Inside the Mind: Why Video is Crucial for Coaches

Psychologists explain why video should be a cen­tral part of your review process.

Inside the Mind: Why Video is Crucial for Coaches

Psychologists explain why video should be a cen­tral part of your review process.

Basically, we’re not great at being objective.”

This is the way Brett Haskell, an ath­let­ic psy­chol­o­gist at the University of Nebraska, describes the human brain’s abil­i­ty to recall spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions, and the sen­ti­ment is espe­cial­ly true in sports. Thanks to bias­es, stress, fatigue and the pres­sure of the moment, most ath­letes and coach­es remem­ber things dif­fer­ent­ly from how they actu­al­ly transpired.

This is pre­cise­ly why video review is so impor­tant. Video restores our brains with some of the objec­tiv­i­ty lost in the heat of bat­tle. As Texas head coach Shaka Smart told Hudl, The tape don’t lie.”

So how exact­ly does a film ses­sion get our brains back on the right track, and how can you relay that infor­ma­tion to ath­letes? We talked with Haskell and fel­low Nebraska psy­chol­o­gist Brett Woods to find out.

Overcoming Personal Bias

Try as we might to remain objec­tive, our emo­tions sim­ply don’t allow it. The way we think and feel in the moment affects our abil­i­ty to accu­rate­ly recall it later.

Our emo­tions can some­times over­ride our pre­frontal cor­tex, which is respon­si­ble for eval­u­at­ing per­for­mances, more of the logis­tics of eval­u­a­tion,” Woods said. That can col­or your per­cep­tion of the event and your mem­o­ry, your recall is more shad­ed by your emo­tion­al eval­u­a­tion of the per­for­mance rather than the actu­al event that took place.”

Our mem­o­ries are also fight­ing attri­bu­tion bias — we devel­op an idea of how things are hap­pen­ing and inter­pret infor­ma­tion through that lens. For exam­ple, if a point guard com­mits a few turnovers in the open­ing min­utes that lead to fast breaks, a coach might car­ry that mem­o­ry through­out the con­test and think the play­er had a poor game, regard­less of whether said play­er end­ed up with just a cou­ple of mis­cues or a pletho­ra of assists.

I devel­op a hypoth­e­sis and then I look for only the infor­ma­tion that con­firms my hypoth­e­sis,” Haskell said. If my hypoth­e­sis is that my team is play­ing ter­ri­ble, I hone in on their mis­takes and neglect the infor­ma­tion that con­tra­dicts that hypoth­e­sis and tells me they’re actu­al­ly play­ing OK. In sit­u­a­tions where there is heavy emo­tion in the moment, that impacts that bias even more.”

This is where video can help. The abil­i­ty to go back and view the game allows coach­es to rewatch it in a new light. Let’s return to the above exam­ple — that coach could cre­ate a playlist of that player’s assists and turnovers to make an accu­rate opin­ion on his play. And by rewatch­ing the turnovers, he could dis­cern whether the turnovers were his guard’s fault or due to mis­takes made by oth­er players.

Greg Eaton, the video coor­di­na­tor for the Nebraska men’s bas­ket­ball team, con­stant­ly stress­es this point to coach Tim Miles, urg­ing him to check the video before mak­ing final assessments. 

A box score accus­es, the film pro­vides evi­dence,” Eaton said. You had four turnovers, the kid can say I was pres­sured.’ The video proves you made three bad passes.”

Stats come in handy here as well. Though sta­tis­tics can be inter­pret­ed in dif­fer­ent ways, they rep­re­sent con­crete infor­ma­tion that lays out what hap­pened. Statistical reports can con­vey trends or pat­terns that you missed dur­ing the heat of the action.

stats screen

By check­ing out his point guard’s assist/​turnover ratio, our coach would be able to form an unbi­ased opin­ion on his player’s performance.

Combining these num­bers with video paints an accu­rate recap of the game, not the emo­tion-influ­enced ver­sion our mind remembers.

Translating Information to Athletes

Once you have a bias-free account of the con­test, it’s time to trans­fer that infor­ma­tion to your play­ers. Athletes expe­ri­ence the same attri­bu­tion bias that coach­es (and for that mat­ter, fans) do, so teach­ing through video is crit­i­cal, and the soon­er the better.

The clos­er to the event that you’re watch­ing the feed­back, the more effec­tive it will be,” Woods said. For instance, if you have an event on a Monday and you’re review­ing that video a week from then, your abil­i­ty to retain that infor­ma­tion and use it effec­tive­ly is dimin­ished because of the length between your actu­al per­for­mance and when you’re watch­ing it.”

Not only is review­ing video good for your brain, but sci­ence shows it helps phys­i­cal­ly as well. The psy­choneu­ro­mus­cu­lar the­o­ry hypoth­e­sizes that ath­letes can actu­al­ly improve per­for­mance by see­ing video of them­selves or others. 

Basically when you imag­ine your­self doing things, through video or through your mind, the hypoth­e­sis is that it acti­vates neur­al path­ways in the same way as when you’re phys­i­cal­ly exe­cut­ing the skill,” Haskell said. To a less­er degree, you’re get­ting phys­i­cal rep­e­ti­tions through your ner­vous sys­tem even though you’re not actu­al­ly exe­cut­ing the movement.”

It’s not just the psy­chol­o­gists and sci­en­tists that have bought into video — the elite ath­letes are ful­ly invest­ed as well. USA Basketball assis­tant direc­tor BJ Johnson said play­ers such as LeBron James and Chris Paul devour video, study­ing their games to try and uncov­er any ten­den­cies or weaknesses.

Don’t just think you can go out and work on skills for a few hours,” Johnson said. These guys spend hours, not only on the court work­ing on their skills but also the men­tal part of it, which is through watch­ing video. Dive into under­stand­ing how impor­tant it is to watch video and to watch games of your­self and oth­er play­ers. That’s real­ly a key part of the devel­op­ment of a bas­ket­ball play­er — under­stand­ing your ten­den­cies and what you need to work on, but also pick­ing up things from oth­er players. 

Understanding offens­es and under­stand­ing sit­u­a­tions — that can only be done by study­ing the game and watch­ing video.”

Avoiding Overload

The top minds in both the ath­let­ic and sci­en­tif­ic fields agree on the impor­tance of video. But there’s an impor­tant fac­tor for coach­es to remem­ber — like most things in life, too much of a good thing can become problematic.

This is why Maryland coach Mark Turgeon will watch six to eight hours of video in scout­ing each oppo­nent but will typ­i­cal­ly show his play­ers just 12 min­utes. Overloading their minds with infor­ma­tion can lead to dimin­ished performance.

From a coach’s per­spec­tive, it’s impor­tant to know your ath­letes and how to give your ath­letes feed­back,” Woods said. At this lev­el with elite ath­letes, you have ath­letes who are over­an­a­lyz­ing every sin­gle lit­tle detail. Based on the coach’s feed­back, the ath­lete can get too much into their head, which can be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to them per­form­ing. It’s crit­i­cal for the coach­es to know how to deliv­er the feed­back while watch­ing as well.”

Because of this, Turgeon typ­i­cal­ly doesn’t like play­ers watch­ing much video on their own until they become sea­soned vet­er­ans. It’s impor­tant to mon­i­tor not only how much video your play­ers are watch­ing, but also the insights they’re gain­ing. You need to con­vey a spe­cif­ic mes­sage dur­ing each video session.

You have to have a real sense of pur­pose when you go into video review,” Haskell said. You don’t want to get stuck in that over-analy­sis or paral­y­sis by analy­sis that ath­letes will some­times get into.

Athletes need a lot of instruc­tion on how to effec­tive­ly review film so they don’t get caught in some of those think­ing traps.”

Our under­stand­ing of video, recall and how our brains absorb infor­ma­tion is still evolv­ing and new dis­cov­er­ies are con­tin­u­ing to be made. But this much is clear — we can’t always recall an objec­tive mem­o­ry of an event, but video helps put togeth­er the pieces we might be miss­ing.