Jenna Bam received her undergraduate degree in sport science and honors degree in high performance at Stellenbosch University, after which she went on to intern with the Stormers (a professional rugby team in South Africa). This internship taught her a lot about strength and conditioning and helped her build many connections. Jenna continued her studies with a master’s in exercise science at the University of Cape Town, where she did her thesis on subjective load monitoring from a skill perspective and its variability between different training sessions and playing positions in rugby union. After that, she worked as a performance analyst for a local university’s rugby side.
Jenna learned a lot about video and GPS analysis through connections, and she began doing the analysis and load monitoring for the rugby team. She initially used Catapult but has since moved to Statsport. She uses Hudl Sportscode for analysis and Phaseplay for load monitoring. Jenna recently joined the South African Netball team as a video analyst in their campaign leading up to the Netball World Cup.
Freelap USA: You’re a performance analyst and sport scientist working in university rugby and international netball. Netball is a very popular sport in the Southern Hemisphere, with the Women’s Netball World Cup just around the corner. Can you explain the physical and tactical demands of netball?
Jenna Bam: I recently joined the world of netball. I knew the sport growing up and knew that it was big in the Southern Hemisphere, but I didn’t fully understand the impact that it has in South Africa. I am amazed at the support our national team has and the amount of effort and hard work that the players put in. I always joke when I go back to my rugby team in between camps and tell the players how much harder the netball players work and that they wouldn’t last one minute on the court. Although netball is a non-contact sport, those players need to be built tough.
Netball requires a diverse set of skills from the players and demands a lot from their bodies. They are agile and fast, unpredictable and focused, and are always completely aware of their surroundings. Netball consists of jumping, sprinting, catching, shooting, and throwing. There is no beginning or end to a movement, as multiple movements could take place in a single bout. The opposition can capitalize on your mistakes within seconds, and the game can change so quickly.
When analyzing rugby, which has an 80-minute match duration, there are roughly only between 30 and 35 minutes of the ball in play. In netball (which has a 60-minute match duration), the ball-in-play percentage is almost double. There is very little time to rest, and players are constantly moving into open spaces. This makes analyzing the game slightly more difficult. It is also a much faster sport and has challenged me and made me a better analyst.
Freelap USA: During the Women’s Netball World Cup, you will be the analyst for the South African national team. Can you guide us through your data collection and analysis process for a training session?
Jenna Bam: Each training session is filmed and coded so that players can go back and look at specific drills they perhaps didn’t grasp or reflect on errors they may have made. I try to get more than one angle of the training session. For passing skills and footwork, I go down onto the court and use my phone to get some up-close (and slow-motion) footage while still leaving one camera (at a high vantage point) running and capturing a wide angle. I find phone cameras to be just as good these days, as well as easy to carry around/put away.
After training, players will do a self-analysis of the training session, which is uploaded immediately to Hudl. I split the training footage into the drills so that if players would like to refer to a specific drill, they do not have to sift through all the training footage to find it. Players are often discouraged when they open training footage and it is an hour long; therefore, analysts need to get creative in motivating players to watch. On the other hand, some players will happily watch two hours of footage straight after training, so you need to find a balance.
There are databases where footage is kept and can be referred to at a later stage. I make an iPad accessible for the players during camp so that if they do not have a device to watch the footage on (e.g., a laptop), they can come and get an iPad and do their own analysis, or they can go do analysis in groups. Coaches can then hold one-on-ones where they identify strengths and weaknesses that need addressing.
Freelap USA: How do you provide your findings and reports to the coaches, and what does the communication between you and them look like?
Jenna Bam: In all environments and sports, analysis can take place visually or verbally. I like to display my reports in a visual manner that will start a verbal discussion. I believe analysis (both GPS and video) is there to allow coaches to make informed decisions on tactics, team selection, and opposition profiling. It is not necessarily the analyst’s responsibility to make those technical/tactical decisions but rather to ensure that the coaches are fully and accurately informed.Analysts need to have a close relationship with the coaches because it is imperative to know and understand what the coach wants from the analysis. Click To Tweet
Analysts need to have a close relationship with the coaches because it is imperative to know and understand what the coach wants from the analysis. The data must be tailored to the coach’s needs for it to be effective and meaningful. There is so much data that an analyst can generate, but if it is of no use to the coach, there are more efficient ways to spend our time. There should always be an open communication channel between the analyst and coaches, as the game is constantly changing.
What analysts look at these days is completely different from that of 10 years ago. Sport is forever changing, and it is up to us to keep moving forward with it.
Freelap USA: You switched from being a strength and conditioning coach to being a performance analyst. What made you transition to this new role, and how did you expand your skill set?
Jenna Bam: I was very set on pursuing a career as a strength and conditioning coach in rugby but being a woman in a very male-dominated role led to a lot of setbacks. In the last five years, however, there has been massive progress in the development of females in sporting roles.
When I got the job at the University of Western Cape, Paul Treu (the rugby head coach) introduced me to Dr. Michele van Rooyen, who taught me everything I needed to know about sports code and analysis. He also introduced me to Dr. Wayne Lombard, who taught me how to use the GPS software and how to monitor players’ training loads (both physically and subjectively). I then found myself drawing up the on-field conditioning programs based on my data collection from video and GPS analysis. I was still connected to the conditioning side, just in a different way.
Video analysis was not a path I had ever considered, but I have absolutely loved merging video analysis, GPS analysis, and load monitoring. It was the best path I could have taken, and I’m happy with how things turned out. I feel so fortunate to have learned from some of the best in the industry, and I hope one day I can mentor someone the way they all mentored me. In this industry, it is so important to be willing to share knowledge. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is a beautiful thing!
It is so important to keep learning and expanding your skill set. This keeps your mind activated and forces you to look at data more critically rather than doing the same thing every day. It is so easy for performance analysts to go through the same mundane routine and just perform the data collection—we need to think critically and constantly ask ourselves how we can do better.
Freelap USA: Can you give any recommendations or tips to someone starting a new role as a performance analyst in team sports or transitioning from strength and conditioning to it?
Jenna Bam: Performance analysis is becoming, or has already become, an extremely sought-after position. These days, there is very little setting teams apart, and it comes down to the finer details—the 1% here and there. This makes analysis an integral part of any team’s setup. The job involves long and late hours, but it is all very worth it in the end.These days, there is very little setting teams apart, and it comes down to the finer details—the 1% here and there. This makes analysis an integral part of any team’s setup. Click To Tweet
If you want to pursue a career in analysis, I believe that video analysis is not meant to be looked at independently. If you are an S&C coach wishing to learn more about it or go into analysis, you do not have to give up S&C completely. The two go hand in hand. Once we, as sports scientists, start merging all the data, the picture will become much clearer.
Most people think that analysts are just the people behind the camera—the people who sit behind a computer and monitor statistics. While this is true, we are also so much more. We can connect with players and show them how and where to improve. We can tell coaches if their outcomes are being reached or their tactics need tweaking. Just because we are the people behind the lens does not always mean we are restricted to that space. At the end of the day, every coach is an analyst, and every analyst is a coach. We need to work as one.
Lead Photo by Steven Markham/Icon Sportswire.
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