When Lincoln City’s players scrolled through their smartphones during their pre-match stroll at Turf Moor on Saturday, they weren't browsing their Instagram accounts or perusing tweets from fans on Twitter.
More after the break
Manager Danny Cowley and his brother and assistant coach, Nicky, have turned each player’s phone into a powerful coaching tool to gain an edge over the opposition, which has helped propel them to the sixth round of the FA Cup and the top of the National League.
Lincoln are using performance analysis software created by American company Hudl, who conquered the American football market in the US before switching their attention to English football. The technology enables the management team to upload match footage to an app installed on each player’s handset, so they can view clips on the move.
“It’s been critical to our success," the club’s performance analyst, Glenn Skingsley, told FourFourTwo prior to the 1-0 FA Cup win over Burnley. "We can break down a video of the game into individual playlists, highlighting things we think we did well or need to work on.
“Danny and Nicky can also annotate each clip to make a specific point to a player so they know exactly what they expect of them. We’ve even got a chat function so we can tell all the players when the clips are up or discuss things with them over a phone.”
Hudl has proven to be a hit with the players, who have bought into the Cowley brothers’ innovative approach. “We have a team management function on the app which tells us if players have watched each clip and how long they’ve viewed it for,” adds Skingsley.
“Some of them watch the entire game back, others are really keen to look at individual areas of their game. The clips are edited straight after the game, so the lads can watch them back that night or the following morning.”
Twelve months ago, the Cowley’s were still part-time PE teachers, combining their school responsibilities with managing Braintree Town. The pair are now full-time at Sincil Bank and Skingsley believes their academic background is behind their unique coaching methods.
“They’ve recognised that Hudl is a great learning tool,” he says. “When you’re teaching a child at school you need to get your message across as simply as possible and it’s no different when you’re teaching players different things.
“We think of every game as a story and every playlist is a chapter. Within that chapter we look for defining moments and ask ‘did we do it well or could we have done it better?’
“Sometimes when you give a player feedback orally, they don’t get it, but if you show them a clip it accelerates learning. It also clears up any confusion – in football there are always so many different opinions about every incident, with video footage you can be crystal clear.”
Lincoln’s success with the technology and its simplicity could see it begin to make an impact lower down the football pyramid. “A basic package would cost around £200 a season for one team,” says Hudl spokesman Matthew Cook. “With that package, every player can download the app and have access to clips.”
Skingsley adds: “Not every club can afford a performance analyst – at our level it’s rare for a team to employ someone on a full-time basis. As a result you need something that is cheap and simple to use, so any member of the coaching staff can be the analyst – which is what we do at Lincoln.”