The Southern League Premier Division Central team are in contention for a play-off spot at the half-way point of the footballing calendar, but it’s their cup exploits that have really caught the eye.
The Crows are on a fantastic FA Trophy run that has seen them hammer Haywards Heath Town 7-0, beat National League South table toppers Wealdstone 3-2 away from home, eliminate fifth tier Boreham Wood 2-0, and knock out Chester of the National League North.
That 3-0 victory has set up a clash with Ebbsfleet United in the third round, and offers a chance to eclipse Royston’s impressive run to the FA Cup fourth qualifying round earlier this season.
So what’s the secret to their success? Assistant manager Chris Watters believes that the team’s use of PlayerMaker technology has been a key factor in his side’s early season form.
The performance analysis tool tracks players via straps on their boots, offering the kind of in-depth data that can be the difference between success and failure in non-league football.
Royston’s best start to a season in six years and two money spinning cup runs certainly hint at a secret ingredient that is giving the team from Garden Walk the edge over their rivals.
“We’ve really broken ground with what we’ve done this year,” Watters explains.
“It’s about that 1% isn’t it. If we’ve made a 1% difference by using technology for all the players – which we have done – then it accumulates. So it’s really helped us.”
Those marginal gains come in many forms, with PlayerMaker’s technology able to do everything from monitoring injury risk to measuring various elements of an individual’s performance.
Such a multi-faceted statistical output means that there is something relevant to every player and member of the coaching staff, as Royston Town have been discovering.
The club’s strength and conditioning coach has been focusing on the players’ intense changes of direction, their overall distance run and their work-rate, while Watters pays more attention to the high intensity distance that the players have run, the amount of possessions they’ve had, and the number of releases.
Royston’s assistant manager also spends time analysing the performances of specific players – from how many times they’ve played one touch or two touch, to their number of dribbles, or what their average time on the ball might be.
That focus on the individual has yielded startling results, perhaps best illustrated by the case of Royston’s 21-year-old winger Claudio Ofosu.
The former Stevenage player wasn’t proving to be as effective or making enough contributions, until he started using PlayerMaker this season.
After scoring just twice in the opening eight games of 2019/20, Ofusu’s form suddenly picked up – going on to contribute five goals and three assists in six matches, from game weeks 13-18.
PlayerMaker’s straps played a key part in that improvement, after the wide man sat down with Watters to analyse his performances. Despite releasing the ball in good areas throughout the campaign, it became apparent that he wasn’t releasing it quick enough and was taking too many touches.
When Ofusu and his coach discovered this pattern in the data, they began working on training drills that focused on less touches and moving the ball quicker – with the results speaking for themselves.
“Now in a game I’m always thinking ‘if I’m scoring more goals when I’m not touching the ball as much, then I must be doing something right’. I’ve started to get in the right areas and to release the ball a little bit quicker.” he reveals.
Ofusu may be the most striking beneficiary of PlayerMaker’s technology, but it has had buy-in throughout Royston’s dressing room because of the straps’ stylish look, lightweight feel and of course the information it provides.
Some of the squad’s older ex-EFL players have been particularly enthusiastic about its benefits, noting that most non-league players don’t have access to equipment which brings about such significant improvements.
For something so transformative it’s surprisingly simple to use too, in comparison with some alternatives on the market.
Watters had experienced tracking vests in the past, but found them to be time consuming, as you have to plug them in, wait for the information to download and then assign each one to a player.
The contrast with PlayerMaker’s bluetooth-based straps couldn’t be greater in that sense, where everything is automatic, immediate and can be set up at the push of a button.
The process is refreshingly efficient. Post-match, Royston’s players head into the bar and Watters uses his laptop to instantly load up individual and team reports.
Over time this has led to the players adapting their routines and using these reports to shape conversations. The ability to instantly review your own performance has become part of the culture now, helping to nurture an environment of self-reflection – players have always wanted to improve but due to the technology available to them, they now know how to.
Even dressing room harmony has been an unforeseen added benefit of the technological revolution at Royston, with Ofosu noting the beauty of a stats-based culture when discussing the team’s performances.
“The stats don’t lie! If someone has run more than you, the team has won, and you’ve lost your place in the side, you can’t really come back and say ‘why is this happening?’ There are stats that are proving that you shouldn’t be playing,” he says.
It’s perhaps somewhat uncommon for a non-league side to follow the mantra that you’ve got to speculate to accumulate, but that kind of forward thinking is undoubtedly in place at this Hertfordshire-based club.
While a natural inclination may be to tighten the purse strings, Royston’s cup runs indicate that they could already be befitting financially from the decision to purchase PlayerMaker.
Whether it’s dressing room culture, results on the pitch or individual performances, the innovative technology seems to be impacting on every element of life at the Garden Walk stadium.
There has even been a reduction in the number of injuries at the club, often just by monitoring a player’s top speed to see if he is ready to return to the side after a lay-off.
Measuring how far the team have run each match also helps the coaching team manage their training regime, to stop players from entering the ‘red zone’ and picking up knocks.
Once again the proof is in the pudding – after enduring a horrific run of injuries that saw over nine absentees per game during last season, Royston plummeted down the table from second place to 17th.
This year has been a different story injury-wise, thanks in part to the changes brought about by using PlayerMaker.
Clive Woodward famously won the Rugby World Cup with England by believing that a series of incremental gains may appear small, but can be absolutely critical to success when accumulated.
It seems that Royston Town are following suit, and the results on the pitch are pointing to the fact that PlayerMaker is making a difference that counts.