Performance analysis in soccer: A contemporary examination of its role within the coaching process
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AbstractThere is a dearth of up-to-date literature scrutinising the experiences of soccer coaches, players and analysts involved in the collection and dissemination of findings from Performance Analysis (Henceforth PA). Given the rapid expanse of PA within soccer in recent years, a comprehensive and contemporary account of how PA is delivered and utilised by coaches appears warranted. Therefore, the purpose of this research was to investigate the challenges and opportunities experienced by coaches and analysts in embedding PA within applied soccer environments. Using an interpretivist theoretical framework and qualitative research method, this thesis included three different stages of data collection and analysis. In stage one, data were collected from eight full-time performance analysts working in the English Football League and English National League, exploring the use of PA across the phases of match-play (pre-match, match-day, and post-match). Data collected from semi-structured interviews and reflective thematic analysis identified two higher-order categories (Flying solo / coach control) and four themes classified as lower-order (identifying indicators / PA pragmatism / analysis ingredients / autocratic presentations). Consequently, this study highlighted the types of PA completed by performance analysts is context-specific and dependent on multiple factors (e.g., coach and analyst relationship) which can restrict the value of the PA produced. Consequently, PA appears to be undertaken on a continuum from coach-controlled to analyst-controlled processes, pending what aspects of analysis are used, when in the relationship between analyst and coach the process is developed and when in the matchday process they are carried out. Stage two of the research investigated PA “in-situ” through a case-study approach. This allowed a contextualised process for the use of PA at half-time to be developed and studied within a soccer academy. Reflective thematic analysis of interviews with the lead coach, assistant coach, head of coach development and six players, both before and after PA was available, highlighted two higher-order themes (Opportunity knocks / Conflict of interest) and four lower-order themes (Supporting current practice / Race to the tech / Prioritising performance / The best before the rest). Meanwhile, reflective thematic analysis of six half-time team teams before and after PA was introduced, generated two higher-order themes (Coach-controlled feedback and evidence informed evaluation) and four lower-order themes (Scouting report / effort and attitude / tactical deconstruction / inspiring individuals). This stage of the research highlighted that within the Elite Player Performance Plan (Henceforth EPPP), the role of the coach, and application of PA, appears complicated and multifaceted despite an enthusiasm expressed by all stakeholders to access PA. (NB the EPPP is the talent identification and development programme initiated by the Premier League in consultation with the Football Association and English Football League [Henceforth EFL] to identify and develop male footballers in England). In the third stage of the research, twelve coaches were interviewed to identify the ways in which they engage with PA to underpin their coaching practice and utilise the findings to aid player and team development. The data analysis identified two higher-order themes (external auditors and weaponisation of PA) and five lower-order themes (tick in a box, prescription PA, continuous professional denial, collateral damage and exit strategy). The results demonstrate that talent development programmes are complex environments, and several problems were revealed in the manner coaches are prepared for, and subsequently used, PA to support their practice. Despite an enthusiasm from coaches about PA, both a lack of education regarding how best to use PA and the influence of senior coaches within an academy impacted how PA was used. Furthermore, the desire of an academy to win matches, as well as to develop the players perceived to be the ‘best’ and achieve a specific EPPP category status influenced the use of PA. The empirical findings of this thesis have revealed the complexity experienced when utilising PA within applied coaches’ practice. Despite coaches appearing enthusiastic at the prospect of implementing PA, the use of analysis is highly contextualised and reliant on several cultural and ethical issues including the coach-analyst relationship, coach education regarding the effective context-specific use of PA and the desire of a club to be seen to engage in PA to improve EPPP category status. Consequently, there appears to be several inter-related factors that contribute to PA being used sporadically by coaches within applied soccer environments. Therefore, as individuals and clubs embark upon using PA, an understanding of both the opportunities and challenges of PA should inform the development of the role of the analyst and the way in which PA is used to support coaching practice.
CitationMulvenna, C. (2022). Performance analysis in soccer: A contemporary examination of its role within the coaching process [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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