How Hartpury College and University Centre Uses Video Analysis to Drive Development of Student-Athletes

Nestled just north of Gloucester, England, sur­round­ed by the rolling hills and wind­ing roads that char­ac­ter­ize much of Britain’s coun­try­side, lies Hartpury College and University Centre. The sprawl­ing cam­pus is home to over 3,000 stu­dents work­ing towards a high­er edu­ca­tion, rang­ing from BTEC diplo­mas to post­grad­u­ate degrees.

But it’s also home to one of the country’s pre­miere ath­let­ic depart­ments, which com­petes in sports rang­ing from equine to foot­ball. Assistant Director of Elite Sport Marc Richards speaks glow­ing­ly about Hartpury’s com­mit­ment to sport, and he invit­ed us to cam­pus to see what they’re all about.

The day start­ed bright and ear­ly, as many do here at the col­lege. By the time we arrived, the foot­ball and rug­by squads had already fin­ished warm­ing up on their respec­tive train­ing pitch­es. It’s full on for the lads in the first-team — ear­ly morn­ing train­ing ses­sions at 7 a.m., three days a week, and mid-week match­es on BUCS Wednesday — which means there is lit­tle time to waste.

The squad is com­prised of young stu­dent-ath­letes who not only play for Hartpury, but are also play­ing for local semi-pro­fes­sion­al sides. If I take a lad who is maybe play­ing at Gloucester City Football Club or anoth­er decent non-league team, they could be play­ing three times a week,” said Richards. It’s a real bal­anc­ing act in terms of try­ing to mon­i­tor their load with train­ing and play­ing in order to ensure that it’s right for the athlete.”

The rug­by side is quite unique in that they com­pete not only in BUCS Super Rugby, but they also have a squad that com­petes in National League 1, a team that is wide­ly rec­og­nized as one of the top 40 rug­by teams in all of England. 

The squad trains at an extreme­ly high lev­el. We think it’s impor­tant that they have the same train­ing reg­i­mens going for­ward, see­ing as a Wednesday play­er can get into the Saturday team and know what they’re doing straight away,” said John Barnes, Director of Rugby at Hartpury. Everyone wants to play in the Saturday side, but now with the intro­duc­tion of the BUCS Super League, I think the Wednesday com­pe­ti­tion is actu­al­ly tougher.”

For both, the qual­i­ty of their squads has led to tremen­dous suc­cess in uni­ver­si­ty lev­el com­pe­ti­tion, with both teams fin­ish­ing as run­ners-up in their 2015 – 16 cam­paigns. This sea­son how­ev­er, those fin­ish­es have been improved, with the uni­ver­si­ty rug­by team win­ning the inau­gur­al sea­son of the BUCS Super Rugby League, beat­ing Loughborough in final. Additionally, the foot­ball boys won the BUCS Premier South league this season. 

It’s clear that they expect more, which makes prepa­ra­tion week in and week out that much more crucial.

Sessions typ­i­cal­ly take place ear­ly in the week pri­or to a Wednesday match, and again on a Friday fol­low­ing, but if there are spe­cif­ic things they want their squad to work on in train­ing, a brief ses­sion takes place ear­ly on the fol­low­ing Monday. It’s an idea that the foot­ball pro­gram began, but has since been adopt­ed by oth­ers at the col­lege, includ­ing the rug­by staff. We’ll have short 15-minute class­room ses­sions look­ing at some video before we go out to train. So it kind of sets the tone on what we’re going to work on,” said Richards. I think we’ve always been quite inno­v­a­tive with what we’re try­ing to do with our sports, and video analysis/​performance analy­sis has always been a big part of that.”

The staff’s analy­sis influ­ences how they struc­ture their week with the squad. From my per­spec­tive as a coach, I’ll go home and reflect on [the match], write a few notes. Then I’ll come in on Thursday and watch the game on my own,” said Matthew Taylor, for­mer Senior Football Manager at Hartpury, who is now the Exeter City U23 Head Coach and Assistant First Team Coach. Then it’s a case of the video analy­sis lads and myself work­ing togeth­er to put togeth­er a load of clips, indi­vid­ual and team, and we get them ready for the lads to look at.”

Barnes has tak­en a very sim­i­lar approach to analy­sis with his rug­by squad. Once the game is filmed on Saturday, it gets uploaded to Hudl as soon as pos­si­ble. Myself and two oth­er coach­es involved will put our com­ments on Hudl by say Sunday after­noon,” said Barnes. All the play­ers can look at the game and see the coach­es com­ments through­out. Monday is an off day for the Saturday side, so as coach­es we would go through the game in Sportscode and take out the things we want to show the guys on Tuesday whether that involves clips we’ve com­ment­ed on or just a few areas we’ve done well or poor­ly in.”

The key for Barnes and the rug­by staff is to pull out trends across mul­ti­ple match­es where they can improve. There’s no point in watch­ing your missed tack­les in one game,” Barnes said. We try and look for trends through­out a 3 – 4 week peri­od where we are mak­ing errors and where we’re doing things well, and those are the areas we focus on.”

When it comes to scout­ing oppo­nents, the rug­by pro­gram has tak­en ini­tia­tives to empow­er not only their coach­ing staff, but the play­ers as well. They do a lot of oppo­si­tion analy­sis them­selves,” Barnes said. So Hudl has helped with that. It’s easy for them to do their own oppo­si­tion analy­sis at home or where they are at.”

“[Hudl] gives them a plat­form where they can view the oppo­si­tion, code the oppo­si­tion,” Richards added. Rugby have been real­ly proac­tive with it and uti­lize it a lot.”

That men­tal­i­ty has car­ried over into the foot­ball pro­gram as well. We gen­er­al­ly get two or three games before we play an oppo­si­tion,” Taylor said. So it’s quite detailed analy­sis. It’s impor­tant to paint a few pic­tures in the play­ers minds just so they’re ready for the game.”

Focus is every­thing in train­ing and video analy­sis. The visu­als Taylor men­tioned are what enables the staff to equip their play­ers with tools, like video analy­sis, that will ensure they are pre­pared for any sit­u­a­tion. The onus is then put on the play­ers to pre­pare. We help them out as best as we can. We code the games, give them their own clips, but if they want to learn cer­tain aspects of the game, then they can do their own clips,” said Taylor. It’s a great tool for their own development.”

As soon as the com­ments are made on Hudl, we send out a mes­sage on Slack say­ing the com­ments are on Hudl, please watch before you come in,” said Barnes.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tion across sports at all lev­els is astound­ing, but it’s the way they each have cohe­sive­ly bought into the pow­er of video that stands out, as Mark Cornwell, Head Coach of Hartpury Rugby, men­tions. As soon as those games are played, we’re ana­lyz­ing, review­ing and pre­view­ing our games and oppo­si­tion games so that they can get as much infor­ma­tion as they pos­si­bly can,” he said. It’s as pro­fes­sion­al as it can pos­si­ble be with­out being a pro­fes­sion­al [club].”

In the past, we’ve sent games to them in var­i­ous ways, you know like WeTransfer and things like that,” added Barnes. This is cer­tain­ly the eas­i­est way to do it. They have access to it. They’re start­ing to do more reviews by them­selves now. Which is, again, cru­cial to their devel­op­ment and our team’s.”

That’s the com­mon thread amongst all the teams. The feed­back loop from coach to play­er is nev­er end­ing. It’s con­sis­tent and cohe­sive. This allows the coach­es to focus on specifics while empow­er­ing their play­ers to own their devel­op­ment. We want them to come and talk to us about it,” said Chris Knowles, who used to head up the per­for­mance analy­sis depart­ment, but has since been named Senior Football Manager at Hartpury. We try and do three reviews with each play­er, espe­cial­ly in the first-team, a year. So if they can come to us with lit­tle videos or short clips, from that they can take it away and look at oth­er clips and get a good per­spec­tive on where they need to improve.”

It’s a great learn­ing tool for the young play­ers to devel­op their knowl­edge of the game.” Taylor added. We don’t high­light mis­takes unless they keep hap­pen­ing. We try to empha­size posi­tion­ing in terms of sce­nar­ios and spe­cif­ic game sit­u­a­tions as much as we pos­si­bly can.

Young play­ers need to see that, oth­er­wise we’re just telling them things con­stant­ly, but we’re not actu­al­ly show­ing them.”

The college’s com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing play­ers is so much more than on-field advance­ment. At the end of the day, how­ev­er long that ath­lete spends with them, they want that ath­lete to improve as an indi­vid­ual. It’s aca­d­e­m­ic first and fore­most,” said Richards. That’s mak­ing sure they do their aca­d­e­m­ic work and com­bine that with a very good lev­el of sport and hope­ful­ly at the end of it they feel that they’ve ben­e­fit­ed from their expe­ri­ence at Hartpury and they’ve gone on to be a bet­ter person.”

Even for stu­dents who don’t play, the adop­tion of per­for­mance analy­sis has opened doors for them to get involved at the high­est lev­el. The amount of stu­dents that we’ve had here [at Hartpury] that have worked with­in our sports pro­grams, not as an ath­lete but as a coach, that have now gone on to work in the indus­try is phe­nom­e­nal,” said Richards. That’s one of the biggest things here which I think we pro­vide. It’s not just from a play­ing per­spec­tive. It’s [an oppor­tu­ni­ty to] come and see what an elite pro­gram looks like, and work with­in it. Who knows where that might lead you?”

They even go as far as host­ing local clubs on-site for their stu­dents to meet, in the hopes that an intro­duc­tion might open up a path­way into place­ment for cred­it. “[They] might be look­ing for place­ment stu­dents and then they come in and meet the stu­dents and see if it fits with where they want to go in their career,” said Richards.

It’s clear that Richards and oth­ers at Hartpury put an inher­ent empha­sis on inno­va­tion. Their ambi­tions are to keep their ath­let­ic depart­ment at an elite lev­el. That’s the one thing we’re always look­ing to do here at Hartpury is improve on what we’re cur­rent­ly doing. The intro­duc­tion of Hudl, espe­cial­ly for cer­tain sports, is work­ing real­ly real­ly well,” said Richards. So now we’ve giv­en all the oth­er sports the oppor­tu­ni­ty to start uti­liz­ing it.

It’s quite nice see­ing the oth­er sports look­ing at where they can take this, and how it will help improve our ath­letes devel­op­ment over their time here at Hartpury. I think you can see that there is a cul­ture and that it’s led to the strate­gic priority.”

The whole com­mu­ni­ty at Hartpury has embraced the advance­ment of video analy­sis with­in their pro­gram, and are all on board with the oppor­tu­ni­ties it pro­vides their stu­dent body. I’m a big believ­er in it. It helped me in terms of my play­ing and my devel­op­ment. Certainly, in terms of young play­ers who need to learn the game, it’s a huge tool,” said Taylor. This is a cru­cial moment [for them] because they’ll nev­er be at a bet­ter pro­gram. Even pro­fes­sion­al out­fits can’t com­pete with us in terms of facil­i­ties and the sup­port ser­vices we pro­vide. We want them to make the most of it.

“[In terms] of devel­op­ment, video analy­sis is mas­sive for us.”

If any­body is inter­est­ed in find­ing out more about Hartpury’s sports pro­grammes and cours­es, please con­tact Assistant Director of Elite Sport, Marc Richards on 01452702106 and marc.​richards@​hartpury.​ac.​uk