We tell the story of a leading technical director and developer of talent in women’s football and how technology ties into her journey through the ranks.

As technical director of Blackburn Rovers Ladies Regional Talent Club Katie Quinlan manages the day-to-day running of this Tier 1 Academy. With responsibility for players from Under-10s through to Under-16 age bracket, the aim of the Talent Club is to provide players into the Blackburn Ladies first team who play in the FA Women’s Championship - the second tier of women’s football in England behind the Women’s Super League (WSL).

Having worked in development for the FA at county level as well as the elite talent pathways over the past 10 years at Everton, Chelsea and Blackburn, as well as university level sport and even wheelchair basketball, Quinlan already has many achievements in the sporting world.

However, in her own words, her greatest achievements so far include both working with England’s Under-16 and Under-19 sides, as well as gaining a UEFA A Qualification - the standard required to coach top-flight clubs in England and Europe. 

“To do the job I do now, the A Qualification is a prerequisite, but also it’s a support to ensure you understand the game and what it takes at the elite level,” said Quinlan. “The qualification goes into detail about tactics, trends in the game, strategies, and also how you work within a multi disciplinary team, which is imperative when working at the top level.”

With each block of study in the A Qualification providing a narrow focus on different parts of the modern game, in Quinlan’s case popular current trends such as the counter pressing strategies of Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. Technology is a big part of the education process for coaches undergoing study at this elite level. 

Blackburn Rovers Ladies competing in the FA Women's Championship this season. Credit: @RoversLadies

Analysis technology has been a massive development over probably the last five years,” said Quinlan. “Even the speakers that come on to the course speak about how analysis is such a big part of the game now. 

Learners on the UEFA A Qualification course can analyze footage and clip it together using software such as Hudl Sportscode, and experienced staff that come onto the course show learners what they do with their players and they utilize analysis to help identify what they did as part of their game plans. This allows the learners on the course to recognize those different tactics and strategies, also learning how these strategies are broken down into preparing for camps and competitions.”

Analysis has not only been crucial to helping Quinlan achieve her goal of achieving the A Qualification, but it’s also been important in her personal development in a practical coaching sense.

We as coaches have to keep up with the times, and for me, analysis helped me get a foot in the door at Blackburn Ladies where I started off as the analyst myself,” said Quinlan. “Analysis enables us to identify different trends of other teams, where to exploit their weaknesses, but also looking at yourself in terms of your style of play and what your strengths are and how to develop individuals as well.” 

"Learners on the UEFA A Qualification course can analyze footage and clip it together using software such as Hudl Sportscode, and experienced staff that come onto the course show learners what they do with their players and they utilize analysis to help identify what they did as part of their game plans."

Speaking in-depth about her approach to analysis, it’s Quinlan’s ability to provide detailed reporting that is a real point of difference in her line of work. 

Reporting is key in my analysis process and a key example is the report I did on the Women's Championship, which we play in,” said Quinlan. “I broke down all the goals that were scored and then identified, was it with their right foot or left foot, was it coming from wide areas or central areas, if it was from a wide area was it a cut back? Then identifying different trends from the teams in question and ultimately that allowed us to identify what to work on in training if we were playing against certain teams. Moving forward we would look to recognize if teams we play have changed over time, have they developed, recruited or adapted to the opposition?”

Using Hudl Sportscode, Quinlan designed a bespoke output window that allowed coding that supports her reporting. Included were buttons featuring shots on target and off target, then automated to calculate the accuracy. This helping to identify areas of player improvement needed to work on in training. 

Hudl Sportscode output showing which part of the body goals were scored with and from which position on the pitch.

Outside of coaching development, player development is also key in Quinlan’s coaching responsibilities, where IDP’s (individual development plans) are a vital part of player improvement. 

“Probably my favorite part of being a coach is working with the individuals,” said Quinlan. “I always want to check our player's understanding on where to improve, so as part of their IDP’s the players have access to Hudl to go online outside of training and to develop playlists on their plans. We can have conversations with them over Hudl and this analysis means that the players are clear on how they contribute to the team's success and progress." 

An example of coach to player feedback given through the Hudl.com online platform as part of individual development plans at the club.

Quinlan goes on to explain how analysis provides a link between national team and club level, as well as monitoring players that are on loan.

“We sit down with national team staff and go through what our player IDP’s are to make sure that we're aligned both nationally and at club level,” said Quinlan. “Likewise with our first team, we have a number of players that are on loan, so we meet with national team players on loan from Women's Super League clubs to make sure that we are on the same page to support their development and progression for club and nation. This is because we have multiple loans across different age groups and countries.”

Part two of this series will explain how Katie’s Blackburn team uses analysis to compete against better resourced teams in the Women’s Super League, while also showing how she uses analysis to guide innovation in the women’s game.