How This High School Uses Hudl Assist to Run like a Small College’

In just a few short years, this small-town Kentucky pro­gram has gone from hunter to hunt­ed. How? With the details from in-depth data reports.

How This High School Uses Hudl Assist to Run like a Small College’

In just a few short years, this small-town Kentucky pro­gram has gone from hunter to hunt­ed. How? With the details from in-depth data reports.

Through the rolling hills of Western Kentucky in the rur­al town of Benton — found three hours west of Louisville and two hours north of Nashville — a rabid fol­low­ing sur­rounds the Marshall County High School girls’ soc­cer team.

Stands are packed for home con­tests. Every game is broad­cast over the radio, with a full play-by-play crew. Facilities for the team, in the words of assis­tant coach Andrew Pagel, are fan­tas­tic”.

And in the short time since they adopt­ed Hudl Assist’s inter­ac­tive reports, the Marshals have seen explo­sive suc­cess. They won a third straight region­al title this fall (the program’s 19th over­all) and reached the round of 16 in the state tour­na­ment, los­ing to the No. 3 ranked team in Kentucky.

We were chas­ing teams two years ago that we beat in the post­sea­son,” Pagel said. Last year we used Hudl Assist, we jumped on it and the ana­lyt­ics helped us tremen­dous­ly. This year we’re the hunt­ed — 16 – 2, 17 – 2 — and we’re the favorites, and we’ve used it to fine tune and stay ahead.” 

For Pagel, these tools give the Marshals a chance to run our high school soc­cer pro­gram a lot like a small col­lege.” What does that look like? 

Possession as a defensive weapon

Pagel knew ear­ly in the sea­son that the team was strug­gling. One rea­son why was a defense that often sim­ply blast­ed the ball up the field. This result­ed in an aver­age time of pos­ses­sion some­where in the 19 to 22-minute range over an 80-minute game. Every team has their own unique sweet spot” for opti­mal time of pos­ses­sion. For Pagel, and head coach Mike Boone, the tar­get is in the 29 – 35 minute range. 

After he paired this data with the vol­ume of shots the Marshals were allow­ing, which broke down to once every two min­utes or so, Pagel issued a chal­lenge in the form of an equa­tion — how can they keep the ball for six more min­utes a game, and there­fore cut down on three shots from the opposition? 

We try to use the math, and it’s easy to sell that way,” Pagel says. We can say, look at their time of pos­ses­sion and look at ours, that’s why we need to make this extra pass to the right back, ver­sus dump­ing the ball into our forward.” 

Pagel likes to be pos­ses­sion-ori­ent­ed as opposed to a defend-and-counter style. He was raised clas­si­cal­ly on the tried-and-true 4 – 4-2 for­ma­tion, with a stop­per and sweep­er, but that’s a dinosaur now.” The Marshals play a 4 – 2-3 – 1 with an off­set tri­an­gle in the mid­dle, and Pagel is devot­ed to the for­ma­tion, both for its abil­i­ty to over­whelm oppo­nents with num­bers every­where, and for the way it allows for quick counters.

Hard pos­ses­sion goals allowed Pagel to set the bar high ear­ly in the sea­son, when they over­whelmed infe­ri­or oppo­nents. Only 23 min­utes in that easy win? Not good enough. He encour­aged them to make that one last wide pass that gives them the 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 advan­tage up the oth­er side of the pitch. Time to work on tak­ing that pass from the left mid­field­er and link­ing up in the mid­dle, instead of look­ing through to a forward. 

We can talk through all that, and then show them it,” Pagel said.

We try to use the math, and it’s easy to sell that way. We can say, look at their time of pos­ses­sion and look at ours, that’s why we need to make this extra pass to the right back, ver­sus dump­ing the ball into our forward. Andy Pagel, assistant girls soccer coach, Marshall County High School, Benton, Ky.

Less is more in transition

Attack tran­si­tions are one area of the game where more isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter. In one game, Marshall County had 101 attack tran­si­tions — way too high and indica­tive of a poor job keep­ing the ball. If you’re play­ing against bet­ter com­pe­ti­tion, and play­ing with more bal­ance, you’ll like­ly have any­where from 60 to 80 such transitions.

Pagel point­ed to a recent game against Murray High where the Marshals dom­i­nat­ed, but their per­for­mance left Pagel ques­tion­ing how well they exe­cut­ed. Sure enough, when he looked at the pass strings on the reports, he found the goal­keep­er respon­si­ble for a num­ber of unsuc­cess­ful passes. 

Of course this goalie, a return­ing cap­tain and the school’s all-time leader in shutouts, was no slouch. But all those acro­bat­ic dives, stops and catch­es are only part of what a goalkeeper’s game should be. They have to be able to keep pos­ses­sion, too, espe­cial­ly in today’s game where the keep­er can often act as a sweep­er. His goalie wasn’t allow­ing enough time for open­ings in the field to devel­op before try­ing to find a pass.

With these points tied to video, Marshall County’s goal­keep­er coach knew how to design bet­ter prac­tices to shore things up.

Shutouts are good, but I also want to see how we can turn it into some­thing bet­ter,” Pagel said. 

A call for focus, with purpose

Sometimes a call from the side­line to bring some more ener­gy can sound emp­ty. At Marshall County, the mes­sage comes with a purpose. 

Opponents didn’t score that much on Marshall County this year, and when they did, they came at all sorts of times. But over the course of the sea­son, Pagel dis­cov­ered that the team sur­ren­dered a goal every oth­er game around the 60-minute mark.

Needless to say, the team start­ed lis­ten­ing to what Pagel said ear­ly in the sec­ond half.

If I say focus at this time, they know what I’m talk­ing about,” he says. I’ll yell out Hey, let’s focus for these next 10 min­utes’, and they give a thumbs up. They know what it means. They know there’s that lull in the game that tends to happen.”

Towards the begin­ning of games, Pagel found the Marshals would have some­what of a drop-off after minute 15, typ­i­cal­ly when they begin sub­sti­tu­tions. Does that mean they should hold off sub­sti­tu­tions? Should they change up and stag­ger a lit­tle better?

Pagel loves look­ing for out­liers, and has found the process more refined through the use of fil­ters to iden­ti­fy trends against com­pe­ti­tion that is more on their lev­el. The more he tog­gled through indi­vid­ual game reports and clus­ters of games, the more he was able to unearth crit­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies like this.

If I say focus at this time, they know what I’m talk­ing about. I’ll yell out Hey, let’s focus for these next 10 min­utes’, and they give a thumbs up. They know what it means. They know there’s that lull in the game that tends to happen. Andy Pagel, assistant girls soccer coach, Marshall County High School, Benton, Ky.

A safer approach with pass strings

With a 62 per­cent suc­cess rate on pass­es in the defen­sive third, well below his goal of 70 – 75 per­cent, Pagel under­stood his team need­ed to be more cau­tious with the ball in their own end — but also that it wasn’t all entire­ly on the back line. The goal­keep­er and mid­field­ers bear some respon­si­bil­i­ty too. Seeing these per­cent­ages allowed them to have more informed con­ver­sa­tions about safe­ty, ver­sus risk with decision-making.

Just as high­er pos­ses­sion num­bers don’t always indi­cate more pur­pose­ful attack­ing, vol­ume of shots doesn’t always mean bet­ter offense. The Marshals aver­aged 5.1 pass­es per string this sea­son. Pagel said he’s not always proud” when they aver­age more than six pass­es, because they could just be kick­ing the ball lat­er­al­ly or back­wards a lot, but it’s a great stat to keep an eye on. 

A good team like the No. 1 team in the state might get 12 shots, but three of them are goals, because of the nature of how they pen­e­trat­ed, and they walked it in,” Pagel said. We got few­er shots but more goals because our shot qual­i­ty selec­tion was bet­ter. It’s not unlike bas­ket­ball — yeah, you’re jack­ing up a lot of three’s, but is that a good idea?”

Charting suc­cess­ful and unsuc­cess­ful strings also allowed them to be con­struc­tive with their coach­ing, prais­ing great plays while also won­der­ing how the suc­cess in one area can be applied elsewhere.

You don’t have to just say, Why was this wrong?’ You can look at the suc­cess­ful ones and say, Attagirl, here’s what you did right’, and ask, Could we have done this on the one we messed up with?’” Pagel said.

Honing in on shot charts

Below is a shot chart from one of the tough­est teams on Marshall County’s sched­ule. Notice the orange dot out­side of the 18-yard box to the right — that’s a long goal that came on a rebound out of a cor­ner kick.

As the clus­ter shows, that one play­er was able to get off three shots from that same spot due to a lack of pres­sure. Once Pagel saw that, he moved a for­ward back clos­er to the box, after play­ing up clos­er to the mid­field line. It helped.

Marshall County’s own sea­son-long shot chart resem­bles some­thing of a Rorschach test.

It’s a good lit­mus test too. Many of those goals scored inside the goalkeeper’s box were made pos­si­ble by a strong for­ward with bound­less ener­gy, Carmen Gunn. 

But with this resource, Pagel could also remind his play­ers con­struc­tive­ly that those oppor­tu­ni­ties won’t always be there. Nice scream­er from 25 yards out? Great job, but let’s wait for a bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ty for a high­er-per­cent­age shot. Pretty goal against the run? Good heads-up play, but don’t expect the goalie to make a bad mis­take like that next time.

All of it adds up to an expe­ri­ence that makes play­ers feel like they already have the cheat sheet by the time they’re ready to play at the next level.

We feel like the ones we send to col­lege, they will have the tools to run with video and have the pri­or knowl­edge,” Pagel said.

***

These are just some of the inno­v­a­tive ways a coach can use Hudl Assist’s expand­ed inter­ac­tive reports to hone in on the details that make a difference.

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