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Former NSL star Vaughan Coveny on the success of online football education and training

South Melbourne and New Zealand legend Vaughan Coveny explains how the Essendon Royals are embracing technology to deliver training and education during the state-wide lockdown.

It seems like yesterday that many Victorians were optimistic about some form of state-level football returning in 2020. By July, the optimism quickly faded as a resurgence of COVID-19 forced the state back into lockdown and dashed the hopes of the football industry.

But despite the wave of negativity surrounding the current state of affairs, crisis can breed opportunity.  Many clubs are turning to technology to stay connected and few are embodying a proactive mentality as well as the Essendon Royals Soccer Club.

The Royals’ brains trust, led by Head of Football Vaughan Coveny, have implemented an online training portal designed to deliver quality coaching sessions live and electronically to its youth players.

Supplementary to continuing each player’s personal development, the training is designed for players to maintain their sense of community and social interaction during what is an isolating and challenging time.

“As a club, we were thinking about ways to reach out to our members and give back during this difficult period. They are important to us and in tough times we want to look after them and give them every tool to help them through the process,” Coveny says.

“The club has a fantastic committee made up of more than 20 volunteers and an enthusiastic president, Richard Di Sauro, who are all working endlessly at the moment to keep things moving.”

The current structure of the training is setup to include three sessions per week. Each session is designed to cater for different age groups, under-7 to under-9, under-10 to under 12, and U13s to U18s.

The training sessions are inclusive of both genders and are being delivered by a combination of Essendon’s community and National Premier League coaches.

Coveny played more than 50 A-League games after a storied NSL career.

The response has been largely positive from both players and their families, who have lauded the physical and mental benefits a collective training program can bring during a time of social isolation.

“There has been an overwhelming response to be honest. A lot of the kids are really excited by it and once the session starts, they are engaging each other and approaching the training enthusiastically,” Coveny says.

“After our first session we had a lot of people saying they wanted to do it again and asking when the next training was going to be. So overall feedback has been really positive.”

Senior women’s player Bella Santilli, who also acts as a junior’s coach delivered the first session in late July. The training was aimed at the under-10 to under-12 age bracket and focused on ball mastery. More than 30 players took part.

This attendance rose to almost 40 players for the second session, which was run by senior women’s coach Mick Gallo, and by the third session, more than 60 participants tuned in to join Claude Gomes’ advanced ball mastery program.

A key to the successful implementation of transitioning online is accessibility. The Royals have utilised social media to promote their activities which helps the club to remain connected with the community and staff carefully plan out sessions to ensure complex equipment is not required.

“In terms of setup, it has actually been fairly easy. The coaches were keen to get involved and they can do it from their laptop at home. They will demonstrate an exercise, or have their son or daughter demonstrate an exercise and walk and talk the participants through the session,” Coveny says.

“We’ve done strength and conditioning which the kids really enjoyed, and we’ve ensured the fitness-based sessions can be done indoors. It’s a really good initiative and we’ll continue to do it until we can get back to normal training.”

With the online coaching strategy proving a success so far, the Royals are branching their online education to other important facets of the game, including the promotion of nutrition and mental health.

“A professional nutritionist will be delivering a nutrition presentation to all our players about eating the right foods during this time, as well as what we should all be doing before and after training,” Coveny says.

“We have also introduced a football app for the mental health side of things called Arete. We are currently delivering it to our NPL teams and Women’s teams on a trial basis. We are planning to get feedback from them and parents to see what they think of the app.”

“We think it is important to reach out on that side of the game. Mental health is becoming more important and more understood these days,” Coveny adds.

With the online training proving a success and an ongoing focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of the Royals football community, Coveny is hoping the club will act as a positive example for the football industry and inspire others to look for opportunity in times of crisis.

“Because we all have more time now, we are able to think about things like mental health, nutrition, and technology and deliver on things that we usually wouldn’t be able to,” he says.

“It’s been a difficult time. We all have to stay strong and get through it together. The situation is going to impact clubs financially, but we think we can get through it by supporting each other as well as we can.”

Football Coaches Australia launch ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ with Gary Cole

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) have launched a new podcast this week titled ‘The Football Coaching Life’ with former Socceroo Gary Cole hosting the series.

The podcast will look to highlight the stories behind the journeys of Australia’s football coaches, from current and former Socceroos and Matildas managers to those who coach at a community football level.

According to Cole, episodes of the podcast will showcase Australian coaches in a way that isn’t usually explored.

“When we hear from coaches it is usually before or after a game, a player signing, getting a job or losing a job,” he said.

“We have rarely asked them about the great adventure that is their coaching journey. We don’t necessarily understand why they do it, what success looks like, how they have grown and developed, what help they may have had along the way and so forth.

“We believe it is important that these stories are told and as you will learn (through the podcast) all of the coaches have been incredibly open and honest in talking about their journeys.”

Cole, a member of FCA’s Executive Committee, believes the information and insights that can be gathered throughout the conversations in the podcast will be extremely beneficial for up-and-coming coaches, as well as the wider football community.

“I think it’s very important for coaches to hear these conversations,” he stated.

“Our beautiful game has not done a great job of honouring the history of our game and by listening to these incredible men and women, coaches and the football community will gain a much greater insight into our amazing coaches.

“As well as this, they will have access to an incredible well of knowledge and wisdom that they can draw from.

“For example, understanding why it is so important to know why you want to do this, learning how important developing resilience is for coaching longevity and understanding what success looks like. I’ve been around Australian football for fifty years and I have been amazed at how much I have learned from these fantastic conversations.”

The first instalments of the podcast will see the former Socceroos assistant coach speak with some of Australia’s most successful coaches.

“The first episode is an amazing conversation with arguably Australia’s most successful coach in Ange Postecoglou, Head Coach at Yokohama F. Marinos. He was very generous with his time and this conversation was open, honest and filled with his great passion for our game,” Cole said.

“Episode two is with Tom Sermanni, Head Coach of the Football Ferns. Tom has a very relaxed and humorous style and talks about his growth and development as a coach.

“The wisdom in these two conversations is incredible! Both Ange and Tom have been to twelve FIFA World Cups between them, they are both still striving to improve their players, their teams and themselves.

“In episode three we talk with my very good friend and lifetime developer of both players and coaches, Dr Ron Smith, currently Technical Advisor at Football Australia. Ron talks in depth about the amazing work that was done in player development at the Australian Institute of Sport, in conjunction with the State Institutes of Sport and why it was successful. Ron also discusses changes in the game, including how analysis has changed aspects of the game.”

Other guests on the show include former Canberra United W-League coach and current FCA Vice President Heather Garriock, with many more from the women’s side of the game to feature, as the podcast aims to provide an overall perspective of the history of football coaching in Australia.

Making Media Australia director, Ralph Barba, who specialises in film and radio production, has supported Cole in delivering the project.

The first episode of the podcast, with Ange Postecoglou, is available here on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

 

Optus Sport to show UEFA Women’s Euros in 2022

Optus Sport have announced they have obtained the rights to broadcast the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament to Australian viewers.

The competition will feature five of the six top ranked teams in the world, giving Australian fans the opportunity to see what the Matildas will be up against in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Optus Sport has now acquired the rights to both the men’s and women’s versions of the upcoming European Championships.

Head of TV and Content at Optus Sport, Corin Dimopoulos, said of the announcement: “No matter what the code, every year we are continuing to observe exponential growth in women’s sport across the globe, and we saw this as a terrific opportunity to continue our investment in this market.”

“We had tremendous success streaming the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, have seen great interest in the Barclays Women’s Super League and are continuing to look into acquiring future women’s football leagues and tournaments,” he said.

UEFA Events Marketing Director, Guy-Laurent Epstein, stated: “We are delighted to welcome Optus Sport as our official broadcaster of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 in Australia.

“This deal now means they will transit both the UEFA men’s and women’s European Championships in the next two years, providing unprecedented coverage of both tournaments in Australia,” he concluded.

Signality: The ultimate analysis and coaching source

Signality has built an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that gives clubs, leagues and federations real-time data which makes it easier to access statistics from games.

The Swedish-based company has created a system that gives an array of insights to use, free from the hassle of manually setting up cameras or using wearables – saving time and costs on installation that normally come with this type of equipment.

“We have built the world’s first fully automated player and ball tracking platform dedicated for football,” Michael Hoglund said, vice-president of marketing and growth at Signality.

“We don’t require operators manning a system, our AI takes care of capturing and analysing everything from kick-off to half-time, end of the game, and all the 3.5 million data points that occur in between as the game is being played.”

Signality’s data collection takes that responsibility away from coaches and analysts to keep up, capable of recording clearer and more accurate data in the process.

It’s collected in real-time, meaning there’s no need for coding windows, wearables or filming games – it is all done through the power of AI. Signality uses LiveInsight as a way to present all the very best data a coach or analyst could want.

“We are doing individual player tracking in real-time, with a fully automated process,” Hoglund said.

“Our clubs can now access detailed stats and player specific videos within five seconds of an event happening.

“All this is shared as raw data to our customers or through our cloud video and analytics platform, LiveInsight.

“As we collect three and a half million data points per match, LiveInsight is the product we use for clubs to make sense of this data – they determine the information that is displayed there and then the data is collected and displayed automatically – as reports and as playlists with video.

“The massive data-set is made up of the position and identity of all the players (even the referee) 25 times per second.”

Clubs can then have more flexibility about how they use data for all players, as individual performances are analysed.

While it may seem complex to record and track each player’s movement on the pitch, Signality makes this process a whole lot easier.

“We enable the analyst to easily string together complex data-filters that will then automatically populate and generate videos and reports as the game is being played on the field,” Hoglund said.

“For example, an analyst or coach might request for LiveInsight to show video of all the times that their right-back/number two, passed to their striker, number nine, for the last five games.

“LiveInsight will instantly extract those instances with video clips and associated data. We want to enable coaches and analysts to be able to focus more on the insights, rather than spending lots of times doing manual work with tagging, coding, and filming.

“That’s what an AI excels at, automating asks. We want to make analysts and coaches feel comfortable in offloading some of that ‘grunt work’ to us, being that support that frees up time, having their back when it’s crunch time.”

LiveInsight has been built to extract data from automatically recorded video to generate highlights.

It shows exactly how many times a player has touched the ball in different areas of the pitch, giving instant results that analysts and coaches can immediately use.

“For analysts this is a total game changer, saving them hours each week tagging. It also frees them up during games to focus on the game rather than filming it,” Hoglund said.

“Professional football analysts are almost always extremely well educated, and we think our system can make better use of their abundant skill sets.

LiveInsight has proved successful for clubs as they can make full use of their data through automatically tagged video.

“The very nature of ‘machine learning’ means that our product gets better over time,” Hoglund said.

“We’ll be even more accurate than we currently are at measuring player speeds and distances, dribbles, possession per zone, pass success rates etc.

“Human motion analysis directly from the video is another field we see a lot of exciting use cases for it by using joint detection, gait analysis, and player vision field of view.

Many elite clubs in Europe have turned to Signality for data that is less likely to have errors. With automatic insights, it is a more effective alternative than wearables, which can only extract data for a club’s own team, not the opposition or ball.

It leads to much deeper tactical analysis for every second of a match.

“We’re looking to work with innovative club coaches and analysts who want to get better, faster data,” Hoglund said.

“Any club who feel their analysts can make better use of their skills for match analysis and preparation, as well as opposition scouting.”

You can find out more on Signality here.

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