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Football video analysis can succeed where memory fails

Can football video analysis find the gorilla?

Everyone relies on their memory. Memory is how we conduct our day-to-day activities, and how pretty much everything we do works. We are aware of this, too. One of the great thrillers of the last 25 years was Christopher Nolan’s Memento, about a man with no short term memory. Memory is the most reliable thing we have. Except it isn’t, really.

The problem with memory

Recent studies have shown a large variety of fascinating issues with memory. Much has been written about fake childhood memories; researchers have been able to convince people to recollect things that never happened to them, making Inception much more realistic than any of us would like it to be. Most people's memories of their childhood are fake to one degree or another.

But there is an additional complication that makes this relevant to the field of football. It is not just memories of childhoods that get altered. It is best exemplified by this video, which you have probably seen:

Many people don’t see it. Human brains are wired to read only a small amount of information and fill the rest in, because in the vast majority of cases, when it is wrong, it’s not harmful. It doesn’t matter what color the rose bushes are when you jog, because the color of the rose bushes has nothing to do with jogging. Your brain doesn’t care. It doesn’t bother to remember.

Football players and memory

All of this applies to football, right down to “people focusing on a ball will literally miss a gorilla walking in front of them”. 1600 events happen in a game of football, and the players are focused on the ball and on winning. There are strategies that have been used for years to compensate for this. Positions may not seem like a mnemonic device, but part of the reason they exist is so that a player can focus on their own position and not have to worry about what others are doing to the same extent.

Additionally, distorted memories can lead a player to think they were somewhere they weren’t, nearer or farther away from the goal than they were. This means that, without guidance, a player could draw the wrong conclusions from a game. When we interviewed Uri Uzan, who coached and played football during a very long and successful professional career, he said “I still remember the first game I played after I came back from an ACL injury. I thought I gave an amazing performance, but when I watched the video, I was horrified.” Even coaches could be uncertain about a specific detail when so many things happen in a game that they need to be aware of.

Where football video analysis comes into play

The image “data analytics” brings to mind is of looking up exact numbers and finding some mind blowing method of improving play based on them, but Football Video Analysis is not just based on that. It also lets a player or coach operate without the downsides of relying on memory. A coach who remembers a player was in midfield when the player wasn’t will see it marked clearly, not just on video, but with the numbers to prove it. A player could focus their memory on a specific event and forget the small things they did right before it that made it happen.” Training that doesn’t include video analysis will often be based on faulty memories.

It isn’t just a matter of getting footage of the game. Proper video analysis is all about finding the individual moments, so that a player who thinks they dribbled a lot can be shown the exact amount they did, and how long for, and whether or not it helped them avoid getting intercepted. Uri Uzan agreed with this idea when we spoke with him, and he said “when you give [players] access to actual data and video [...] this is really eye-opening for them”, and recounted a story about a player’s dribbles. The specific information that video analysis finds is powerful and invaluable to everyone on the pitch.

The data revolution can end reliance on memory

Video analysis is a vital tool in training. For a long time, it has only been available to the most elite clubs. With the incredible strides made in automation, it is now available to many leagues, and more and more clubs can use powerful individualized data to help overcome memory’s flaws.

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