How referees are using video & data to elevate their performances

David Webb says Hudl's data packs have taken his performances to another level

David Webb says Hudl's data packs have taken his performances to another level

Referee David Webb jokes that even his friends think "I just turn up at five to three on a Saturday afternoon to spoil someone’s weekend.”

Nothing could be further from the truth - in terms of his preparation, anyway. Webb, who has refereed more than 500 professional games, spoke to TGG from one of the PGMOL’s training days at Loughborough University last month.

About 80 Select Group One and Two officials (those who operate in the Premier League and Championship) were present for a meeting to “consolidate best practice”, with a mixture of on-field and classroom sessions.

Speaking during a break, Webb outlined how important data and video analysis now are to his work. Each week, the PGMOL (the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, which was formed in 2001 to improve refereeing standards) distributes a 'data pack' to referees and assistant referees ahead of their games.

The analysis included is similar to that a Performance Analyst might put together for the manager and coaching staff at a club, with the big difference being that the PGMOL is doing this for up to 64 matches a week, rather than just one.

"What I find particularly useful is the information on goalkeeper distribution and passing lanes" David Webb

For a Saturday kick-off, Webb’s preparation will begin on a Monday. That’s when he finds out who his team - two assistants plus a fourth official - are going to be. The data pack drops on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

“There is a wealth of useful information about the game in there,” Webb explains. “It has data, graphs, videos clips and more.”

The pack comes through as a PDF and is also available via the PGMOL’s secure portal, for which each official has his or her own individual log-in. The pack is put together by Hudl Data as a Service, which helps the PGMOL to service games across the men’s pathway (from the Championship to National League) and in the Women’s Super League and Championship.

Webb says: “I have definitely seen an improvement in my game because of the data packs. They help in a range of different ways."

Number one, they help him to identify players.

“If I haven’t refereed a team for a while, or if they have new players, then I can familiarise myself with them using the profile pics in the pack,” he says. “Then I’m not shouting ’number seven,’ I am calling him by his first name, which makes a big difference.”

There’s much more, too. The packs combine video and data and ensure Webb and his colleagues can learn about the tactics and patterns of play of different teams. Obviously Webb can’t predict everything that is going to happen in a game but, as with players, forewarned is forearmed.

“What I find particularly useful is the information on goalkeeper distribution and passing lanes that you get,” Webb explains. “If a team is going to pass through the centre of the pitch, I know I will have to alternate my position from there.

“If they tend to play more direct, I will have to anticipate play a bit more and be on the front foot. Looking at the passing lanes, I'll know I can stay out of that zone and arc my runs left and right.

“I find it beneficial to be proactive in a positional sense, rather than reacting. During the game you’re scanning, anticipating where play is going and you move that way. You’re looking at the ball but also what is going on around you.

The data packs contain in-depth information on a team's set-piece preferences

The data packs contain in-depth information on a team's set-piece preferences

"The ultimate objective is always to give yourself the best possible chance of making the right decision.”

The data packs also have valuable information on set pieces. For corners, for example, “if you know a team will predominantly go for the six-yard box, or short, you can cross reference that with the video and identify target players."

Similarly, “blocking from corners or free kicks won’t be a surprise.”

The evening before a match, Webb and his team arrive at the hotel and have food and a "good discussion."

“I’ll get my iPad out again and we’ll look at things the analyst has clipped up or anything we’ve found ourselves,” he adds.

On gameday, “I deliver my pre-match instructions to my team in the changing room - on how I see the game and how not to get in the way using that information.”

Team sheets come through about 75 minutes before kick-off.

“I will come back for my pre-match chat with my assistants about formations and will cross reference the team sheet with the stat packs and our own personal research.”

Afterwards, there is post-match analysis, in much the same way there would be at a club.

“After every match I referee, I will create clips from the game, including big decisions, as well as positioning and movement examples."

Webb goes through this during his post-match debrief with his PGMOL coach, which will take place via Zoom or in-person.


Analysis forms a key part of the PGMOL’s regular training camps, like the one I’m speaking to Webb at. Josh Andall is Performance Analysis Manager for the PGMOL, working within a team of 15 analysts split between pre and post-match duties.

Andall previously worked for West Ham United and Watford and tells TGG that refereeing has to keep evolving in terms of preparation, just as players and teams have.

“Football is progressing, it is not standing still, so the refereeing team shouldn’t either,” he says. "They should be as best prepared as possible.

“Going in cold could mean potentially getting caught short. With set pieces, for example, you need to be clued up on what teams are going to do, to position yourself in the best possible place to make sure you have the best vantage point for potential decisions.

“What we are trying to pick out are the technical, tactical and on-the-ball actions that will give benefit to us - so movement and positioning, set-piece elements and individual elements like style of play. We can pick those up in the data.”

Hudl Insight is a service allying video with data that gives the PGMOL “an oversight of all levels of football”, Andall says.

“It is an incredibly powerful tool that enables us to query any game from the Championship to the National League. It shows us elements of performance from a data perspective - all the evidence of high press, counter attacking, switches of play - and you can write rules, test them, create dashboards, so it really benefits us in the training space.

“If we were to go to a Step One training meeting, and needed to pull out how Gateshead for example are playing, we can do it quickly, without the need for domestic broadcast or to watch 90 minutes of every game.

“This is a lot more efficient in terms of workflows.”

Andall also uses Hudl Studio regularly.

“We are able to pull out elements of information and to telestrate - using shapes, lines, physically moving players and officials around the pitch - to show where we should have been or what we should have been more aware of.

“That has been really helpful from a feedback and reflection and knowledge perspective. It really helps in training and pre match and post-match. At the training days we look at key trends from the last couple of weeks, in line with our own refereeing curriculum, touching on elements that might be needed.

“It’s about drilling down into what we have done well and trying to be as positive as possible going into the last few weeks of the season.”

Webb, who started refereeing at the age of 20 and became an EFL referee in 2008, says the analysis team have helped take his work to a different level.

“On training camps, Josh will show us examples of good practice or things we can improve on. It’s all about giving ourselves the best chance of making the right decision.

“The analysts are very good. I always praise them because the work they do is amazing. I’ve definitely seen an improvement in my game because of what they do.”

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