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Vinny Hammond, IRFU High Performance Analyst

Interview: Vinny Hammond
Position: IRFU High Performance Analyst

What degree/masters did you do? How did you become a video/performance analyst?
When I left school I studied for a BSc. in Sports Management in UCD. The new Health and Performance Science degree in UCD seems like a brilliant course and if I was coming from school now that would be my course of choice. When I was playing rugby at UCD, the Director of Rugby, John McClean, asked if I would be interested in using the new Dartfish analysis system which he had just bought for the club. This was my first involvement with computerised match analysis and I enjoyed compiling match reviews and player profiles of my own team mates and became the analyst for UCD Rugby. I then studied for a MSc. in the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (now Cardiff Metropolitan University). This gives any student an excellent grounding in performance analysis across a wide range of sports, using the most up to date and advanced software packages in the world. UWIC allowed me to create a network of friends in the performance analysis world which is great for problem solving and keeping up to date with progressions in other sports. UWIC remains the centre of performance analysis in the northern hemisphere.
What does your role involve? What are your day to day / week to week responsibilities?
I worked in the IRB for some time when I returned from Cardiff, working on Super Rugby games and ITM and Vodacom Cup matches. This role was more focussed on generating statistical reports of teams to map trends in the modern game, particularly the ELV (Experimental Law Variations) introductions.

Now, working with the IRFU as High Performance Analyst, my role is more varied. During the international window, I work mainly with the Under 20 Six Nations squad. Post match, we work on code the game with SportsCode and look at each individual’s contribution. On a match week, we review the previous game on a Monday morning, preview the unit performances on Tuesday (lineout, scrum, backline attack), then preview the opposition as a whole on a Tuesday evening before our defence session. Wednesday is a down day for the players, however we spend this time making our initial preparations for the following weeks game. Thursday is the final preparation day, when we review the referees previous performances and I will present these to the players before we go for our captains run. This is a critical presentation as rugby referees have certain traits which players must be aware of, such as their speed of scrum engagement calling or their interpretation of the breakdown. Outside of the international window, my role is to monitor our High Performance Players throughout their season, looking at our players who will be available for RWC 2015 and 2019 who may currently be playing in the Provincial reserve team or even schoolboy rugby. I also control the analysis of the various Ireland Age Grade teams and provide support to the senior team.
Who does your role interact with?
As an analyst, I interact with both players and coaches. Information is provided to the players in a group, one on one, or in small units. Although a lot of time may be spent analysing the previous performance, one of the challenges is presenting this information in an appropriate manner, as, from experience, many player’s concentration levels do not allow for any more than 20 minutes of meetings. Providing information to the coaches is a different challenge, as the information is generally for their specific role, such as a backs coach. For this, I will prepare an overview of a teams attacking strategies which I will present to the coach, who will select what he feels are the key aspects of the attack. The video will then be presented back to the players and may be 10% of the original report prepared for the coach. The role also interacts with the medical department, in catagorising injuries across the season and looking at some predictive metrics which may influence future players. We also use GPS data (for tracking movement patterns and levels of physical exertion) which we match up with the individual game data to investigate various correlations between work rate, distance and power outputs combined with the coded data and statistical reports from the players performance. Finally, the analyst must always be aware of what is happening in other industries which effect performance analysis, such as Audio Visual developments (Cameras / Mics etc.) and IT systems. For example, the advent of the iPad had an effect of on field coaching using video.
What skills are needed to be a performance analyst?
There is a significant difference between a video technician and a performance analyst. At a basic level of computer knowledge anyone can chop video and make movies for coaches or players. To add value to a coaching team in a team sport in particular, I believe a performance analyst must have an in depth appreciation of the sport and its tactics. With our national team we have analysts who have either been players or coaches at a high level of competition which adds weight to their observations. The analyst must also be able to assimilate large quantities of data and make presentable reports to the coaches and players while understanding the sport itself. Dealing with a variety of personalities in any squad is also a great challenge and a performance analyst should know the best way of imparting information to each member of the team. Some players may like to watch endless hours of video, some coaches may like statistical spreadsheets and some may like a three minute summary of all this information on their iPhone. Therefore good interpersonal skills are essential when working in a team of thirty people in a pressurised environment.
What do you find satisfying/fulfilling about your role?
Winning! But apart from that, I think it is great to see players come through the development pathway from schools rugby through to international rugby. It’s also a real reward when something specific which was worked on all week at training, comes off in critical moment in the game.
Why would you recommend a Performance Analyst as a career path?
For me, it is a really rewarding job for anyone passionate about sports. The area of work is relatively young and really dynamic, as ten years ago video analysis was effectively in it’s infancy. Working with fantastic Irish players and the variety in personalities in any squad is a great challenge and something that I really enjoy. I have also been lucky to work with some world leading coaches, which I constantly learn from.