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The eyes of the spy

The eyes of the spy

Since the end of the Cold War the time of “Spies” has long passed, however in the sporting world spying is becoming more important. They are scouts; people that try to analyze an opponents game to get an advantage and hopefully the key to victory. This task is performed in the Spanish Women’s Basketball Team by Susana García and Roberto Hernández. They explain in this article a little more about value of this work.

In a professional world where attention to detail is as important as knowing who you are, knowing your strengths and protecting your flaws, it is just as important to know your opponent’s abilities. This is the responsibility of Susana Garcia and Roberto Hernandez as technical assistants to the national coach of the Spanish Women’s Basketball Team. Together under the supervision of José Ignacio Hernandez, they must find the key to defeating the opposition.

Susana makes the individual scouting of the best players, while Roberto analyzes the opposition’s tactics. When we talk about analyzing the opponents Roberto is clear that "the first thing is to synthesize the information before offering it to a player, as it should not be saturated with all the information coaches are seeing". The excess information could lead to misinformation amongst the players.

Therefore the presentation must be clear and concise to show the key points of each team. The last step is the video session where the coaches show the players the way to beat the opposition, but before this point there are many hours of work. "Everyone has their own way of working; like many people, I make a quick review of the match to take notes of offensive and defensive aspects, and then analyze the attack and defense systems. Then we select the pieces of the videos with the most important actions that show the characteristics of each player and the team," says Roberto.

This methodology also applies to finding out who is who in each team and how they play. "Usually, to make an individual scouting I see all the possible videos looking for the player’s traits. For example, if I have 20 videos and in 15 of them the player is dribbling with the left I know that this is his good hand. After of that I select two videos to show to the players "said Susana.

For her, the key word is traits as she prefers to look at trends, rather than virtues or defects. "It's important to find the players traits. For example, if I can define that one player always turns using her left shoulder or always goes for the bottom line that is very helpful to the player. Virtues or defects aren’t the way to play, but perhaps we could speak of virtues and determine ways to stop it," she says. Susana’s objective is to convey to the players how to make the opponent feel uncomfortable on the court and not play her usual game. Although as noted by Susana, at this level the quality of the players is very high, "there are many players who don’t have identifiable traits because they are able to do everything. They are very competent players, dribbling with both hands, throw three point shot after dribbling and after a block, play one on one on the left and the right sides." So then, what do you say? "Nothing, they must be concentrating the whole game, and try to modify their shots or have the ball in their hands for the shortest time as possible," says Susana.

From the global to the concrete

Selección Española Femenina de BaloncestoThe scouting work is so complex that it needs to be done by two people and it can be as long as the level of detail required. They try to collect the as much information as possible and then present it to the players as specific information that allows the concepts to be easily understood. "Each coach may prefer to make a different kind of montage, as not only would there be a scouting description about the actions on the court but also solutions to what they are seeing. It is so important to know your opponent and "know how to breakdown their systems," says Roberto.

A game of spying where technology has entered a new realm "we now work with a new program called Nacsport provided by the Federation, which is great and makes our work much easier," said Susana. The new generation software is as important as the traditional blackboard and gadgets and you can also add points. A myriad of details that can remove a certain romanticism to the always useful pen and paper and make the capacity for surprise less each time. Nevertheless, Roberto recognizes that there is something that never changes, and it’s the advantage of seeing a live game to do a higher quality analysis. "You always see interesting things watching the game live. It’s when you see the signals better. The feelings are best seen live than on video, and you can perceive things that are beyond the plane of TV such as reactions of the bench, the players and coaches. The first thing to do is watch the live game and then work on the video’. An idea shared Susana García.

For her to see the players live "is different because you see different things, on the court you see feelings, attitudes, marks; things that you do not see in the video. However, the video lets you see other things, because you can go back and forth, you can see the game several times and make out different things." For the individual scout it is so important to see how a player handles the ball as part of her psychology. "There are players who know that if they have a bad start to the game, they lose their confidence. On the other hand, we must be aware of players who score on their first shots and they become someone to keep an eye on "says Susana.

“Everyone knows everyone’, adds Roberto Hernández, and for this reason it is worth having an ace up your sleeve for a key moment in the tournament. "The teams reserve some of their tactics for the right moment and they try not to show them before hand. We learn more each day, as we are able to view the games of our opponents and gather as much information as possible, such as the systems they use, the name of the defenses, rotations etc. As the tournament goes on you the more you know".

This is a championship where the defense is out mastering the attack and at the tactical level it is showing some interesting things. "The teams are showing many plays of double side blocks. For example, the guard with the ball receives two consecutive blocks on the side. It's not a surprise move but it is curious. Since we started the work of the scouting it has been a constant in many teams," said Roberto Hernández. He also recalls the large number of pivots doing blocks on the high post on the guard.

For Susana, with many years of experience and an unimaginable database of players, it is a tournament without surprise at the individual level. "I know them well enough. At the individual level I have seen all of them, I have a database of more than 700 players," she says. With this "spying" little is left to chance.

Susana and Roberto use their knowledge to assist the players; however the players of the Spanish Basketball Women's National Team also do a lot themselves. They listen carefully to all the instructions given on the court and in the video sessions. They watch live matches and videos in their rooms of the other teams to allow them to make their own conclusions. This is a basic task for concept assimilation. "If the players have a good level of concentration as ours do, they can easily apply their knowledge. If you tell a player 'this player starts on the left' you can see that the player is keeping an out for this action," says Susana.

Certainly, the attitude of the players helps them to understand the concepts easily. This is an important detail because usually there is not much time to work on the court and the scouting becomes basic. Our players are quite used to this dynamic, and usually they have a great capacity for assimilation." In the end, Roberto and Susana’s work is to communicate the concepts, but the players are the ones who have to use the knowledge to succeed.

Source: Spanish Basketball Federation (June 25, 2011)

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