How do you get 90 percent engagement across your program during a pandemic? IMG Academy’s Technical Director showed us how he uses Hudl to bring his coaching philosophy to life.

Last month, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) Technical Director Andy Thomson held a live Q&A with club and high school coaches to discuss how he leverages data and technology using Hudl.

The pandemic sweeping the world over brought some unexpected virtues to the program. Thomson estimates they have 90 percent engagement across the entire academy, with coaches a huge driver in using video for player development.

Thomson also showed us how he ties coaching philosophy and game model in a way that puts those players front and center. The key? Making the complexities of the game simple to evaluate — or, as he repeated several times throughout the hour-long talk, “Keeping the main thing the main thing.” 

That’s not always easy to do. 

"We live in an age where everyone has a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, but it doesn't come alive until it's alive in the player's brain,” Thomson said.

Here’s how IMG does it:

Creating an environment of trust

When players and coaches watch film together, they find themselves being more honest with each other. IMG found live video conferences to be a great tool for bridging tough conversations about performance.

Setting objective reference points within the video helps coaches and athletes have better discussions, because it's no longer opinion-based.

“There’s no hiding space,” he says. “It’s real, and there’s substance to it.”

Setting a high bar of competition

That honesty, in turn, raises the bar for everyone. Thomson showed an example from one of his most competitive 16-year-old players, Laurel Chan, pointing out the meticulous attention to detail that developed organically.

“Some players were outstanding from the start, which set the pace for everyone else,” he said. “It's way more powerful when the players set the example for each other.”

Moving forward, IMG has evidence that the players actually understand the principles that were taught over the last year. They can use this as reference material for moving the players from one phase of development to the next.

Owning the game model

To accelerate development and athlete’s understanding of the game, IMG has pushed their teams to break down video using IMG’s game model.

For example, a coach picks a game and a topic, such as attacking or build-up, etc., and empowers the athletes to interpret what they’re seeing based on the curriculum.

“At any given moment, we can ask the players what they were thinking and have them explain it to the coach but in a safe space,” Thomson says. “The video allows us to go back and say this is what we wanted, this is what we got, and here's what we could do differently. Or, maybe they made a great decision and we can just say ‘well done’.”

Going from "big to small" in game reviews

Having Hudl Assist reports has been a terrific asset in giving Thomson a cursory look at IMG’s performances, delivering the content they need right away instead of painstakingly going through every moment in the game. From there, they’re able to go back, fine-tune the details and set KPIs.

“It’s really helpful for us to get a 10,000-foot, zoomed-out view,” he said.

Being able to look at the game in 15-minute periods, for instance, was particularly useful because of the Ascenders’ periodized conditioning. The more fit a soccer team is, the more  frequently you see goals scored outweigh goals conceded later in games.

Thomson also found the pass string data in Assist useful. Being able to go right to the build-up of each string lets them call out what players did well at all the right moments.

1:35  — How IMG “keeps the main thing the main thing” during COVID
Thomsen talked about how Hudl has been “extremely key” for IMG Academy during this period of quarantine. With the game embracing data analysis more and more, Thomson loves the functionality of letting players and coaches make objective evaluations of their game.

3:50 — “There’s no hiding place.”

On live video chats, IMG players have spirited game reviews, evaluating how the performance aligns to their principles of one-on-one, numerical and possession superiority. Thomson is taken back by the brutal honesty in these sessions. “It’s beautiful, it’s real, it’s genuine.”

7:35 — How IMG defines a “soccer action”

Thomson explains the factors that go into this key reference point that the Ascenders use in game review.

8:40 — Supercharged engagement levels

Thomson estimates that 90 percent of the program’s players are actively engaging with Hudl. He explains how they got to that point, and how it’ll change what they do coming out of the pandemic.

10:00 — How the Ascenders analyze their film

Thomson takes us through the workflow of one of the Ascenders’ more cerebral players, complete with the player’s detailed notes of everything she sees on the screen.

15:00 — Getting everyone on the same page

Thomsen talks about the importance of establishing a common language among all of IMG’s teams for developing critical thinking.

16:30 — How IMG sets its expectations

Thomsen talks about how they have created such a competitive culture within their own program, including how they communicate all their terminology.

21:00 — Assessing needs vs. wants with technology

If it’s information that will help the team, Thomson says it’s useful. But you must also avoid going down a rabbit hole. Here’s how to evaluate what’s going to have an impact on your club.

25:10 — How the bar gets raised

Circling back to Laurel Chan’s detailed analysis, Thomson explains how they’ve gone about creating the environment of trust that enables that depth of feedback.

28:30 — Getting the big picture with Hudl Assist

Thomsen talks about how practical Hudl Assist reports are in getting IMG the “10,000-foot view” on how their teams’ performances.

30:00 — Processing the film and setting it up in Hudl

Thomsen talks about IMG’s exceptional technical setup, and what that allows coaches to do.

31:00 — How IMG uses reports to find insights

Thomsen shows some of the ways he’ll leverage game and scouting reports, including:

  • What times of goals reveal about fitness levels (32:30)
  • Possession ratios and pass strings (33:20)
  • Why they break down by four zones, splitting the middle third in two (34:00)

35:00 — COVID’s effect on coaching

What impact has remote coaching had during this pandemic? Thomsen talks about what he’s had success with these last few months, and the importance of coaches’ enthusiasm for driving engagement.

40:00 — Position-specific learning

IMG is unique in that it creates position-specific accounts for its programs in Hudl. It’s all an effort to keep things as simple as possible for the players, Thomsen explains.

49:00 — How player development sharpens the recruiting approach

Thomson says the amount of highlight tool usage has been “massive” during the spring. He says he’s lost count of the number of coaches and players going back into their accounts to re-do highlight reels for college coaches.

51:30 — Commitment to the human side

Thomson talks about the program’s promise to develop “humans first, soccer players second”. And here’s some good news for anyone looking to play for IMG: Thomson says he’s looking for thinkers — especially ones who aren’t afraid to take an educated risk.