Scott Guyett, a native Australian who played 15 years of professional football in England, is now the first team coach at Brisbane Roar FC in Australia. Previously, he served 11 years as head of sports science at Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
Guyett is the rare individual who has experience as a professional athlete, coach and sports scientist. A recent conversation with Guyett covered the relationship between athletes and data, building trust in technology and the importance of data accuracy.
As a former professional footballer, explain why players may be skeptical of technology intended for performance evaluation?
I think players, having been exposed to so much technology in recent years, are more accepting of it now. The key for me is to ensure the player understands what you are measuring and why you are measuring it. If you can help educate the player, make them feel part of the process and get them to understand that what you are doing is going to improve them as a player, then I think you get more buy-in.
I think where players become skeptical is when sports scientists and coaches base all their decisions on numbers. This opens the possibility of distrust between players and the coaching and sports science staff. There needs to be a degree of subjectivity when you are evaluating performance. Just because a player runs less in a game or has a lower pass completion rate than they usually do doesn’t mean that he or she hasn’t performed well. There could be several other factors that help explain it, and coaches who are empathetic and exercise a degree of subjectivity will usually gain more trust from players.
How do you bridge that divide and assure athletes that, for instance, a movement-tracking system can help rather than harm their career?
Through communication and education. Taking the time to sit down with a player one-on-one, for example, and explain what you are doing and why you are doing it is a simple and effective way to bridge the divide. This is something I would always try and do with a new player who signs at the beginning of the season. You can get a gauge as to whether the player is on board with what you were trying to get across or whether you might have to work a little harder to convince them. Of course, some players show very little interest. But in my experience, if a player understands what and why you are measuring something, they tend to get on board.
These are simple and effective steps to develop a trust between the practitioner and the player. I do, however, think you need to be conscious not to overload the player with too much information and ensure you are consistent with what you are delivering and when you deliver it.
From the perspective of someone who is both a coach and a sports scientist, how can clubs best deliver data insights from an organizational tech team to those calling the shots on the pitch?
First and foremost, you must gain an understanding from the coaching staff of what they want from you as a practitioner or department. What information are they looking for? How do they want it presented? How much detail do they require? I worked under several different managers, and they all wanted something different in terms of what data was reported and how it was delivered.
For example, one previous manager wanted a two-page training report after each training session. Page 1 was expected to be a general overview of the session and Page 2 was more of an individual breakdown of the physical metrics. We used this same format for four seasons, maintained a consistency in what we reported, included a little bit of color for visual effect, and it seemed to work well.
But ultimately the technology is a tool to assist the coaching staff in the decision-making
process. Many of the coaches and managers I’ve had the privilege of working with have
years of experience on me – both from a playing and coaching perspective – so I’ve always gone into that first meeting with a manager with a flexible and open mind.
You’ve undoubtedly seen a lot in terms of scouting, training and sports technology during your time around football. What important changes have you witnessed – either for better, worse or both – over time?
In my previous role as a sports scientist, most of the technological changes and improvements centered around the player tracking, recovery methodologies and return-to-play processes. Since moving into coaching, I’ve been exposed to other technology, in areas such as player recruitment and performance analysis.
There are multiple different solutions that have made it possible to scout and watch players from various leagues around the world without leaving your training facility. This technology is so helpful – particularly for coaches based here in Australia, where it’s difficult to get a visual on players in different leagues around the world. The databases are accurate and easy to use, and an ideal piece of technology for clubs that don’t have the financial resources that bigger clubs have.
Technology in performance analysis has also improved and is constantly changing and being refined. The amount of technical data you are now able to view on one individual player is incredible. Whereas in the past datasets were mostly descriptive and told us what was happening at one moment in a game, we are now seeing more prescriptive data telling us what a player should have done in a particular moment of the game.
It is interesting to note that more and more managers take their analyst with them when they move clubs or take on a new managerial position. Whereas before it was the assistant coach who followed the manager, it is now the performance analyst. This is a great example of how important these positions have become.
What are some of the most important insights to be gained from a movement-tracking system that can be applied to in-match situations?
The ability to quantify things like the number of changes of direction and the velocity of an athlete’s change of direction is a game breaker, in my opinion, and hugely important in a multidimensional sport like football. These types of movements are difficult to measure and often missed when watching the game from the side of the pitch. To my knowledge, Sportlight is the only system that can do this. Furthermore, I think it is a great tool for medical and rehabilitation coaches when transitioning an injured player from the gym to pitch.
How important is the collection of accurate, quantifiable data in today’s
We had a situation a few years ago where the Premier League changed the company that recorded the physical game data using a fixed camera system. During the preseason period, many clubs used the friendly matches to test the new system and compare it against the previous one. Players also wore their GPS units, so we wound up with three different data sets. There were large discrepancies between all three systems, with one system recording significantly lower metrics compared to the other two.
The variation in data sets was not only concerning for us as sports science staff but also difficult to explain to the players – particularly those who took a real interest in their physical data on match days. You need to know that the data you’re collecting is accurate and reliable, and this was a great example of why some players question the accuracy of the data.