Athlete monitoring might be something the average sports fan has only a vague awareness of, but inside professional sport it has become a central part of the day-to-day routines of athletes, coaches and sports science practitioners.
Since Catapult was founded in 2006, we’ve seen the influence of athlete monitoring grow exponentially. As the industry has developed, continual technological, educational and practical innovations have given rise to a vast cohort of sports scientists equipped with the knowledge and tools required to make a positive impact on performance at all levels of sport.
While the most effective athlete monitoring programs are adapted to best fit the needs of that sport, team and context - there are some universal guiding principles that can provide a framework to help you get started. Whether you’re working in a professional environment or introducing athlete monitoring at grassroots level, these points should help to shape some of your thinking as you look to support your team’s performance objectives.
If you’re new to sports science, we hope you find these performance tips helpful as you get used to the role and start to build new functions within your club. If you’re more experienced, hopefully it acts as a bit of a refresher or even a reminder of just how far you’ve come.
START WITH WHY
The author and leadership expert Simon Sinek has a simple maxim: Start with why. In order to be successful in any sphere, Sinek argues that it’s vital to be able to articulate the fundamental purpose behind your cause. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. This is just as true for sports scientists as it is for anyone else.
In any organisation, getting buy-in for what you are doing is essential for sustainable, long-term success. For sports scientists, this often comes down to clearly communicating the purpose and reasoning behind what you do in a way that can be easily understood by those with a less technical appreciation of the science that underpins athlete monitoring.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to get your organisation to fully buy-in to what you do, so you’ll need to use your intuition to find the best method of engagement. However, there are a few general rules that should help you to get coaches and athletes on side when you start to implement new athlete monitoring processes:
Don’t overwhelm athletes and coaches with an avalanche of data or complicated processes from the start. Begin by setting out the basics of what you want to achieve by collecting data and give them a small number of key insights that can inform their performance. From there it should be easier to bring your athletes on a journey with you and start to gradually build complexity over time.
Deliver a consistent message
If you’re not on the same page as the coaching staff in terms of the performance messages you’re delivering, then you risk losing the trust of your athletes. To do this, you may need to spend more time building relationships with the coaching staff and ensuring that athlete monitoring processes become as much of a priority for them as they are for you.
Seek out one-on-one interaction
Working with a large group of athletes is an inevitability when delivering athlete monitoring in a team environment, but one-on-one interaction with athletes (whether that’s in the form of a performance-related discussion or just a general conversation) is arguably the best opportunity you’ll have to build good relationships and generate buy-in.
DON’T DROWN IN DATA
When you start using athlete monitoring technologies, the amount of data available to you can be overwhelming. As you try to get to grips with all the available metrics, it can be difficult to understand which information is most relevant to your particular aims and contexts.
The important thing is to take the time to refine your processes and identify the variables that are best aligned to your team’s tactical style and the performance goals of the coaching staff. This can take some time to achieve, but once completed it can transform both the efficiency and efficacy of your athlete monitoring.
In a recent interview with Catapult, Tom Robinson, First Team Sports Scientist at Leeds United, spoke about the importance of streamlining the amount of data at the heart of your day-to-day operations.
“When we first started using Catapult we collected a lot of data and we looked at a lot of variables, and I think sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the data you’re collecting,” Tom said. “So we’re at a level now when we’re actually looking at a relatively small amount of data.
“The key variables we look at are total distance covered, high speed running distance, sprint distance, accelerations and decelerations. Within that we look at maximum velocity reached as well as for sprint conditioning and hamstring condition.”
By finding the metrics that best reflect your team’s technical, tactical and conditioning requirements, you can better monitor your athletes’ progression towards the physical demands that are being asked of them.
Once you’ve cut through the noise to create a coherent and targeted workflow, you’ll be in a strong position to deliver on the expectations of the coaching staff, improve the clarity of your communications, save yourself valuable time, and create a sustainable performance infrastructure for your organisation.