Full-time job: making video analysis for referees

“When I watched and analysed a game of Bjorn Kuipers, I am exhausted”, says John Balvers, he is making video analysis for referees in The Netherlands. It’s his full time job, almost 24-7. Competition weekends last from Friday to Monday. And if there’s no international football there are some cup games. “There is always football, so always a referee to analyse.” During the European Championships in France he has a special role: helping Bjorn Kuipers analyse his game and the matches of the teams he’s going to officiate. “My goal is to prepare Team Kuipers to the best of my ability helping him reach the final.”

John Balvers making video analysis for referees

Preparation before the games

Balvers is a full-time video analyst for referees working for the KNVB, the Dutch football association. He helps all referees at the professional levels and this period he’s totally focused on the Euro 2016. He took his holidays right before the tournament started and tries to watch as many games as possible. “What I do is unique and doesn’t happen in many other countries, definitely not with a full-time video analyst specifically for referees.” Check video in Dutch made by KNVB about John Balvers.

Every day during Euro 2016 Balvers waits for the moment new match appointments are published by Uefa. Sunday morning Uefa announced that Kuipers will officiate the clash between Spain and Croatia for next Tuesday. “Bjorn will notify me as soon as possible”, says Balvers. “The sooner I know which game he’ll officiate, the more time I have to make a video analysis for referees. I’ll arrange with Bjorn what he needs for his preparation.” When officiating the Europa League semi-final between Sevilla and Sjachtar Donetsk, Balvers analysed their latest encounters in both European and national competitions.

In the preparation of Kuipers’ games Balvers is collaborating with Jaap Uilenberg, the coach of the Dutch referee and also an Uefa referee observer. “We’ve also selected the video clips for the refereeing training camp before the Euro’s together”, he says.

John Balvers' video lab.

The video analysis for referees

The analysis of Balvers is very comprehensive. He’s in his video lab at home and will watch all games and digitally types almost every detail of the game. If there’s a challenge, which player made a foul, who suffered the foul, where free kicks are, who take them, if corner kicks are swung in our out,  which players get the ball often. “With all those stats you recognize how a team plays tactically and builds-up their attack or defence”, says Balvers. “Players often react the same way. In the game against Sevilla the Shakhtar Donetsk players took their corner kicks with short pass to a team mate. As referee you need to be aware that players that things will happen  around the corner flag.” It gives the referee an idea where his focus (also) should be.

All the data Balvers creates will be added to a video database which can be searched through by the match officials. Because there’s lots of data, Kuipers and other Dutch referees, can check attacks from a specific team, challenges from or on a certain player. All easy accessible for them. “I also have data  about who’s on the receiving end of the fouls, so referees are able to check the reactions of players. It shows who has temper, so refs can anticipate on that by calming him down immediately.”

Live analysis during the game

During games of Dutch referees Balvers will be analysing the performance and decisions in real-time. “It’s easy to do it live with all the video streams I can watch”, says Balvers. “I can even watch all replays immediately. Every situation that is possibly interesting for Team Kuipers will be send to them during the first half. Short clips about ten to twelve seconds or freezing frames for the assistant referees with offside calls. So the refereeing team can see if they made the right decisions.”

Two years ago PSV attacker Luuk de Jong scored against Feyenoord, but replays showed he hold the shirt of defender Kongolo. “Kuipers went to Feyenoord captain Clasie during half-time and admitted his mistake and said sorry to him”, Balvers explains. “I send them all clips that seem interesting to me. Right or wrong decision. Kuipers really wants to know if he made a mistake. I don’t give my interepratation, I only send them the video clips. My opinion is not important.”

In the image below you can see all tags Balvers made during a game of the Spanish team against the Czech Republic. All yellow cards (gele kaarten), challenges (duels), offsides (buitenspel) are tagged and Kuipers can check certain types of situations (only left wing attacks or so).

Coding all match situation for Team Kuipers.

Clips on the iPhone

Sometimes Kuipers will even get more than ten clips. “It’s up to him if he wants to see them. He can easily access them on his iPhone or on an iPad in the dressing room.” See image below for clips on the mobile device.

After the second half the refereeing team get some clips as well. At big tournaments the complete analysis with detailed descriptions will be made. “Most of the time the analysis will be ready by the end of the day”, says Balvers. After Kuipers’ games during the World Cup in Brazil he had to fly over 3 hours to the home base for referees. “Then I tried to get everything ready before they stepped into the plane, so they can check everything in the airplane and are briefed when they land.” Balvers tries to work as fast as possible. He also helps referees during regular games in the national competitions, sends clips to Dutch referee boss Dick van Egmond or Uefa referee observer Jaap Uilenberg. Or to Danny Makkelie in the middle of the night during the u17 World Cup in Chile. “As soon as I hear their appointments I’ll start collecting data and clips.”

After the game it’s now even possible to add the communication of the referees via their headset to the video analysis. “With the headset info referees can improve the way they communicatie with each other.” That’s something that has improved the most in Team Kuipers during the last years together with Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra, his assistants.

Read interview with Bjorn Kuipers about progression his team made.

Video analysis on a mobile device.

Big library

All those analysed clips together form an interesting library for referees. “It’s accessible for everybody who’s involved in refereeing of professional football in The Netherlands.”

Via a new system called My Team Performance Exchange (MY TPE) it’s even possible that referees select the clips they want their team to study. “He can send them to his team members as match preparation and ask them for a comment on it.”

Watching games normally

“I can’t watch football normally anymore”, says Balvers. He is analysing everything. It was hard for Balvers watching the game between The Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In case the Dutch lost, Kuipers might officiate the Costa Ricans in a future round and Balvers was already doing his analysis on the games so it would be ready when the appointments were made. “It felt like the world collapsed”, he admits. “I am a huge fan of the Dutch national team, but I work during a big tournament for Team Kuipers. All I hoped for was them reaching the final. I’ll do everything during the European Championships to help them prepare the best way possible and I hope it helps them reaching the final.”

Read more from Euro 2016 referees

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