How one rugby academy’s use of video is helping to educate aspiring players.

The West Surrey Rugby Academy runs in conjunction with Chobham Rugby Club as a full-time, educational rugby development programme for aspiring athletes between the ages of 16 and18 years old. Still in its infancy, the Academy, who compete in the British Colleges League, is looking to the future, as it strives to build well-rounded, passionate players.

Academy Manager Liam Cranford took some time to sit down with us and explain the inner workings of the Academy, and how they’ve incorporated Hudl into what they do.

Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do at the academy.

“Well, I work as their Academy Manager, so I deal with the day to day running of the whole programme, from managing the rugby enrichment to the S&C, field sessions, the analysis side, recovery and overseeing the classroom based activities. It’s quite a comprehensive role! It’s great for me though as I get a really good idea of how the boys are getting on in the gym, classroom and tying it all together as one package, and making sure the programme has that one sole focus.”

What’s your personal rugby story?

“I started playing when I was eight or nine at my local community club. [I] went on and began to excel a bit more when I got to junior level. [Then] went to London Irish, London Scottish and was playing county standard rugby as well. I began to volunteer doing some coaching. Went on to University and completed a Sports Coaching and Development degree at Bournemouth University. After graduating I had a few part-time coaching roles including at Brunel University, London Irish and Quins. I then landed the job at Chobham as their youth development officer about eight years ago.”

How did the Academy come about?

“We set it off as our next stage of Chobham Rugby Club progressing. We offer rugby for vets who are in their 50’s and toddler groups for children as young as three or four, we cater for women’s rugby as well as mixed ability touch rugby, and this seemed like the next logical step in our progression as a club.

“We’d seen similar programmes being run with great success elsewhere, who were perhaps slightly further down the line. We began advertising and took on our first full cohort this September. It was about providing local young rugby players or local students an opportunity to engage with rugby and further their education.”

What kind of education do you provide for your student athletes?

“We offer an extended level 3 BTEC which is the equivalent to 3 A Levels so the guys who do want to kick on can head to University to continue their studies. It’s about us equipping them to go as far as they want. On the Rugby side, they are all passionate players and it’s our aim to get good rugby players but also good characters.”

Expand if you can on what you mean by ‘Good Characters’. What’s the culture like?

“We have a player-driven attitude, and as much as possible they set their standards. A good example of this is on a Thursday, after a Wednesday afternoon game day. The players set into working groups - such as attack, defence, continuity, scrum and line-out - and each of those groups just review their given clips through Hudl and then present back to the wider group on what they thought we did well and what we could improve. It’s been really powerful when helping them understand what they’re looking for, and also improving their delivery skills. It allows for honest feedback, and for me as a coach it’s been great to get a real perspective with a player point of view.”

The Academy Players Huddle around a Laptop for Some Video Review

How did you come across Hudl?

“A friend of mine was working as an analyst at a professional club, and I’d always had a bit of a passion for it. It cropped up in conversation with him and it was really interesting to see what was going on. He suggested Hudl as it was beginning to grow in rugby in the UK and it would be a perfect affordable option to share and clip the games we had. At our level, I see a huge benefit in being able to have video rather than statistics, and provide context to moments in the game and players involvements. The first team at Chobham began using it with good results and so it was an easy decision to jump on too.”

Now that the Academy is on Hudl, what’s stood out to you so far?

“The ease of use as well as how easy it is to share video with others for me is the obvious one that jumps out. The game can happen on a Wednesday night and the games out and available on a Thursday morning which I think is probably one of the most important things, as time is of the essence. The faster you can get the video out, the more time you have to analyse and let those findings shape your training for that week to help get the team prepared.”

Which features of Hudl do you use most on a day-to-day basis?

“The ease of clipping the games is also great. It’s very simple to playlist what you want and from there create your own stats. We have the ability to be able to do whatever we want with it and the platform has a huge amount of potential. It’s really interesting to be able to see who's logged on, and when too.”

The Academy Players Watch a Recent Match Together

How about on a wider Academy scale? Have other areas jumped on board too?

“We’ve found that the platform can be used for so many things, from our S&C coach wanting to understand the physical demands of each position better, to our physio wanting to assess possible concussions and injuries. We’ve even used the video system to help get a red card rescinded. On top of that it’s more the fact that the video is available quickly, we’re able to share it so easily and it’s readily available for everyone.”

Finally, and most importantly, what about the players?

“From an athlete side, again they love how easy it is to gain access to the video. They can watch the video back on their phones, on the train or whenever. They can log in and easily find the playlist they need. Some of the older players have used the highlight tools as they look to the future and begin to start putting together a video CV for themselves, which they can use to get a trial at National League clubs or into universities. They’ve gone in and done it themselves, and haven’t needed any help from me, which is great.”

What would you say to a coach who’s on the fence about getting on board with Hudl?

“If coaches want to be able to use video to impact on the development of a team, and want their players to learn and engage with what the game's all about then the Hudl platform is brilliant.

“Previously, we had a real focus on ourselves. Now that we’ve played every team once this season, we are integrating a strong focus on assessing and analysing the opposition we are going to face. Were there any trends, were they strong in one area or weak in others. I think there’s a huge benefit in being able to go back and look, rather than just doing a week by week internal review. We can make our coaching more accurate during the build-up to a match, and help the players build up their own personal game plans too.”

The West Surrey Rugby Academy are poised to finish the season strongly and build on an impressive debut year. They are beginning to create an excellent team culture and are generating increasing interest for next year.

With their focus on player-led learning and accountability, they’re perfectly positioned to reap the benefits of Hudl and assist all of their students in achieving their potential.

If you’d like to find out more about Hudl, and how it’s helping to change UK rugby, click here.