How accurate are your matchday observation skills?

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Former FA performance analysis lead, Shayne Hall, provides an insight into how you can improve your observational skills and reduce bias in your coaching judgement.

Accurate observation is crucial to effective coaching; however, the pressure and thrills of matchday, at any level of the game, can cloud the judgement of even the most experienced coach.
How much of a game can you accurately recall? How does the final score impact on what you have seen? How do individual values, beliefs and experiences – formed way before the game- impact the decision-making process on the day?

These were just a few of the questions fourteen coaches from the women’s and girls’ game discussed as part of an elite coach development visit to Holland earlier in the year.

Led by Audrey Cooper, the FA’s head of women’s coach development, the group consisted of a mix of FA coaching staff including Mo Marley [interim England women’s head coach] and Marieanne Spacey [FA women’s coach and player developer] as well as coaches from the women's and girls' talent pathway, such as Southampton’s Lois Fidler and Arsenal’s Tessa Payne.

The group attended a number of games at Euro 2017 to develop their observational skills using analysis and technology.

“Becoming more aware of the preconceptions that coaches may ‘bring with them’ to decision-making during a game can be a challenging but illuminating task,” explained Shayne Hall, FA performance analysis lead.

“Over the course of the visit we asked coaches to consider: what hinders decision-making when coaching from the touchline? Are you aware of how pressure impacts upon your observational skills? And, how do we know if we are thinking correctly under pressure – what does the process look like?” added Hall.

The coaches were given time to consider their own coaching journey and what biases may have formed as a result of their own previous experience. For Hall, understanding how you ‘see’ the game can only help you make better decisions in the future.

“There are many biases that coaches adopt. Watching the game from the perspective of their own previous playing position or making assumptions based on previous playing history or experience of the game are common,” he explained.

“Furthermore, if a coach watches a player playing in a similar position to that which they played can mean the coach holds the player up to their own standards and experiences.

“Similarly, it is easy to remember one particular aspect of a performance rather than seeing the bigger picture.

“For example, a coach may remember one failed attempt in a hundred repetitions – but that one thing stays with them. This can form their judgement irrespective to what happens before or after the failed attempt. That’s bias in action and we’re all susceptible to that,” he added.

Hall recommends that coaches should focus on a specific aspect of the game when observing players and teams.

"It is quite easy to fall into the trap of trying to look at every aspect of performance. Having a narrower focus of attention can help coaches improve their observation."

5 top tips to ensure coaches don’t have bias in their work

  • Simply be aware that bias exists. This is usually the biggest learning curve for most coaches.
  • Develop a systematic process that allows you to stop and use a clear mind judgement process when observing.
  • Be aware that in the heat of the moment you need to stop and go back to that process.
  • Have a clear focus when watching a game or training session: what aspect of performance are you looking at?
  • Wait for your ‘epiphany’ moment. We still see lots of coaches coming onto FA courses with biases before they have an epiphany moment: “yes, that’s me with the bias and I didn’t realise”.


Shayne Hall is the elite education manager at Hudl.

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