Monitoring...is it really useful?

Do you monitor you athletes?

Do you blindly take a “let’s do what everybody else is doing” approach or do you have a philosophical model for your approach?

Do you want to be a HP Manager…monitoring systems are not just about the numbers!

 
Along with the subject of the enigmatic “High Performance Manager”, the data rich field of ATHLETE MONITORING is another topic of intense debate among the physical preparation community.  There have been numerous articles of late that have voiced vastly different perspectives:
 
While extolling the virtues of full-time staff, cohesive leadership, organizational clarity and human systems, also indicated a direction toward the collection and analysis of more data with his noting of the “next frontier in athlete monitoring…the 24-hour athlete”.
 
In his piece on the future of the S&C coach, Hansen was adamant in his perspective that “more and more pro strength coaches are clamoring to collect reams of data” possibly to cover up inadequacies within a program but also just to keep up with the “Joneses”.
 
In a great piece that speaks some home truths about athlete behavior, and the true impact of monitoring, concluded by saying “technology should reduce unnecessary use of equipment and get to the heart of the matter…working with people”.
 
Clearly there are a number of different threads to this argument.  So who is right?
 
The answer lies not necessarily with who is right, but rather with what is right for the environment and culture you work in.  There is what you know and then there is what you can implement…sometimes the two are very different things.
 
Let’s start with the coach.  The effectiveness of your program will come down to what he believes.  If he doesn’t rate your monitoring system, it doesn’t matter if you are right…he won’t listen.  Equally a very simple monitoring system that is accepted by the head coach may prove incredibly effective at achieving the program modifications required.
 
I’ve been actively involved in “monitoring” athletes for well over ten years.  In my first full-time professional job with the Queensland Reds (Super Rugby) back in the late nineties, discussing athlete preparedness and risk with the head coach pretty much came down to me answering the question…”so whadya reckon…can he play?” 
 
In the years since that job, things have charged ahead at a frenetic pace.  To be honest at times I have been caught up in the quest to have the most complete system.  I’ve had a good crack at data mining and even had a look at various brain waves…but thankfully I’ve always be able to keep it in a balanced format.  In fact I work from the basis of historically robust philosophy model called Socratic Ignorance.  Put simply you accept that you know nothing and you argue against pieces of data logically until you arrive at a rationale conclusion.  Sounds weird but it works! 

 

As detailed in Figure 1 above, my monitoring model features two systems (Data and Human) each comprised of two quadrants (four quadrants total).
 

DATA SYSTEM

Zone 1 - What the player doesn’t know and tells you.
Quite simply this is any form of Objective Data that you collect.  This data is independent of athlete opinion or interference (unless data collection is grossly stuffed up).
 
Zone 2 - What the player knows and tells you.
This represents Subjective Data collected from the player.  This represents any data set that is the player’s opinion or is impacted upon by the players desire to participate (this includes performance tests such as jumps).
 

HUMAN SYSTEM

Zone 3 – What the player doesn’t know and doesn’t tell you.
This is where the art of coaching comes into it’s own.  The source of this information is Observation and is derived from watching things such as movement patterns (particularly in warm ups), body language, conversation-matrix (putting together 2-3 conversations from different sources to create a picture).  For me this also includes medical exams, because frequently the information doctors provide regarding injuries in the return to play stage gives a far clearer insight than what athletes report via other channels.
 
Zone 4 – What the player knows and doesn’t tell you.
I think this represents the elite end of coaching and the most emotionally taxing…Personal Interactions.  This is where a relationship based on significant trust and professional respect allows the coach to gather information about such things as personal issues, undisclosed soreness/injury, behavioral issues and personal professionalism.
 
Combining information from all four quadrants allows a holistic conclusion to be drawn about a player’s preparedness to train or play.  Yes I run predictive analytics on training loads and this helps guide decisions, but I don’t look at any single number or “light” that tells me whether a player can or can’t.
 
NB: the Human Systems are labor intensive!  There is no way around it.  You can’t hope to sit behind a computer and divine what you need from a software program, no matter how much you pay for it.
 
Monitoring is a "whole of business" task.  It takes an intricate combination of data collection, analysis, interpretation and observation to get it as close to right as I think it can get.  It also takes a combination of the “right” people who are set up to communicate information to a central hub.
 
Data systems and collection is the easy part.  The hard part, but often I find the most effective is the Human Systems.  Getting staff trained to clinically assess what they see from a monitoring perspective is critical.  This is part of the art of coaching and ultimately in my opinion what a HP Manager should be facilitating. 
 
So for young coaches out there, don’t walk around in the mornings like a zombie, be on your game as soon as the players walk in the door, watching everything that goes on.  How do the athletes move?  What is their body language like?  What conversations are going on around you?  This is part of the art of coaching and ultimately in my opinion what a HP Manager should be facilitating.
 
Monitoring is not a dirty word!  Monitoring is also not the dominion solely of the Sport Scientist.  A robust monitoring system must incorporate high-level human interaction (systems) in order to ensure that all bases are covered.
 
My model is far from a perfect system…but I’m not sure there is a perfect system.  I hope this helps professionals out there make the most of the time they have to work with their athletes.
 
JW
 
PS: As the diagram noted above is less than fantastic, and in the interest of education the link below will connect you with the original PDF.  All I ask in return is that you sign up to the OLD BULL web page and support my site with as many Likes and Retweets as you feel appropriate.
 
 

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Jason Weber
Jason Weber

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2 Responses

JW
JW

October 03, 2014

The simplest and cheapest…Excel! Learning the balance of pivot tables and macros can get a lot done easily and for little expense.

Ryan Gaias
Ryan Gaias

October 03, 2014

Excellent article Jason, do you have any suggestions on athlete monitoring software (that is relatively cheap)?

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