By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
Last month we discussed watching the best players in the world in action and what can be learned from seeing them in competition. One common factor across all the professional players that I have worked with is that they use video or match analysis as a technique to help study their own games and, in addition, to build up a profile of their opponents. Performance analysis has become an integral aspect of all elite sports and can be as simple as an athlete or coach watching recorded footage of a performance to more detailed analysis involving powerful (and often expensive!) sports analysis equipment and software.
Not many of us are fortunate enough to have access to the technology and expert staff that are now typical of the leading National Squash programs in the world. However, most Junior and Adult squash players in the US likely have access to devices which can be used to record and playback performance and these alone can provide an extremely powerful learning tool for players and coaches. Matches can be recorded on digital video and ultra compact camcorders, tablets such as the iPad, and the increasingly popular smartphones.
Jay Prince (Squash Magazine editor) commented on how many iPads he saw being used by players, coaches and spectators to video matches at the World Junior Women’s Championships at Harvard in the summer. So the only sticking point so far is having someone (parent/coach/fellow player) willing to video your match, or a tripod and suitable location to mount your recording device where it will not be knocked over! For anyone with a little technical knowledge it is then a straightforward process to connect these devices to a computer, TV or projector screen for playback.
One of the junior players I work with recently returned from the Junior Tour event in NYC having lost a tough 5 set match during the weekend. His mother had recorded the match on a Smartphone which we then hooked up to a laptop for playback. We spent what turned out to be an extremely valuable 60 minutes of our coaching time off-court analyzing this match. Having had the opportunity to study the performance in detail, and the flexibility to replay and even slow-mo specific sections, we were then able to develop an action plan for training activities on and off-court based around our observations. What impressed me so much with this particular player was the maturity and comfort he showed in being able to watch and assess his own performance at the age of only 12 years old! One of the biggest challenges many players have with self-analysis is that they start to feel awkward and self-conscious watching themselves perform, and are often not receptive to any level of constructive feedback from a coach—as they too quickly view this as personal criticism. Overcoming these mental hurdles are fundamental if a player is to truly benefit from any form of analysis.
So if we do decide to embrace the analysis process, what aspects can we look for when studying our performance? We could start with some simple stats, such as number of errors in each game, and break this down further into forced and unforced errors, also looking to see if there are trends such as errors mainly occurring in the later phases of each game which could indicate issues with physical and mental fatigue. I like the terminology Mike Way (Harvard Head Coach) used at a conference when he talked about a ‘Double Error’—essentially an error made due to poor execution (technical) on a shot that did not need to be played in that phase of the rally (tactical).
A momentum analysis can also provide interesting information—basically tracking the flow of points through a game and looking at phases of play where you or your opponent went on a run of points: what happened that led to any significant shifts in momentum? It might be interesting to look at length of rallies (time/number of shots) and establish if there are any patterns. For example, you do pretty well in the shorter rallies and lose all the longer rallies. This could be telling you something you already know if you are honest with your abilities as a player—you are the world’s best at the short quick-fire rallies but once the rally length extends, your heart and lungs feel like they are about to give up and everything shuts down mentally!
So there are many stats that we can consider when analyzing a match that provide us with objective data, and all the stats we have discussed above could potentially be collected “live” during a match by a coach, simply with pen and paper. However, for me, the true beauty of video playback is the ability to connect the stats to what was actually going on at this particular phase in the match. For example, based on an ‘unforced error’ analysis, it could be easy for a coach to state to a player, “you are making too many unforced errors every game—you just need to stop making errors!” Of course as a player or coach, what I really want to know is why these are errors being made. Is it a technical issue on certain shots or a result of poor tactical choices during the rally? Has the player lost discipline and focus mentally as a result of a perceived bad decision by the referee? Is the player’s movement breaking down as a result of fatigue after long rallies and games? Now we are truly starting to understand the performance across all aspects of the game—mental, physical, technical and tactical—and putting any stats we have into context using video feedback. Once we approach this level of analysis we can then have more confidence in creating a purposeful training plan, especially if we start to see patterns emerge over a series of matches.
So next time you have a competitive match, make that little bit of extra effort to record your performance and, while the match is still fresh in your mind, sit down, get mentally comfortable watching yourself with an open mind, and begin to analyze yourself in action.