Take The Three meets … Sir Clive Woodward – Part 2: Technology in Sport

In the second half of our interview with Sir Clive Woodward, Take The Three chatted to the Rugby World Cup-winning coach about technology in sport. During his England tenure Clive was a pioneer in bringing technology into the training set-up and has since designed and developed a software tool & synchronised app – Hive – based on his coaching philosophy. Developed in partnership with Blenheim Chalcot, the app is a digital workspace that helps coaches, their staff, and their athletes, build know-how on and off the field to help individuals perform at their best when it counts. From capturing sessions to reflecting on performance, Hive aims to help individuals and teams consistently improve from week to week, building momentum to reach both personal and team’s goals. For more info see www.hivelearning.com.


Take The Three: Can you give us an example of technology giving you an advantage over a competitor?

Sir Clive Woodward: When we were first starting out there was a bit of software called ProZone. What it is fundamentally is six incredibly sophisticated cameras, huge things, that we bolted around Twickenham stadium. I first saw it at Arsenal football club – Arsene Wenger was the first person to put it in and I was the second at Twickenham – it was a big investment, around £1million.

When the players ran around the pitch, the cameras picked up the individual features of every single one of the players and when you can see that amount of detail rather than seeing the players just as dots, you see the game in a completely different way. The key thing though was the data we got from this; data on every single player – who’s running fastest, who running slowest, if someone’s lagging. In fact when I first showed this to the England team, there was complete silence in the room – this was not a good bit of software as there was nowhere to hide! But we were also getting data from every other team that came to Twickenham. No one knew we had this amazing data on all the other teams that we would never usually beat – the All Blacks, Australia, etc. When you see all these dots and data it blew away all the myths about what was going on.

TTT: How did you implement the use of technology by the players themselves?

SCW: The biggest thing in the England set-up when I was in charge was that if you wanted to stay in the team, you had to learn IT skills. This wasn’t negotiable. I have a simple saying from my Xerox background that ‘whoever wins in IT tends to win’ and sport is no different. I don’t mean that become the best player by being good at IT but what it does is leverage your talent.

The players became computer literate meaning they’d analyse their own performances and the team’s performances. They’d come back and present back to me and their knowledge of the game went through the roof because they started to really study the game. They started to really question things; “Why did we do this, why did we do that?” Hence you start to get huge trust and collaboration across the team as the players themselves are talking amongst themselves about decisions. It even got quite tasty at times but that’s what you want. Without technology we wouldn’t have been able to do that but the players using it themselves made the difference – that was the importance – everyone across the team had to be able to use it.

TTT: Who was the worst non-adopter of new technology?

SCW: I wouldn’t want to name specific players – Every individual is different; some guys you can give loads of info to and they have the skills to take it all on board, whereas some had barely even heard of a laptop, let alone used one!

There’s no set formula for this; it’s just a case of getting each player to understand why we are doing this – we’re not doing this to be flash or smart, the reason is to make you a better player. Everywhere around the world we went we used to have sessions every day, bringing the best trainers in and drip feeding.

You made it clear though that this was non-negotiable. One or two players even thought this was complete nonsense and they eventually had to go. Individually it may take more time to get certain people up to speed but the fundamental is to make it clear why they’re doing it. Once they know that, I’ve never had a problem with it.

TTT: Can too much technology be dangerous?

SCW: What you have to avoid with data is overloading. It happened with the England cricket team. I remember watching a press conference after England had lost, and the coach was asked a straight-forward question and his response was that he needed to check the data first before answering. This was immediately jumped on by the press and I think this is because as a coach you still need to use your own interpretation as well as looking at the data.

Nowadays the players all have a chip in the back of their shirts which provides live physiological data like who’s running further and who’s tiring, etc. But it can be a little dangerous because substitutions can be made based on data as opposed to using your eyes. So the data is all very well but as a coach I think you should still be making choices based on what you see. Data should be used to reinforce this, rather than it all coming from a sports scientist.

Ultimately the game is played on the pitch, so the key thing is getting the players to think for themselves. Getting them involved and understanding the technology can help them make the right decisions on the pitch.


TTT: Where’s the line between objective information v subjectivity coming into decision making?

SCW: If we come back to the example of Prozone, it was interesting when the players would analyse their own performance and they weren’t the ones coming back with data, they were more focused on why they had made particular decisions. When you’re looking down at the pitch and you can see the space but you missed it during the game and ran into a bunch of opposition players instead and got smashed, you start questioning your reasons behind specific decisions. Different players would have different subjective reasons for things and it throws up a debate which is all part of the learning process. So when we did debriefs – this is very much analysis – we tried to create that debate and question why we did things to improve it. My analogy for coaching is “what, why, how,.” So what did we do and why did we do it? If the ‘why’ is correct, how could we do it better? And if the ‘why’ is the wrong thing, how do we then practice it so we don’t do it again? Learning and improving is massive in business and in sport. Learning is not going on a course and getting a tick in a box – it should be every single day. Every match you should be adding new data and hence the book analogy but it’s about getting every one engaged and gathering the collective ideas, whether those are from the veterans or the 18 year old who’s fresh in the room.

Sir Clive Woodward was speaking at an event focusing on teamwork, hosted by Sharp Business Systems.




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