Tom Hocking: Empowering players with analysis at Wolves Academy

Tom Hocking is First-Team Assistant Performance Analyst at Wolves

Tom Hocking is First-Team Assistant Performance Analyst at Wolves

I came into football from an educational background.

Prior to joining Wolves in January 2018, I had been working for a software education company, going into schools and helping them set up technology solutions for the classroom. Both my parents were teachers too.

This experience has really helped me, because football analysis is ultimately about learning. A lot of what I had experienced in education was applicable in football too.

I worked as a Performance Analyst with the Under-16s and 18s at Wolves for four years before joining the first team set-up in August 2022. This article is about how we have used analysis to empower players at the club.

1. Importance of analysis in the Academy

Preparing for a significant battle can change the outcome of a game.

Kyle Walker recently talked about the way in which analysis had helped him to nullify the threat of Vinicius Junior in the first leg of Manchester City’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

You can watch Tom Hocking's full presentation at the Youth Development 2023 Webinar. There are a total of NINE presentations:

  • Des Ryan: Physically Developing The Player & Person.
  • Hannah Dingley: Another Way At Forest Green Rovers.
  • Mathieu Lacome: Using Data To Aid Player Development At Parma.
  • Dr Perry Walters: Why Understanding The Teenage Brain Is Key To Coaching.
  • Benjamin Balkin: Importance Of A Detailed Digital Record In Youth Scouting.
  • Jack Brazil: Foundation To First Team At PSV Eindhoven.
  • Andy Goldie: Evolving A Club-Wide Game Model At Swansea City.
  • Tom Hocking: Video Analysis At Wolves Academy.
  • Carlos Casal Lopez: LaLiga's 10-Year Plan For Academies.

After the game he said: “The analysts provide me with great clips and I have them on my phone. Every time I get a minute, I’m watching clips and see little movements that he does.

“He tried the little ‘overs’, where he lets it through his legs, in the first half. If I hadn’t see that by doing my homework maybe he would have caught me out on that.”

For someone like Kyle Walker to say that should be a boost for all analysts. I particularly liked hearing it, because part of my current role at Wolves is to create these individual clips for our players.

Comments like this show how important analysis is at the highest level, which is why we need to develop understanding and appreciation of it from a young age. After all, every club wants its players to go as far as possible.

Within Wolves, we always use the four corner model - technical/ tactical, psychological, physical and social. This applies to the way we deliver analysis as well.

Analysis is most commonly associated with the technical, so filming and being able to demonstrate how well a player has performed a particular skill. This has become second nature to our 16s and 18s - so much so that they would come up to me when I was working in the Academy and say, ‘Tom, can you film this session?’

Player responsibility is a really big thing for us at the club, so this was really good to hear.

In terms of tactical, we have pre-match analysis - ie preparing for the opposition and creating a clear picture - and use telestration to illustrate it in the clearest way possible, so that players can understand it and apply it on the pitch. We have post-match analysis too.

We had a number of ways of developing the psychological corner using analysis, all done in conjunction with the Academy psychologist. We used workshops with footage from games and also individual meetings with players in order for them to focus on things they needed to develop.

One of the key things here was developing awareness of their behaviours and attitudes on the pitch. Body language tells you a lot - how a player reacts after a bad challenge, how they react after missing a penalty. Do they bounce back and show leadership, or are they negatively impacted for the rest of the game?

Motivational videos are another way of using video - to show players what they’ve achieved, how they’ve progressed and what they’re working towards.

Physically we working with the sport scientists to record player sprint sessions, for example. Then we can see how their technique can be improved and show the player. This has been really powerful.

Post game, you can use GPS data to look at how players have performed and video brings it to life. It enables you to demonstrate best practice, like a player sprinting from one 18-yard line to the other on a transition.

Social is the corner that is so often overlooked, but it's really important. Again, analysis has an important role to play here too. If we have players who feel comfortable presenting pre and post match, that’s powerful.

So too is being able to critique each other and have intelligent conversations about both training and the game.

Improving the player is one side of analysis. The other side is giving them the tools to develop themselves in the future. There are different methods of delivering analysis, like individual clips of both themselves and opposition players. telestration, WhatsApp videos, tactics boards and so on. All have their place and can really help players going forwards.

Even if they leave the club, players will have an expectation of having analysis tools and an understanding of how to use them.

Having a positive attitude to analysis, both as a player and staff member, is really important. It shouldn’t be used as a battering tool, where you highlight all the bad things a player has done; it should be used in a balanced and consistent way, to show both things you did well and things you can improve.

Then analysis becomes the basis for conversation and the player won't need to be defensive or have his team-mates digging him out.

The adaptation from Academy to first team is so much easier if players are used to video being used pre and post match. I’ve seen it in the first team when someone doesn’t understand the analysis and it's more likely to make them switch off. They need to be familiar with the tools and understand what’s happening.

It’s going from teaching them through analysis to teaching them to analyse. Then it goes from autocratic to engaged and involved.

There are barriers that can come up, of course. One is time, because in the first team you may not have the same amount of time afforded for analysis as in the Academy. Another is that the focus can suddenly be more on team than individual work.

And you might have a coach who doesn’t speak the same language as you fluently, which can lead to a breakdown in communication.

2. Making it work 

There are different ways to overcome these obstacles and make analysis work. Showing, as a club, that you value analysis makes a big difference. You can do that in terms of investment in tools and software.

I used Veo a lot. Almost all of our training sessions in the Academy were filmed using Veo cameras, meaning I could be pitch side and get involved in the sessions, rather than standing behind a camera. This is really important for developing relationships with both players and coaches.

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I was also able to film two different pitches at the same time, which was really handy in doing individual specifics, where you have one group working on defence and one on attack.

It also really helped to get the tactical view before our big games. We would set up a tactical view with the Veo and then create animations to support that footage.

We would put them together in a little video and send these out on WhatsApp to the players - 'This is what it looks like, this is what you need to prepare them for.' That would really help them to have a clear idea of what we were preparing for going into the game.

Another of the benefits was being able to set up using my phone. I would be in the dome, using the TV, and wouldn’t have to man the camera. I could just press 'record' using my phone and it was ready to go.

Likewise on game day, sometimes you weren’t sure what equipment the opposition would have in terms of filming. And being able to sit on the bench with the staff and have conversations and see what’s going on, because I wasn’t having to man a camera and code at the same time, I was just coding.

Affording space in the schedule for analysis is another way of showing you value it. As well as pre and post match, is there space in your schedule for further analysis? If analysis is always the first thing that drops off the schedule, players will pick up on that.

Staff have a role to play as well. Are they showing up on time for analysis sessions? Are they respecting it? And players too - if the influential and respected figures in your dressing room are on board with analysis, then others will usually follow.

I always push for what I call a 'training environment' for analysis. As we know, the training environment is generally less stressful than the match one, meaning players can attempt different things and not be judged.

A training environment creates the conditions for players to feel comfortable and develop their understanding of both analysis and the game. It’s about having an environment where players can take responsibility, experiment and problem solve.

Something we did really well in the 16s and 18s at Wolves was to have a session in the middle of the week that allowed this training environment. It was different from the typical pre or post-match session, because the Head Coach wouldn’t lead it.

It would be led by myself and I would put together clips for the players to look at. They would choose which ones were appropriate, come up with a game plan based on them and then it becomes engaged and conversational.

Maybe halfway through the session, the Head Coach would come down to say, ‘How is everyone getting on?’ The players would be a lot more vocal and it was a positive environment to learn in. Those sessions really helped the players a lot.

In terms of style and content, the main thing is to have something engaging. That is something I really picked up in my previous work with technology in schools - you need something that is going to grip people and be different.

If it's the same every week, it doesn’t quite work. In those midweek sessions, we had a few different approaches. One of my favourites was using footage from the big Champions League game the night before.

I’d create attacking and defensive clips and we’d put players in groups to discuss them. Then they would stand up and talk about how the goals had been scored from an attacking or defensive perspective and what could have been done differently.

We’ve also had pre-match sessions with the first team involved. For example, the players came up with opposition analysis for an upcoming Premier League game against West Ham and generated videos and voice notes explaining how they would go about beating them.

These were passed on to the first team analysis staff who gave feedback.

Set pieces was another fun one - ‘Right guys, it’s your responsibility to come up with three new attacking set pieces and we will use these on the weekend.’ This really got the players thinking about, ‘Right, how can I break down the opposition,’ rather than just doing what the coach had said.

We came up with a number of set pieces we used throughout the season. Getting the players to stand up and talk post match became a lot more comfortable after these sessions, rather than it just being a case of, on the spot, ‘Explain this.’

They had been a part of the process during the week and were talking about something they had helped to formulate.

3. First-team connection

The aim is to be consistent with analysis across the Academy going into the first team. There may be some things the first team have that you don’t, but can you bridge that? Can you have access to the same facilities?

In the 18s, we were able to use the first team analysis suite, which was a great experience for the players and got them ready for that environment. We were also able to provide individual stats for the players, as they would receive in the first team. We gave them the data plus the context, by tying in with video.

So you can say, 'Ok, you’ve got into the box this many times and scored this many goals. Here is the video to show what you were actually doing in the game and why.'

Best practice has also been fantastic for us in the Academy - being able to share footage of the first team and what they do in their sessions. The 18s can see the intensity the first team work at and look at the player in their position and what he is doing. Players are always looking upwards and seeing what they can achieve.

My key points to close with are:

  • Make space for analysis, so it’s not a stressful space for players, it's a learning environment. You can have it analyst rather than Head Coach led and rather than always saying, ‘assess this game,’ you can add some fun tasks around what is happening in real football.
  • Make it consistent, so the analysis isn’t getting chucked out at the first opportunity.
  • Develop the skill, giving the players the ability to analyse the game themselves, so they can really understand what’s going on.
  • Give responsibility, because at some point players are leaving the Academy, whether that's to go into your first team, to another club or to another career outside football. If they have a positive experiences of analysis, they can use it to continue developing in future.

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