I’ve recently spent time with two high-level organizations in the sports sector: a franchise in one of the major US professional leagues and a federation for a major sport with intense international competition by national teams. In other words, these are top-tier organizations where there’s a lot on the line and the level of professionalism expected of athletes and coaches is extremely high.
Perhaps this is obvious but elite athletes spend a lot of time studying video. There’s only so much time athletes can spend on the physical side of training before they face the limits of body and physiology.
As everyone approaches those limits, the mental side of an athlete’s development becomes critical. Everyone is managing players’ physical demands and work rates to get close to but not beyond optimal workloads in roughly the same ways.
So, a lot of the opportunity to find competitive advantage is on the mental side and both organizations were very sophisticated in the technological tools they had available. They could turn video from the morning’s practice round in a few hours so players could watch key examples of success and struggle before the afternoon’s practice.
The federation could toggle between drone footage and ground footage of the same training. Coaches could spot something tactical from a view high above the field and then say: “let’s look at his body position” and, click, they’d see the exact moment from a ground-level camera.
This reminded me of something obvious though. Good organizations use video both to learn (what’s happening in our training and how effective is it?) and to teach (Johnny, look at your body position here. what do you notice?).
One key suggestion I’d have for them comes from my own experience running a video-based organization: design separate meetings to study video for teaching and learning purposes.
On my Teach Like A Champion team, for example, we have one weekly meeting where our goal is solely to watch videos of teachers and classrooms and learn from them. Team members bring moments they thought were fascinating, interesting, confusing, etc. and we watch and study them. The vibe in the room—and the way the discussion is structured—is open-ended.
We then have another meeting where we take clips that we think are useful and discuss how to use them to help people grow. That is, we cut a clip of a teacher doing “X” at the first meeting because we think it’s great. In the second meeting, we might discuss;
Where are the pause points where you’d stop the video to maximize the discussion?
What are the questions you’d ask participants to think about as they watch?
What onscreen enhancements (a light circle, say, or a phrase) would help?
What videos might you pair it with to enrich the analysis?
What practice activities might come after it to help participants learn to do what they saw?
This conversation is more focused and practical. The goal is to unlock value strategically.
I think sports organizations might think about that distinction in their meetings and specifically spending more time on the latter, on turning the potential knowledge in a video into knowledge in the minds of the athletes they show it to.
Because the other thing I noticed was that the video these organizations had was great but I’m not sure the learning for players was.
If a coach stands at the front of the room, rolls a video, and says: ‘Ok, guys, this is what it looks like. See A? See B? See C? That’s what we’ve gotta do,” I think the chances of behavior change and learning among the athletes is fairly low.
Even the answer to the question, “See A? See B?” even though the question is largely rhetorical is quite possibly “no.” The coach has at this point seen the video four or five times, perhaps, and knows it like the back of his hand. The payers are seeing it for the first time.
As the coach fires off the positional or technical guidance—”make sure your body is aligned here”—players are often just orienting themselves. Is that us or the opposition? Am I out there? What formation is this? And the coach’s eyes know exactly where in the video the “signal” is but players will find it less quickly and may lock in on it a fraction of a second after the key event occurs.
And, video is rich. So working memory is quickly overloaded by a ton of visual data coming in very quickly, bang bang bang. It’s important to guide attention to the right topics. Consider also that in both organizations players weren’t writing anything down when they watched, never mind how they wrote things down and where.
There’s loads of new information coming at athletes in a typical video session and no way to remember it except transferring in the moment, from working memory to long-term. With tools to aid memory, they’d be lucky to remember two things from the session.
In light of that, I put together some rules of thumb for video study with athletes
- Play the video more than once. Show it once to let athletes get the big picture. Then go back and study the details. Or just let them watch it twice to see twice as much. The whole point of video is to develop a perceptive understanding of the game. Its primary benefit over live experiences is that you can show it then study it or reshow it if you missed it or only saw part of it and then show it again.
- Have a clear inquiry question to guide attention. There are 50 stories in any video. players could be paying attention to anything. Guide their eyes before hand to the stimulus you want them to see or guide their attention to what you want them to think about.
- Pause, and plan your stopping points precisely. The other big benefit of video is that you can pause it. This allows you to slow down visual perception and study visual cues but too few coaches do this. They roll right through. Most videos in my opinion should be paused at least once. “What do you see?” Is a great question as it build players perception (and your understanding of what they perceive). But what they’re looking at in the moment of the pause is critical. You should know where you’ll freeze the video down to a second (or less) before you start playing it.
- Think about pausing multiple times. Working memory is quickly overloaded. Let players work slowly. Give them time to process via frequent pauses.
- Have players take notes. Thinking is not learning. For it to become learning it has to be entered into memory. Writing down that you see and want to remember is one of the most important things you can do to turn “aha” in the video room into “oh yeah” on the court or field.