An example of a risk management approach to football is to consider opposition goal scoring opportunities as hazardous events. A range of threats have the potential to lead to the hazardous event and there are a range of outcomes that could lead from the hazardous event.
The picture below illustrates this using a barrier model (i.e. Bow Tie Analysis) showing the various threats and outcomes together with preventative, control and mitigation measures as the barriers which the threat progresses through to the hazardous event and then to outcomes. The effectiveness of the barriers determines whether a threat is prevented, stopped or the outcome reduced in severity.
What do barriers look like?
The barrier appearance and effectiveness is a combination of:
- The barrier itself and these may be:
a) Prevention – stop threats from occurring
b) Control – spot threats early and take back control reducing the likelihood of a hazardous even
c) Mitigation measure – minimise the likelihood and severity of unwanted outcomes.
- The position, number and size of holes within the barrier which is comprised of:
a) Causes of holes (latent or local in time and place)
b) Measures to prevent or detect, diagnose and repair holes.
When holes in barriers line up, this provides the trajectory for threats to progress via a hazardous event to an outcome (as per Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model), i.e. an opposition goal.
What do football barriers look like?
For the opposition goal scoring opportunity barrier model, some example preventative measures (to prevent the threat occurring):
- Possession in attack
- Possession in midfield
- Possession in defence
Some example prevention and control barriers are:
- Individual player competency including
- physical skills (e.g. fitness, speed, athleticism, ball control skills)
- ability to play within the rules and regulations of football
- cognitive skills (e.g. assimilating information, interpreting information, decision making, detecting own errors)
- interpersonal skills (e.g. clarity of language, communicating critical information, soliciting information, active listening)
- team management skills (e.g. achieving common purpose, work distribution /delegation, influencing, co-ordination, detection of errors by others)
- behaviours (e.g. leadership, consistency, awareness of priorities, appreciation of standards, awareness of own limits)
- Team competency including
- balance of skills and experience
- definition and understanding of roles and responsibilities
- preparedness for range of match play scenarios and threats
- provision of leadership, co-ordination and direction
- Individual official competency including physical, ability to apply the rules and regulations of football, cognitive, interpersonal, team management and behaviours.
Some example specific control barriers are:
- Intervention outside 18 yard box
- Force attack out wide /less attractive path and position
Some example mitigation barriers are:
- Intervention by outfield player inside 18 yard box
- Goalkeeper intervention
Note: The above control and mitigation intervention barrier definitions indicate that an opposition goal scoring opportunity (hazardous event) has been defined as an attack progressing to the home team’s 18 yard box.
What weakens and strengthens football barriers?
There are ways that the barriers can be undermined and provide ‘holes’ for a threat to progress through (termed escalation factors in Bow Tie Analysis), for example:
- Fatigue of individual players and officials
- Injury of individual players
- Weather conditions affecting pitch condition/visibility/player and official physical wellbeing
- Reduced player competency due to lack of match/training practice
- Loss of player(s) through being sent off (loss of competency and reduced number of players)
- Change in individual players through injury or substitution weakening the home team or conversely strengthening the opposition
The barriers can be strengthened further to prevent the above ‘holes’ occurring or to detect, diagnose and repair them (termed escalation factor controls in Bow Tie Analysis), for example:
- Adequate conditioning of players and officials for the range of foreseeable match and playing conditions
- Adequate rest, refreshment and treatment of players and officials prior to, during and after training and matches
- Adequate medical support for players
- Adequate pitch design and maintenance
- Adequate player and official clothing (e.g. colour, breathability)
- Adequate criteria used for squad and team selection
- Adequate internal disciplinary standards and arrangements for all players
- Adequate practise with range of foreseeable home team permutations against range of foreseeable opposition team permutations
Opposition goal scoring opportunity barrier model showing top level of barriers (Note: gaps in Preventative /Control barriers are where they do not apply to a Threat)
Using the barrier model to measure performance and drive continuous improvement
During and after matches the model provides a framework for analysing patterns within incidents that involve one or all of a threat, hazardous event and outcome. Such analysis enables insight into how often a family of scenarios is being experienced (despite normally no adverse outcome occurring), the distribution of threats and outcomes and how critical and effective each preventative, control and mitigation barrier is.
The analysis would include the following at the top level, drilling down as necessary (i.e. keep asking why) to aid understanding and enable continuous improvement:
- Every incidence of each threat;
- Incidence of the hazardous event;
- Incidence of each outcome;
- Barriers that were tested and worked well /moderately /poorly /failed;
- Barriers that did not contribute to prevention, control or mitigation.
Additionally, such analysis should always ask: Does the model need modifying and improving? The updated, improved model can then be fed into the management system to improve risk management of the hazardous event and into any safety case so that it remains accurate and aligned to operation.
Using the opposition goal scoring opportunity barrier model
Ahead of matches the model can be used to identify which threats may be more likely from an opposing team. This can be used to plan how to ensure the relevant barriers are present and have the strength needed to match these threats, for example through team selection.
Analysing threats and barriers needs a means of capturing data about individual and team performance. The proforma provided below provides a means of capturing this data. Feel free to try and use it, although it may impact your experience of watching a match!
Use the relevant codes below to identify the threat for each incident (recording all threat occurrences, whether they result in a hazardous event or not) and the outcome where a hazardous event does occur.
For assessing the effectiveness of the preventive, control and mitigation barriers, a simple anchored rating scale can be used as follows:
An example incident is completed in the first row of the table where:
- A threat arose from opposition attacking skill in open play [AS]
- Home team possession in attack was insufficiently robust and led to the threat occurring 
- Home team possession in midfield  and defence  was effective (e.g. sufficiently high and skilful) but not tested during the incident
- Individual  and team competency  worked well and contributed to the effectiveness of other barriers in events VII and IX
- Individual official competency was effective (e.g. followed play at appropriate positions) but not tested during the incident 
- There was no credible opportunity for intervention outside the 18 yard box 
- The threat was forced to a less attractive attack path and position 
- The threat progressed to an opposition goal scoring opportunity (hazardous event) [Y]
- The hazardous event’s severity was reduced via an intervention (clearance) by an outfield player inside the 18 yard box 
- The goalkeeper was effective (e.g. moved into position to make a save if required) but not tested during the incident 
- The outcome was a defensive interception [DI].
Final thought…for now!
The opposition goal scoring opportunity barrier model could be ‘flipped’ to create a home scoring opportunity model using different terminology such as: Opportunities rather than Threats, Enablers (with the three types being for example, Creative, Progress, Conversion) rather than Barriers and Advantageous Event rather than Hazardous Event.
One thing is clear, using analysis methods like this requires familiarity with both the method and the activity you are observing. And in the case of football, if this isn’t your ‘cup of tea’, it’s perhaps best to leave it to the experts, poor a beverage of your choice and enjoy the match, hoping the team you support successfully defend against the threats and takes advantage of their opportunities.