A Friday Letter

Keith Lyons @520507

Dear All

I have been off researching.

The focus for my interest has been a champion football team, its coach and an analyst.

I am hopeful this letter adds to a theme that has been running through IPAX posts. Last Friday, Laura invited us to think about how we share helpful information with coaches. A month ago, Denise shared her insights into an applied performance analyst meeting a coach for the first time.

Both these posts added to the delightful experiencing of hearing Johnny and Craig talk at HPX17 about their relationship as analyst and coach.

My research has been encouraging me to think about the role an analyst might play in the move from a team of champions to a champion team. It started with a line in a Guardian article about the England football team.

Barney Ronay wrote:

Lobanovskiy is usually cast as the father of things. Father of analytics. Father of a data-driven total football. … every movement tracked, rated and tessellated.

This took me to the late 1960s in the Ukraine at the start of the Dynamo Kyiv golden age. I have been so fascinated by this time that I have written four posts on Clyde Street about my discoveries.

They are stories about a coach, Valerij Vasylyovych Lobanovs’kyj, of whom Franz Beckenbauer said:

What he did for the development of football is beyond words. He was always ahead of his time, creating top-class teams first in the 70s and 80s and then in the late 90s. He is spoken about with respect the world over.

And stories about an analyst, Anatolij Zelentsov.

What I thought was particularly relevant to our Abbotstown themes is this quote attributed to Anatolij:

Ideas are good, but most important is to realise them in practice. Valerij is the unsurpassed master in the realisation of ideas. What’s more, he does it in his own way. (GOTP, 2015)

Valerij and Anatolij worked together from 1968 to 2002. They were pioneers of using computers in sport and their reflections on their practice led them to write a number of books. One of these is titled The Methodological Basis of the Development of Training Models.

Valerij used Anatolij’s analysis to transform preparation for games and play within games. Their close proximity, physically and intellectually, led, I believe to a successful response to three of Laura’s questions:

  • The data were helpful.
  • The coach used the information.
  • Athletes had data rich environments within which to become a champion team.

Their total football model had a fascinating resonance with much of present day dynamical systems discussions:

When we are talking about tactical evolution, the first thing we have in mind is to strive for new courses of action that will not allow the opponent to adapt to our style of play. If an opponent has adjusted himself to our style of play and found a counterplay, then we need to find new a new strategy. That is the dialectic of the game. You have to go forward in such a way and with such a range of attacking options that it will force the opponent to make a mistake. In other words, it’s necessary to force the opponent into the condition you want them to be in. One of the most important means of doing that is to vary the size of the playing area.

Valerij and Anatolij were a long way ahead of their own time but their processes of integrating game understanding and analysis led to outcomes too in a golden age.

All of which leaves me wondering … could this happen now? … in Ireland.

My best wishes from your penpal in Australia


Photo Credits


Author: Keith Lyons‏

I have had the good fortune to be involved in rugby union from the 1970s. After retiring from playing in Wales and in England, I coached student rugby in England. I have also coached lacrosse and canoe slalom. I was a national coach for canoe slalom in Wales from 1998 to 2002. I was fortunate to be at the start of the use of video in sport and in the 1980s developed an interest in the observation and analysis of sport. In the 1990s I was performance analyst for the Welsh Rugby Union. I started the Centre for Notational Analysis in Cardiff in 1992. This later became the Centre for Performance Analysis in 1997.

I moved to Australia in 2002 to be the founding coordinator of Performance Analysis at the Australian Institute of Sport. I moved to the University of Canberra in 2009 as the founding director of the Institute of Sport Studies. I have had a link with the University to the present. I am a Fellow in Teaching and Learning and an Adjunct Professor in Sport Studies.

Since 2013, I have been involved in a critical friend project with the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board. There are twenty-three high performance coaches in the project (11 rugby, 12 cricket). The aim of the project is to support each coach’s flourishing and wherever possible to connect coaches with shared interests.