Video analysis is a popular tool for learning freestyle, but are you doing it right? If you just want a few clips for the gram, then this probably isn’t the article for you. If rapid progression is what you’re after, read on.
The first thing to consider when starting video analysis is the hardware. What kind of camera are you going to use? Personally, I love my GoPro. They’re versatile, easy-to-use cameras that can take a lot of abuse. Throw it in your gear bag, drop it on a rock; they’re fairly hardy. The more recent versions can capture footage at 240fps – more than you need to make insightful observations. Indeed, frame rate is probably the most important aspect of your camera setup. Freestyle happens really fast and the devil is in the detail. Being able to slow down movements is key.
Choosing GoPro means signing up for a wide-angle lens. While this can simplify camera positioning, it does distort the shot a bit. The subject will appear farther away, but this is only really an issue if the camera is a significant distance from the feature; closer than 6-7 metres and it’s fine. Will your lunar orbits look flat on a wide-angle lens? Maybe, but if they do, that’s because they are flat. That’s some tough love for you there now.
One significant drawback with GoPro is their limited performance in low-light conditions. If you’re paddling regularly at dawn/dusk, maybe consider alternatives. This might mean you have to compromise on things like versatility and ruggedness, but ultimately, it’s about understanding your own specific needs.
Once you have your hardware sorted, the next thing to consider is camera positioning. The best possible viewpoint is the one that yields the most information. This can change from one trick to another. Ask yourself, what exactly am I trying to evaluate on the film? Is it the verticality of my ends? Is it the straightness of my loop? Personally, I really like the angle shown below; upstream and above the centre of the hole. You’ll get tons of info from this perspective.
Indeed, video presents you with an inconceivable amount of data. Converting it into actionable learning points is the challenge. Using software that is fit for purpose is a good starting point. Frame-by-frame analysis is essential. I use Coach’s Eye. It’s a fairly simple package with a couple of key features. You can add annotations to the clip. It actually has a function for measuring angles; an all-important metric for freestyle. You can easily share footage with a third party if you want some coaching. Its most valuable asset, however, has to be the side-by-side analysis tool. Being able to compare two clips of the same move, in the same feature, from the same angle has proven to be invaluable in my own learning.
While capable software is desirable, it cannot do the heavy-lifting for you. You still have to engage with the footage in a meaningful way. So, how do you process it? This is a quick summary of the method I use:
Scrub through the entire session
Select a few of the best and worst examples of a move or sequence you want to improve. Try to do this quite quickly and without much thought.
This is where you slow clips down. Systematically go through each example you have selected and say what you see. This is not the time for judgement. Just describe each phase of the move you’re studying in as much detail as you can. Be precise in your descriptions. Avoid general language like “I move it over there”. You move what over where? This step takes time initially but becomes more streamlined with practice.
Now that you know exactly what is happening at each stage of the move, you can critique it. What are you doing that’s good? Even more importantly, what are you doing that is not so good? What could be better? The million-dollar question - what needs to change? Side-by-side analysis comes into its own here.
By now, you will probably have exploded one short clip into pages of notes. This is great but it’s not very practical when you’re on the water. So, this part of the analysis process aims to identify the seminal points and summarise them into a minimum of words. I’m talking single digits here - no long sentences. The goal is to create cue words that you can bring with you into your next session. These will keep you focused and guide your efforts the next time you train that trick.
One final point to consider is timing. When should you use video analysis? It can be taxing enough if you’re doing it well. It requires focus and attention to detail. Ideally, feedback on skill acquisition should be as immediate as possible. This is one of the advantages of having a coach on the bank. They can relay 3rd person observations back to you in real-time. In the absence of this, aim to get to your video analysis straight after the session, when it’s fresh in your head.
Do you need to video every session? In short, no. There are a number of reasons for this. If you’re paddling very regularly, video reviewing every session can become a chore. If you have checked out before you’ve even started the analysis, you’re unlikely to learn much. What’s more, being able to ‘learn by feel’ is an invaluable asset in freestyle kayaking. Video analysis can only tell you how things look, not how they feel. As a freestyle athlete, you need to understand both. Tuning in to how things feel and reviewing this information is at least as important as anything you will learn from a video. So, try not to become dependent on it. It’s a useful tool, but certainly not the only one.
If you can rely on one thing, it’s that you’ll do your best tricks when the camera is off – guaranteed. This means no footy for the gram. Do not dismay, however. Just go do it again.