with the coaches. The film session becomes more about learning, and as a result is much more productive for both parties.

Creating a dialogue is a two-way street. The coaches are able to see who is watching film, how much they are watching and what they are watching. While the coaches do occasionally make some film review mandatory, that is not why they check up on the players. If a player is watching film at 2 a.m., or not at all, a coach can pull the player aside and see what’s going on with them.

This happened this past season. A player had a bad game and took it to heart. He immediately went back to watch the entirety of the game, and then watched the full footage of a game he played well in. If they didn’t have access to what the players were watching, the coaches never would have known that this player was so distraught over his performance.

Coaches were able to talk to the player, ease his nerves and explain that this is all part of the maturation process. It’s easy to forget that these players are just teenagers, but little reminders such as this are incredibly helpful throughout the process of player development.

While benefitting from different aspects of film isn’t unique to the Union, the scale at which the Union is collecting, coding and ingesting film, is.

The more film you can give the players, the better off they’ll be. Since last July, players have logged in 13,000 times to watch film. For the past two years, Christmas has been the only day on which no player has logged in to watch film.

“The players have incredible access to every single touch they make throughout the course of a season. “Our goal is not to be one of the best in the country, but best in the world.

“We’re ahead of a lot of European clubs, behind others,” Jay Cooney, director of video technology, said. "We’re trying to catch up in some ways, but we’re definitely leading the nation. I’ve been heavily involved with video no matter what stop I’ve been at in my coaching career, so this is something we’ve been cooking for 10 or 12 years now, and I’m really happy about where it’s at.”

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