Betfred Sport

The Gordon Hill column: A new tool in youth development

This week I am going to talk about development of youth players in the USA and what I have discovered: a new tool for serious coaches to develop young players.

I have previously attended a League Managers course on performance analysis and their Culture of Excellence programme, where I observed all the top Premier League managers discuss how to develop young players.

Any coach who wants to develop young players in the USA needs to take a look at these courses and do them.

I also travel around and deliver youth development programmes for clubs; and I have just returned from a St Louis club with over 169 teams.

I had the pleasure of taking their coaches through the new ways of developing young players: from developing a youth player to creating a culture of excellence within the club.

And I have gathered information for any coach to copy, keep and use. Enjoy!

What is Performance Analysis (PA)?

PA is used to provide objective feedback to the player/athlete trying to improve their performance.

It’s about telling the player what actually happened as opposed to what they perceive to be happening at the time. It involves analysing the player’s performance through observation and their psychological makeup.

According to research, on average players/athletes and coaches can only recall 30% of their performance correctly. So performance analysis helps with the remaining 70%!

When should this take place?

Either immediately after the performance e.g. at trackside, in the dressing room, on the court and at end of the pool. Or in a more controlled environment, such as the laboratory (useful in athletics).

Immediate feedback provides a player with the opportunity to make immediate adjustments/changes to improve performance.

A coach can spot the problem and help the player correct it. For example, when crossing the ball in a football game a player overhits it and misses the target; that's where the coach comes in.

What techniques are used?

The type of analysis used depends mainly on whether the session takes place in training or competition.

In training, the coach could use immediate visual feedback software (Dartfish, Kinovea, etc) to offer images pre- and post-feedback for comparison.

In competition, the player would look at the profile and stats of their opponent for the next day. They would then discuss the data and that would contribute, along with past experiences, to a game plan for that competition.

What’s the purpose of PA?

PA helps the player with their physical fitness and psychological needs (confidence, concentration, commitment, control, refocus of effort, etc.)

It allows scope for technical and tactical improvements, and therefore development of skill components and tactical needs.

And it improves the athlete’s motivation and performance.

What types of sporting activity can be analysed?

1. Individual-based sports: Table Tennis, Golf, Swimming, Running etc.

2. Position in a team: Goal Defence (Netball); Striker (Football); Linebacker (American Football)

3. Specific action: free kick (Football); the serve (Tennis / Badminton); golf swing; take off (High jump); Lay up (Basketball)

Essentially, PA is about creating a valid and reliable record of performance using systematic observations. This can then be analysed to bring about improvement in the player’s performance.

It relies on two distinct sports science disciplines:

1. Notational/match analysis, which record aspects of team performance.

2. Biomechanics, which revolves around the sporting impact of body movements.


PA could be used for assessing strikers at a Premier League club.

The first priority might be to gauge what the club wants from the analysis. It could be it wishes to improve feedback to coaches and players on individual and team performances.

It might be agreed that the first stage of the analysis should focus on the role and function of the striker(s) within the team: two full games would be filmed in similar fashion to a ‘player cam’. The player(s) themselves would be kept in the dark about what was happening to ensure they played normally rather than acting up for the cameras.

The first step in designing the analysis system is to gain a logical understanding of the strikers’ involvement within the team’s tactics.

The plan is that when the team gains possession of the ball, it will be played into the striker(s) and then laid off to the midfield players, who will try to spread the play to the wings, resulting in a cross or through ball for the strikers to get a shot on goal.

The coaching staff realised that this form of tactical play relied heavily on what the striker(s) did with the ball when played into them, and was essentially the key to the attacking strategies.

This could be the focal point of the analysis.

Sequence of passes to strikers

1. Ball to striker

2. How was ball played into striker? (to feet, chest, head, into ‘channels’?)

3. What was the striker’s response (lost possession, held and distributed, one-touch, rolled defender, won a foul?)

4. In what area of the pitch did the action take place?

The pre-analysis consultation might also highlight the club’s interest in identifying a performance profile for its strikers. This is built using the analysis shown in ‘sequence of passes to strikers’ and, based on ‘movement sequences to be analysed’, which could expose the strengths and weaknesses of individual players.

The coach’s observations might be carried out using, for example, a computerised notational match analysis software package called Nordulus Observer Pro, and the two matches/games are coded manually post-match.

The results from the analysis are then played back to the club’s coach, who feeds them back personally to the players, along with recommendations for improvement.

Performance Profiling (PP) in Action

The main emphasis is on how a player used possession of the ball when played into feet, head or chest. The ball was played into feet 27 times during the game, of which the player:

• Held the ball and distributed 10 times: six in midfield and four in the attacking third.

• Played the ball off one-touch six times: three in midfield and three in the attacking third.

• Rolled the defender twice: in midfield and the attacking third.

• Lost possession nine times: four times in midfield, four times in the attacking third and once in the defensive third.

The analysis also identified the number of headers won/lost, shots on and off target and the number of times possession was won and lost, as follows:

• Ten headers won, of which four in midfield, four in attack and two in defence.

• Nine headers lost, of which four in midfield and five in attack.

• Five attempts on target: two with the head and three with the foot, with one successful strike.

• Two attempts off target, from a header and a strike.

• Possession won seven times: five times through closing down and twice by winning tackles.

• Possession lost twice in midfield through being closed down.

Strengths and weaknesses 

The PP identified the personal strengths and weaknesses of individual players, and provided a technical focus for future training sessions.

For example, it showed the coach needed to:

• Work on the player’s ability to maintain possession (technical control) of the ball when played into chest

• Improve the link-up play with the strikers and midfield players to help decrease the number of possessions lost and maintain fluency within the attack (tactical)

• Work to the striker’s strengths of making successful use of possession when the ball is played into their feet.

PP has three main aims:

1. To identify an appropriate intervention (i.e. being able to recognise what to correct and when to step in)

2. To maximise the player’s motivation, as well as ‘sticking’ to the programme

3. To monitor any changes over time

For instance, a player may struggle with confidence and refocusing after errors. This can be addressed via intervention strategies such as a self-talk or a quick set routine, depending on the exact circumstances and preferences of the player.

What are the benefits of PP?

It can help coaches develop a better understanding of their players/athletes by:

• Highlighting perceived strengths and weaknesses

• Making it clear what the athlete's and coach's vision are of the key characteristics of elite performance, and highlighting any differences

• Highlighting discrepancies (things that are not quite right) between the athlete's and coach's assessment of performance

• Providing a way of monitoring progress

So what does PP involve?

It has four steps:

1. Coach outlines the PP process (e.g. what in your opinion are the fundamental qualities or characteristics of say, a top striker?

2. Player identifies the characteristics of an elite athlete for the sport/event (using, for example, a scale of 0 – 10)

3. Player rates each characteristic in terms of level of importance and self assessment (e.g. a scale of 0 – 10)

4. Player and coach analyse the results and agree a way forward

PP is about giving players the facts

There are two main areas that coaches observe when carrying out a performance profile: the player’s performance and their mental/psychological state.

Analysis and components:

• TECHNICAL/TACTICAL: Passing, Control, Throwing, Dribbling, Serve; Backhand, Heading, Shooting, [technical] Positional play, Style of play, Pressing, Counterattacking, etc., [tactical]

• PHYSICAL: Health-related fitness and skill-related fitness (CV, strength, flexibility [physical]; balance, agility [skill]

• PHYSIOLOGICAL: Heart Rate, warm-up, cool-down, lung function, etc.

• PSYCHOLOGICAL: Motivation, anxiety, arousal, attention, confidence, aggression, relaxation, concentration

• BIO-MECHANICAL: Linear displacement, velocity of release; angle of release, etc., (R. Carlos’ free kicks for Brazil, Rory Delap’s throw-ins for Stoke City, etc.)

By Gordon Hill

Gordon Hill was capped six times for England in the 1970s and made 132 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 51 goals. He scored both United goals in their 1976 FA Cup semi-final win against Derby and played in the Red Devils' 2-1 FA Cup final triumph against Liverpool in 1977.

He has played for Millwall, Derby, QPR and FC Twente, and managed Chester City and Hyde. He has also played in Finland, the USA and Canada, where he managed the Novia Scotia Clippers in the Canadian Soccer League.

As a media commentator, Hill has worked with Sky Sports, BBC, ITV and Talk Radio. He lives with his wife Claire in McKinney, Texas. Hill now owns and runs Texas-based club United FC

< Back to Columnists