A Friday Letter from Abbotstown: Preparing to meet the coach for the first time

The following is a guest piece from the Irish Performance Analysis Exchange and is written by Denise Martin. Denise is an experienced performance analyst and now lectures in Dublin on the subject.

Professor Keith Lyons recently facilitated the Performance Analysis #hackathon organised by Sport Ireland Institute at Abbotstown.  The PA community in Ireland is small and we are often guilty of working in silos in various sports. 
One of the platforms we thought we could use to address the need to share and communicate better was through a blog. Keith very kindly wrote the first one coining the idea of a Friday Letter from Abbotstown.  We hope to keep the momentum going and build a repository of ideas and content for the PA community in Ireland and beyond. 

Preparing to meet the coach for the first time

Sometimes the most nerve wrecking aspect of applied performance analysis support is preparing to meet the coach for that first discussion about that they are looking for.  The purpose of this post is to help provide a framework for early career analysts as they prepare for those initial meetings.

In advance of meeting the coach it is critical that you have considered or researched three key elements:

  1. Your capacity to deliver the support
  2. The background of the coach, the athlete / team, the competitive environment in which they operate
  3. Current best practice in PA within that sport

You do not necessarily need to share ANY of this information with the coach, in fact it’s probably best not to, however it should equip you with the knowledge and confidence to hold an intelligent and informed conversation.

Your Capacity to Deliver

My students in ITB are probably sick listening to me telling them to UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER.  It is very difficult to determine how what you can offer to a project if you have not done a realistic assessment of your own schedule and resources.

Anticipate and allow for travel time and the initial investment time required to establish robust coding and feedback templates.  It is important to also make time for ‘hanging around’. That is when you get to know people, build relationships and trust.


  • How much time can I dedicate to this project?         Consider time for planning, recording, coding and analysing, preparing and communicating feedback, maybe attending training.
  • Is it easy for me to get to the required venues logistically and financially?
  • What skills do I need to develop in order to deliver good quality support? This includes hard skills such as proficiency in using analysis software, excel, statistical packages and creating effective data visualisations, but also soft skills like listening, empathising, negotiating, reflecting and evaluating.

The background of the coach, the athlete / team, the competitive environment

Making an effort to understand the coach and the environment in which they operate ahead of a meeting should help you build rapport faster and hugely increase your ability to suggest appropriate support options.


  • Who is the coach? Understand their previous coaching / playing experience in the context of their current role. Consider their career choices and educational background as a guide to how they may best consume information.  Assess their experience with PA in order to pitch your discussions at an appropriate level.  If you can speak to someone who can give you and insight into their philosophy of play and practice.
  • Who are the athletes? Build a bio-psycho-social profile of the athlete/s, considering age, experience, maturity, level of dedication, ambition and the other elements of their lives such as work, study, family commitments.  This picture should help you pitch suggestions on PA support appropriately.
  • What is the competitive environment? Find out what competitive fixtures are on the horizon and how the athletes are expected to perform, estimate the level of ambition within the set up.  Research historical results and read up on any changes in personnel, funding allocations, competitive structures, rule changes etc.  Identify the top performers in the competition and consider the potential to benchmark from their performances (WITTW).

Current best practice in PA within that sport

Picture: British Judo predict What It Takes To Win medals in Tokyo 2020. http://www.britishjudo.org.uk/gb-u23-junior-programme/

It can be intimidating going to meet a coach in a sport you are not familiar or comfortable with.  Lack of sport specific knowledge may be a handicap initially but fresh eyes into a sport can also be enlightening.  It often affords you the leeway to ask the stupid questions which challenge the way things are done.

It is critically important to learn the ‘language’ of the sport as soon as possible (for example, rugby does not have rules). There are many potential resources available to help you figure out what, why and how performance is analysed in the sport and benchmark #WITTW. Remember the best resource will be your coach and athletes – question, listen and learn when the time comes.


  • What is the consensus in academic literature on which PA within that sport?  Consider which variables are analysed, what definitions are used, if any studies have actually linked particular performance indicators to success.  Look for benchmark numbers (profiles, WITTW) which may be relevant to compare your data with later.  Explore the methods which are commonly used in that sport for analysing performance and providing.
  • Does the governing body offer any guidance on analysis methods within the sport?
  • What are the ‘hot topics’ within the sport in the analysis area?     Search media stories and blogs so you are aware of the latest ideas in this area, particularly in data visualisation.

Meeting the Coach

Coaches are busy people.  It is ideal to meet the coach away from the training environment where you can sit and talk in peace.  If this is not possible, ask the coach to give you 20mins after training or at some point where you should not be interrupted.

Resist the temptation to be a sales rep for PA and all it can do.

Ask questions then listen, listen and listen more.

Good luck with those meeting – remember preparation is key.






Rob Carroll. Founder of The Video Analyst.com Performance Analyst. Always learning.