Hayden Croft – Otago Polytechnic, Te Pūkenga: In world-first research, a multi-year, in-situ study will show how the Silver Ferns netball team incorporates performance analysis in training and competition, and the impact this has on players’ wellbeing.
Te Pūkenga Otago Polytechnic’s Head of Sport, Exercise and Health, Associate Professor Hayden Croft, has worked as one of the Ferns’ performance analysts for the past four years, providing him inside access to the team environment.
His research looking at performance analysis within the Silver Ferns has two purposes: to provide insights for other high-performance sport analysts and coaches; and to investigate the effect performance analysis has on players’ wellbeing, which can impact on their performance. He and his co-authors presented the project at the Sport and Exercise Science New Zealand Conference in 2022.
“We’ve had coaches and other staff from different sports come to see how we do things, so we devised a longitudinal data collection to tell the story of what happens within both the management team and the player team environment while we're preparing for campaigns and trials,” he says.
As one of two performance analysts within the Silver Ferns, Croft provides video analysis and feedback while his colleague provides data analytics.
“The study will report on the ways in which we work to combine these approaches, and how we provide information to players and the coaching staff in a high-performance environment.”
Around nine months of data collection has already been completed, and this gathering process will continue until the end of the Netball World Cup in July.
“We are keeping journals to log everything we do – how we contribute to team meetings, the analysis we provide, and thoughts and responses we receive from players and coaches.”
Among a performance analyst’s challenges is the sheer volume of data available to them.
“There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of data being produced for every game, and then we have a database with 20,000 rows of data from individual players over the past ten years,” he says.
“We want to know the effects being analysed has on the players – the literature shows there is a growing surveillance culture in sport where athletes feel their every move is being tracked and analysed, and they are then held accountable to that,” he says. “This may affect their performance in both positive and negative ways.”
At the end of each netball tour, two members of the research team interview the players about their perceptions of the performance analysis and feedback process, and how this affects their wellbeing and performance. The results will be cross analysed with the data gathered from the performance analysts.
Croft hopes this analysis will show whether they are conveying the right information to the athletes at the right times.
“We don’t want to be overloading them. Often, they are working to keep up with fitness requirements, medical requirements, family requirements, and marketing and publicity requirements – and then we're giving them analysis to try and learn from. These players have come through the ranks and have many years of experience so we assume they should be good at dealing with all this, but perhaps it is one of the reasons people don't perform well at times.”
He believes player wellbeing is a critical consideration in a high-pressure, high-expectation environment.
“High-performance athletes are scrutinised in the media and in the public domain – a lot of fans have very passionate views on how they should be performing or what they should be doing, despite having limited understanding of what the team as a whole is trying to achieve,” Croft says. “There are external pressures on athletes, and then there are internal pressures such as team selection and performance reviews. We’re interested to know if they see performance analysis as positive or negative, and whether we can provide feedback in healthier or more useful ways.”
The research team is also interested in how surveillance affects player performance.
“We want to know how resilient they are when they see these statistics and how their wellbeing is affected. It could be that players are more reluctant to make a pass or take a shot because they’re worried about their stats.”
While analysis is still in the very early stages, insights are beginning to emerge around the performance analysis approach within the Silver Ferns.
“On a continuum between surveillance and accountability at one end and encouragement and learning at the other, we are far more learning-focused than surveillance-focused.”
Croft says he and his colleague strive to be facilitators rather than mere “deliverers of information”.
“Instead of handing the athletes the answers, we set up the environment and let them explore and develop solutions themselves. It will be interesting to see the players’ insights and responses to this approach.”
Croft says high-performance sport is rapidly becoming more data-driven, but research is needed to ensure teams get the balance right.
“There are examples of sports teams around the world that were totally data-driven and completely collapsed as a result. You can lead yourself down rabbit holes with data – it doesn't tell the real story unless you contextualise it.”
Hayden Croft is the Head of Sport, Exercise and Health and also the Academic Leader for the Performance Analysis postgraduate programme at Otago Polytechnic, Te Pūkenga. Hayden’s expertise lies in advancing coaching through the use of innovative technologies and performance analysis, and he has worked with the Silver Ferns, All Blacks, Highlanders, Otago Rugby, World Rugby and Southern Steel Netball. A winner of the Technical Support (2020) and Innovation in Sport (2015) categories at the Otago Sports Awards, Hayden is currently the Performance Analyst for the Silver Ferns Netball team and was part of the team that won the 2019 Netball World Cup. Subsequently they went on to win NZ Halberg Awards Team and Supreme awards.
Hayden holds a PhD (Performance Analysis) from AUT, and a Master in Physical Education (Biomechanics) and a Bachelor in Physical Education (Sports Science Prescription), both from the University of Otago. Contact Hayden Croft
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