Video is one of the most powerful mediums for information and it transcends the sporting realm. The use of video can convict a killer or free the falsely accused in a court of law. A slow-motion replay on video can change the outcome of a championship game, thus rewriting the history of who wins and who loses.
In this article, we will cover how coaches at any level can use video analysis in sport—specifically competition and practice recordings—not just the elites. Video is a gold mine of information, and using it correctly can dramatically elevate any coach willing to do it right and make a small investment. I have used video religiously for 20 years, and I get more and more out of it every season.
I believe that the most common mistake in sports today is a growing problem—using video analysis incorrectly. Some teams and coaches do marvelous work, while countless other professionals in sport fail miserably. If you were to poll any college, professional organization, or national team, everyone would raise their hand and share that they record games and do session reviews. If you were to ask the same group of people how they are getting an advantage over their peers, you would likely get the typical response, “it’s a secret,” or something similar.
Strength coaches and sports medicine professionals evaluate video for performance and medical needs, so while strategy and tactics matter, video is not just for the head coach anymore. While digital video use explodes right now, the process is not evolving and might even be eroding in value. In this article, I will identify the problems with video and ways to fix them, and help teams start on the right path with video.
The Most Common Error in Video Analysis Is an Embarrassment
Giving a random parent a stopwatch or whistle doesn’t make them a coach, and giving a coach a camera doesn’t make them an instant video analyst, either. Capturing video properly is the No. 1 problem in video analysis, and coaches are sometimes the prime culprits when recording athletes.Giving a coach a camera doesn’t make them an instant video analyst, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
If your video perspective or setup is wrong, no matter how smart or experienced you are, analysis will be problematic. Due to the ubiquity of smartphones, the prevalence of video is now out of control—to the point that we sometimes run out of storage space, even with added cloud services. The best analogy is a castaway on a lifeboat drifting in sea with water everywhere, but none of it drinkable.
We have terabytes of video that we simply can’t use for proper analysis, and it’s a growing problem. Even more frightening is the thought that the education of future coaches relies on a lot of incorrectly captured video.
The concept of parallax is not easy for most coaches to grasp, but a fair way of understanding perspective errors is to think about the three planes of motion first. Video records in two dimensions, and so our three-dimensional world can create confusion when doing analysis. How many coaches use video tools like John Madden, drawing circles and measuring arbitrary angles in vain? The answer is nearly everyone, except the few who have been trained properly.
If I had to do my college education over, I would study the arts more seriously and not just take a review course to watch movies. Instead, I’d learn how to actually make a film. Like photography, videography is an art that everyone assumes they can do because they can press a record button.
This attitude and assumption are the reasons that sports mechanics has made very little progress. The reference points that should be anchoring coaching are haphazardly collected by the latest smartphone of choice. If you are going to use video in sport, don’t wing it: Do it right.
Video analysis means different things to different people, and most of the confusion lies with tactical performance or scouting and biomechanical evaluations of technique. Filming a soccer game from the top of the bleachers is a different beast than a coach analyzing running mechanics or other sports motions. While both needs are about space and time, they have separate methodologies to capture that information on video.
Tactical analysis is more qualitative and performance kinematics is more quantitative in terms of what information they collect from video. The lines are blurring now more than ever, but generally, performance analysis is about decision-making and execution in team sport, and kinematic evaluation is about the measurables in movement in all sport. Whatever your sport, you need to have a good idea of its problems in advance so you can create a plan. Otherwise, video will be unmanageable because its sheer volume will drown you.
A Checklist of What You Need to Video Correctly
While you can get away with a smartphone and record a video when necessary if you are in a jam, if you are trying to make video an efficient process, you will eventually want to invest in a good camera, tripod, and video analysis software. It’s possible to get by without any equipment; just don’t expect to get ahead.It’s possible to get by without any equipment—just don’t expect to get ahead, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
The main reason you want to invest in a good camera is not what you would expect. Using a tripod and a camera is not just about collecting better video, it’s about being able to coach and play videographer at the same time. A simple record button on a remote instantly doubles your coaching staff, as a different view and the ability to move around and be face to face with athletes are both vital. Good technology practices improve, and don’t encumber, the workflow and your situation.
If you decide to use a smartphone at first, that is alright to help with feedback and simple viewing needs, but keep in mind it is a qualitative and not a quantitative solution. A reasonable investment of $500 should be enough to video in high definition, include a solid tripod, and even a travel case. Extra batteries and other additional components like an extended microphone are great for picking up communication between players or helping make recordings of seminars or tutorials that much better.
Essential Video Camera Specifications
A good video camera should have four features that ensure its use for years without worries about it becoming obsolete. New cameras come out each year, but the timeless features are resolution, shutter speed, zoom, and a remote. Some cameras use the smartphone as a remote with a Bluetooth connection, but most still include a separate remote.
Cameras record in 4k now, and at over 200 frames per second. This is plenty of power for any coach needing clear images, with an ability to pick out small movement differences. Batteries typically last an hour, so always pick up two extra ones because practices and meets may not have a nearby electrical outlet. Permanently mounted cameras at practice facilities are wonderful solutions, and bigger schools with a budget may want to streamline the process even more with an IP camera that is ready to capture video at all times.
Invest in a Great Tripod
Spend the money and get a good tripod. It’s tempting to buy one that just barely does the trick, but a better tripod is heavier, and that is essential when the winds are high. When investing in a tripod, make sure the head is fluid and stable. Additionally, a better tripod has zoom in and zoom out buttons on the control handle; a benefit when videoing head-on. In addition to investing in a traditional tripod, a flexible leg option such as a GorillaPod is also a good investment because it’s versatile enough to handle any difficult environment.
Video Analysis Software: The Make-or-Break Decision
Plenty of inexpensive apps exist to get you started, but in time, power and the convenience of better options will rule. Due to improvements in smartphone technology, I notice fewer separate cameras when I go to track meets, and this is the reason the app market has put video analysis into a Dark Age. Real analysis should be done with fully functional tools and software that completes a job, not gives a false sense of accomplishment.
A few open source options are out there, but you get what you pay for. The free or “lite” versions are usually for demos or experiencing what you can do, rather than being the actual tools used by the winners. Instead of listing what product to buy, I highly recommend doing your homework to determine what the winners use at major championships in professional and Olympic sport—and then decide what to buy after you find out.
After you have the right equipment, make sure you can teach assistants or volunteers how to use it and work as a team to get your recordings captured in an organized fashion. This becomes a problem when filming back-to-back days, as you need to recharge batteries and transfer data from the camera to the computer. An actual checklist written down and laminated should be enough to help any team or training group.
How to Capture Video in Sport Properly: Setting Up for the Right View
Once you learn to video the right way, looking at old video will make you cringe. There is nothing wrong with a general video posted on YouTube to share a concept, but analysis with measurement values requires a higher level of precision during the video capture phase. Nearly anyone can record a video, but getting it done properly is a whole different story. Knowing what to film is about getting back to basics with the planes of movement in kinesiology.
Here are the three planes of movement, paired with the rationales for what is appropriate to include when recording.
Sagittal: Performance viewpoints prefer the sagittal plane because most sports are about going from point A to point B, including horizontal or vertical outcomes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pitcher throwing gas, a volleyball player spiking, or a sprinter hitting top speed, viewing and recording from the side has excellent value. The key is to make sure you set the video higher than hip height and record far away from the action to ensure the parallax isn’t a problem.
Frontal: The front or back view is popular to look at for symmetry of movement for screens and medical pathomechanics. It is common to see video from behind when looking at foot mechanics, and it’s a best practice to look at knee valgus movement from the front. You can usually see compensations and dysfunctions from the frontal plane, but the reality is that you can use all three.
Transverse: The least-used perspective is not the least value; it’s the most difficult to access in sport. The recording angle is in a live game rarely allows for a camera to collect overhead video, but with drones and mounted hardware, this ability is becoming more possible. The amount of rotation is usually considered when looking at transverse movement, and the throws in athletics and batting in baseball are good examples.
A common question asked is about recording from multiple angles and planes, and I do this when really pressed to find information. However, the truth is that in training, filming one plane for one small need is a realistic approach because it’s sustainable. Video is easy to capture, but analysis of multiple athletes performing multiple repetitions of movement daily is a massive undertaking to do alone. A high school track team of 100 kids is daunting, and deciding that you don’t need to film and analyze every athlete is not a compromise but a smarter use of time.
Athletes often improve at that age, so videoing a workout might not be necessary because they may already be a different mover by the time you have a moment to analyze the video. Still, record frequently to have a stockpile of historical reference, but analyze only when necessary.
Team sport capture demands, from individual skills all the way to tactical positioning in practices, are more about seeing the big picture from a distance. Typical approaches are going up to the top and midpoint of a stadium, with multiple cameras that capture every perspective and field/court location. Teams primarily want to tag key milestones or actions in games, and the timeline of annotations allows for data to surface manually or is done in an automated fashion like SportVU.
Analyzing Video: Focusing on the Athlete’s Frequent Errors and Success Patterns
Several incorrect ideas come to mind when doing analysis, and most of them stem from technology being available from cheap apps or similar. Circling an error is not analysis; it’s just annotating on a screen. Analysis extracts the right information to improve athletic performance. Haphazardly drawing pictures and measuring angles is not analysis—it’s just coaches having a tool before getting education or developing a plan. I have mentioned many times before that if you don’t have a model of performance, periodization and monitoring aren’t that helpful, and the same goes for video analysis.
Coaches must have a performance model for biomechanics, and create a list of key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be immediately teased out of the video. The model doesn’t have to be complex or fancy, just a clear roadmap of what important reference points an athlete needs. Coaches should have multiple strategies to improve the landmarks they collect.Circling an error is not analysis; it’s just annotating on a screen, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I wrote about KPIs years ago and they are simply the most essential metrics or measures for getting results. If you don’t have a set of your own, I politely recommend getting them down as soon as possible. A simple KPI in the 100m could be the place in the race that the athlete hits top speed, or it could be the projection angle of a javelin at release. Like my example with hurdles in the KPI article for SpeedEndurance, all you need are just a few metrics that have relevance for a better performance.
Unique or imitated features are excellent for sharing, but are not actual analysis tools. Slow motion is a playback speed, and a lot of great information is easier to see that way, but it’s not actually analysis. Overlay video is excellent for seeing differences, but unless it’s quantified, it’s just a viewing setting.
Here are three actual performance tools that you should use consistently and universally with video analysis.
Chronometer: My favorite tool is likely the most important one in sport. How an athlete uses space and time to create performance is the name of the game, but most coaches look to video and jump to kinematic motion without respecting time. In the past, coaches labored over film by painstakingly counting frames; now software does this for us.
Distance Tools: The quantification of distance with video is now accessible and easy to do. Coaches look at changes—ideally, improvements—in time and space. Can an athlete cover more ground? Can the athlete hit the right location? Is the athlete consistent? Distance tools help expand what the coach sees and add a level of precision and accuracy that the naked eye can’t see.
Angles: Angles are arbitrary, for the most part, unless a sequence of actions is mapped out and agreed upon. Specific milestones and landmarks make it easy and valid for coaches to measure an angle on the screen, be it a limb or the entire body. A bit of a warning, though: Motion capture is a different animal, so know what you will use first biomechanically for a performance model before just measuring angles without a blueprint.
Video analysis sometimes ends up as a report on paper that quickly summarizes the events in a way that allows a professional to draw a conclusion immediately, without any need for interpretation of what happened. Interpretation is best when you don’t know exactly what happened, but do know why it happened that way and how to fix it next time. New coaches tend to focus on the error, but experienced coaches can see why it happened in the preceding moments. Video analysis is not about converting visual motion into geometry; it’s about taking the athletic action and improving on it in the future.
Other options, like side-by-side analysis of working models, are excellent, so you can compare high performers in sports. Be careful though, as each elite athlete has a combination of style and functions that you should separate out before copying. Somebody should study the world leaders or high performers, and outline their general patterns of motion, to prevent younger athletes mimicking errors or even compensations for injury. Unfortunately, most visible techniques are style centered because they simply are different than the norm, and coaches must see what is effective and what is just preference by the athlete.
Sharing Video Effectively: The Next Advantage in Waiting
The last step in this article deals with sharing video effectively. It’s tempting for those reading this to skip to the end so they can make a Stromotion clip or do an overlay like the NFL Combine. Sharing video is not dumping clips to one central location or emailing a link to athletes or coaches—it’s beyond that. The important missing step is making sure communication between coaches and athletes is on point.
You could also share any changes needed, don’t just send clips of highlights and errors. Many coaches can find faults on video; only a few of us can deduce why they likely occurred, and an even smaller number of us can fix the root problem. Sharing video is not just about giving access to those who need to see it. It’s more about presenting the information properly.
Analysis, be it tactical breakdown, scouting the opponent, or even technique evaluation, is about efficient and accurate communication of events. Just giving a coach access to your video channel is not enough to make a difference. The goal is to tag or annotate key events in a timeline and allow the story of what happened to be more organized and quantified.
As mentioned earlier, goals and differences between team sport and Olympic sport exist with video review procedures. The line is getting fuzzier now as each community learns from one another. We see more than a blurring; it’s now an age of fluency for both tactical and biomechanical knowledge. What used to be a pure segregation of tactics versus biomechanics started to transform to a combination of both skill mechanics and biomechanical breakdown, all within a timeline of a conventional game analysis.
Olympic sport (specifically time-based) tends to have very little strategy outside pacing. Still, we see annotations and some tactical review with endurance sport and race evaluation in the sprints. When sharing this information, the viewer needs more than a bookmark. They need what coaches do best—insight that only experts can share, not a summary that anyone can see on video.
It is extremely valuable to do analysis for athletes, but a difference exists between competition breakdown or scientific investigation and the daily grind of training. Spend more time on small things consistently than on the massive evaluation that simply becomes overload to an athlete. Sometimes video is a process of repeating faults, often in slow motion.
Just as a coach helps strengthens an athlete’s confidence and self-belief, video analysis requires the same approach. Video is a recorded history of success and failure, and spending too much time on what an athlete does wrong can leave them frustrated or foster a lack of confidence in their abilities. When athletes make breakthroughs, spend more time celebrating those small wins as a way to summon those emotions and mental aspects into their training and competitions.
An excellent rule of thumb I learned years ago is that sharing video analysis is about pushing out a presentation without the presenter. The video should stand alone, but you should prepare that video in such a way that, even if you are not there, your absence won’t cripple the viewer. Audio narration, text notation, selective tagging and other approaches give a video life and resonance.
Sharing a video can also mean still photos and other still media are used, as even a moment in time captured and illustrated properly can be all the difference. The step from analysis to sharing is a vital one, and rushing film out is usually the reason that teams, coaches, and athletes don’t capitalize on presentation as much as they should.
Integrating Other Measurements and Technologies: Bringing It Together
Video is the backbone and framework to displaying data that is not easily consumed, like kinetic information from force plates or athlete accelerometer samples. Since we are familiar with video and we are visual creatures, taking data that is harder to relate to and superimposing it with video is the most powerful way to explain performance.
In addition to the fusion of kinetic and kinematic information, the integration of other equipment makes video more specialized, and this is essential if you don’t have a lot of time. While I love the ability to get splits from video, the only time this makes sense in in competition is when timing gates or similar are not available. Integration with other technologies that automate and manage the information needed frees up the video analysis to do what it does best—evaluate motion.
Video 1. Kinetic information, or force data, comes alive when you synchronize video and live graphs. Pressure mapping and video analysis are a perfect solution for educational needs by providing context to the pressure data.
The future of sports technology has at its foundation the collection and viewing of data. We see some backlash and insecurities about the rise of technology, and I have heard the tone of fear and mistrust lately. Technology is not the problem, and because video shows the problem vividly, the process is uncomfortable for many.Video may be the most useful performance tool for coaches, besides their senses and experience, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Video analysis is a pillar of truth when professionally employed, and change is only possible when you identify, accept, and understand the problem. Adding more information does pose the risk of confusion or information overload, but when done right the opposite happens: higher granularity can create clarity to what is happening. Athlete tracking devices, in-shoe measurement systems, physiological monitoring equipment, and even implements and balls now collect volumes of data. These changes are advancements if harnessed properly, and it’s up to the video analysts and coaches to follow best practices to take advantage of that information.
Some Advice Before You Get Started with Video
Video is perhaps the most useful performance tool available to coaches, besides their senses and experience. It’s tempting to just use your smartphone to record and worry about the process later, but to keep you from experiencing early success but later headaches, I advise you to get infrastructure first. Knowing your plan from capture through to sharing is the best long-term way to get results versus just feeling like you’re doing something. Results with video are only possible when the changes come from decisions you could not have made with your own eyes.
Using video is my favorite way to learn how athletes improve their ability to move properly, and each year I pick up valuable lessons that become the next year’s roadmap. I recommend taking video analysis seriously and getting every ounce of advantage out of it. Winning requires a position of leverage that is reliable and repeatable, and you can tap video today more than ever, as long as you use it properly and consistently.
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