“You can tell players a lot – but footage is so much stronger than just words,” says Nicky Hayen. “Because in a discussion it's word against word. But if you can show footage, if you can show detail, it's proof that you're right or you’re wrong – and this is much better than words alone.”
Hayen is the new, forward-thinking coach at Welsh top-flight team Haverfordwest County AFC, and from the outside it might look an unlikely match. Haverfordwest were in the Cymru Premier relegation zone in December when they brought in a new manager: 42-year-old Belgian Hayen who played over 400 games as a professional, mostly in the Belgian First Division A, and has coached at that top level.
“In addition to my role of manager, I'm also the technical director,” he says of his position at Haverfordwest. “And I will be involved in the academy of the club, too. So I have a huge role with a blank page.”
Hayen had a successful playing career until a nasty cruciate injury, sustained in a game against Genk, ruled the then 31-year-old defender out for 11 months. He never felt quite the same on his return – “I was 90% but to be a pro, you need to be 100% each game” – and eventually swapped playing for coaching. First at the lower levels, “to gain experience, to make mistakes and to develop my own gameplan”.
From there Hayen was Under-18 coach at the club where he spent most of his playing career, Sint-Truiden, then Under-21 coach and eventually assistant manager (via a spell as first-team caretaker manager). Hayen also managed Waasland-Beveren in the Belgian top tier and is now bringing his extensive professional experience to Haverfordwest in South West Wales.
“I like to play out from the back,” Hayen says of his football philosophy. “So build-up, combinations, playing with a lot of confidence. A direct style of play? Sometimes it's necessary. But it's more about knowing what you have to do: be a step ahead of the opposition and recognise moments – when they put pressure, how you have to react and how you have to play, what solutions you can give to each other.”
Hudl is crucial in helping Hayen get his points across. You might assume that specific video and data analysis – or adding dynamic drawings to images and footage – would be of more benefit at elite super-clubs than a semi-pro team. But Hayen explains that the opposite can be true: that when you have limited time with players, using Hudl Sportscode to seamlessly create clips that convey key information is vital.
“Sportscode is a great tool,” he says. “It helps you to analyse each facet of the game, like build-ups and second phase, third phase sections, set pieces, transition moments. So every game that we see, we use Sportscode to do a kind of live coverage.
“What is very important for me is that you have the XML file after the game. That means you have all the images that you tapped [as being a key moment] immediately available after the match. So you save a lot of time… We'll review the game afterwards but because we have the XML file, we already have every important situation.”
For Hayen, the essential thing is utilising Hudl Sportscode in a balanced way for both positive reinforcement and critical feedback. To show the team where they are performing well and making errors, in and out of possession.
“First of all, we gave the players assignments during a game,” he says. “So we'll see if they were successful in these. We show them good clips and those that were less successful. This is the first approach, because we want to see if they did the job that we've asked, and then to show areas we have to improve.
“What can we improve when we have the ball? And how can we be better organised or better positioning-wise? How can we develop like a team? Most of the time it’s a team progress, a team formation, that we show them.
But if it's really individual, we take a player aside and we show the clips in a one-on-one session.”
“Sportscode is a great tool,” he says. “It helps you to analyse each facet of the game, like build-ups and second phase, third phase sections, set pieces, transition moments".
As well as the analysis benefits of clarity and quick turnaround for the player, Hayen explains this style of feedback saves him hours each week as a coach.
“If you have Hudl Sportscode, you save a lot of time – and it's really important, because you already don't have a lot of time to spend with your players. So if you still have to analyse games in a slow way, like you have to see the game again for 90 minutes, you have to make notes, you have to cut and paste, it takes a lot of time… I think you save at least four-five hours with Sportscode.”
“Also, you asked me: how do I show my footage to the players? I use Studio to add drawings. It's so important, because then you can really show if the distances [between players] are too far or if the team does not play narrow enough, if the shape is not right. You can make it really clear. Then players get more aware of this and start thinking better and start getting smarter. This is what we want; that we can improve every aspect of the game.”
For Haverfordwest, the introduction of Hudl arrived with Hayen. But the players are rapidly embracing it. The initial aim, Hayen accepts, is simply to steer a team that was second from bottom when he arrived up the table.
After that, the goal is a place in the top six and the potential of playing European football on offer to the top teams in the league, such as The New Saints (TNS), the only fully professional club in the Cymru Premier. Long-term, Haverfordwest want to become a completely professional outfit themselves.
“Since I'm in charge, this is the first time that the club used Hudl Sportscode, because they want to be more professional,” says Hayen. “If you want to get to Europe or to go to the champions’ round [for the top-six teams], you have to be more professional. You have to show more footage and data to the players.
“So it's really important that we all get involved and the chairman is on board – that's how we had contact, because we had really good relationships in the past with Wyscout and Hudl. So far, the players are on board. They see the benefit of the analysis, and also in the results on the pitch.”