Live streaming app gives IRFU and FA coaches a real-time edge during games

In the unforgiving world of coaching, the live streaming of video content to mobile devices is changing the face of video analysis by giving coaches and analysts in the fields of rugby and football a competitive edge, making them more mobile, nimble and responsive whether the teams are playing on home ground or abroad.

First out of the gate was the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which started using a live streaming and mobile tagging application called myplayXplay (‘my-play-by-play’) for live game analysis during the 2013 Guinness Series and the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship, to circumvent the challenges presented by more conventional broadcast-based video solutions.

MyplayXplay is housed in a plug-and-play rugged road case that takes live-streaming video from games as they are being played and sends it to mobile devices over WiFi, using HLS H.264 encoding, so that coaches and their teams can analyse game developments in real-time.

The prospect of not being tied down to the traditional broadcast infrastructure and Ethernet connections connecting key video points across the venue to the broadcast truck and to the pitch was one of the reasons that made a mobile streaming app an attractive alternative for the IRFU.

Previously, the technology required to support live game analysis included Macbook Pros, Blackmagic encoders and SDI converters, according to Vinny Hammond, high performance analyst at the IRFU, who outlined that this was neither cost effective nor replicable whilst abroad. “With traditional broadcast equipment, you can’t cart all of that equipment around every time you go to a different stadium. It means that on the other side, coaches get a lesser coaching box experience,” said Hammond.

“When we first encountered this technology in 2013, myplayXplay was addressing an area where we were having difficulty. When we set up on match day the coach is usually emotional, there’s a lot of adrenaline going around and then we have all this equipment and it’s not performing the way we want it to. We took a leap of faith and jumped straight in, dropping myplayXplay into a live environment during the November Series of 2013 when we played Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. The pressure was on, it had to work and it did!”

A unique feature of rugby is that fibre runs right to the coach box, delivering four contractually agreed HD SDI broadcast feeds for every game. The myplayXplay kit sits alongside the coaches, with additional aerials placed across the venue that create a WiFi network to cover the space all the way down to the pitch side. The myplayXplay video streaming solution provides the coaches with a tailored live feed and makes them independent from each other, allowing four different coaches to watch four different moments in the game.

“This technology lets key users move around the venue and talk about the video as the live performance takes place, explained Ivan Reel, CTO of myplayXplay. “All eyes are on the field. If something happens, eyes drop to the app, where video can be replayed and tagged on an iPad or even on a phone located in an arm band.”

The compression hits a happy medium between wirelessly distributing content across the venue and high quality HD, according to Reel. “It’s a huge leap forward in terms of how many users we can have online at any given time and how we can stylise the video to suit a specific user using the replay function, whether it’s an analyst, coach, player or doctor reviewing the content. When dealing with HD-SDI video or fibre video, it’s going to a dumb monitor so control remains at source whereas with streaming tech and wireless, the control sits with the user.”

Better coaching experience

Ease of use was a huge requirement for Hammond: “These top end coaches have no patience when it comes to complicated technology. As an analyst, you don’t want to be the guy that has muddied the water in the coaching box, it’s got to be precise. The idea was to get them what they need in terms of making them a better coach. The answer is: a simpler approach in how we review video.”

Another advantage of streaming technology over more traditional timeline-based broadcast products is that users don’t have to cut and edit video under pressure, they can just place a marker at a point in time and refer back to it.

“Before this, we were cutting live video with ineffective software, trying to generate stats, and push those back to the coach in real time. The process was both labour and hardware intensive. Our coaches don’t coach by numbers,” said Hammond.

“Now that the video is coming up in HD on an iPad screen, it’s easily tagged and completely portable. Anything we tag is also loaded to other people’s devices during the game, while each person can focus the content that’s of interest, be it scrum or instant replay.

“At half time, we can bring video into the changing room to show players specific clips, maybe three segments of 8 seconds each. This is an environment where guys’ heart rates are peaking at 95% of their max at times — trying to get that information through to them is crucial.”

The IRFU now uses myplayXplay for all its games, both home and away and has expanded its use to head injury assessment. The ability to replicate a home set-up at an away game is priceless. “Statistically, away records are shocking, so we try to do everything we can to make it feel like we’re not away from home.”

The FA gets in on the game

Most recently, the Football Association (FA) has confirmed that it is planning to implement myplayXplay throughout its men’s and women’s structure as an analysis tool to support training at St George’s Park, the English Football Association’s national football centre, as well as for certain games. The FA has already trialled the streaming technology around the UEFA 2016 football championship.

Rhys Long, head of performance analysis and insight at the FA Group, explained that streaming video would bring great benefits to the football training sessions. “You want the flow of training to be maintained, especially in terms of international sport where you get a limited amount of time with players,” he said. “Training only lasts 40 minutes to an hour, so every session counts in terms of making sure that you can extrapolate data, that you don’t have to interrupt sessions to convey thoughts back to a coach or player.”

He concluded: “MyplayXplay is one of the only solutions that’s portable enough to take anywhere in the world and that’s able to influence directly on a training session without halting it or pulling players off the pitch. Technology has to complement your environment rather than detract from it.”

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