Department for Health

Researcher pitches concerns over hyper surveillance at Six Nations conference in Italy

Wed Jun 21 14:04:00 BST 2017

Shaun Williams speaking at the Six Nations Coaching Conference

— Shaun Williams speaking at the Six Nations Coaching Conference.


Shaun Williams has been speaking about the implications of endless monitoring and evaluation on learning environments, decision making and well-being and how these factors ultimately corresponded to detreating performance levels in elite rugby union.

The Six Nations Coaching Conference is the pinnacle rugby coaching event that occurs every year after the competition where 36 High Performance Coaches, six each from England, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and France meet for four days to review the game. This cross cultural sharing of coaching ideas raises the coaching bar acting as a forum for research and future development of the game.

The 13th Six Nations Coaching Conference took place over four days in May 2017 and was hosted in Parma, Italy. The focus this year was on High Performance Coaching as a Technocratic Activity or a Learning Process. The shaping of the title and indeed the event stems back to research conducted that explored the changing role of coaching giving the rise in ‘Big Data’ and technology in elite sport.

The role of coaching in a ‘Big Data’ world

Shaun Williams from our Department for Health was speaking at the conference, integrating data from an extended research project highlighting the challenges in the over-reliance of surveillance technologies in elite level rugby.

At the conference, Shaun was able to share the implications of his research with coaches. He argued that player performance is becoming blindly optimised, while little is known about the effects of endless evaluation and monitoring of players.

There are likely repercussions of elite coaches becoming servants to measurement and Shaun also provided examples of the positive role technology can have when it connected players and coaches in a manner that improved performance.

Speaking at the conference, Shaun said: “The art of coaching is in danger of being lost in the high tech, big data world. Elite players are ‘playing for the stats’ through inhaling the daily recipe of limitless performance indicators. This ‘systematic soldiering’ is suppressing player learning as players struggle with expressing their authentic selves on the field of play. This organisational control is extended so that performance becomes algorithmically crunched into Work Efficiency Indexes that determine contractual arrangements moving forward.”