A few weeks ago I posted a blog entitled “Technology Accelerator”. The main thrust of the article was that in my opinion (and I am just one guy), that there is a trend among young coaches to “lean” on technology too much, to use it as a starting point rather than a component that can take your program higher.
Now I must be clear here, I am not against new technologies in sport. In fact, I have been an early adopter of numerous new technologies. I was the first client of Kinetic Performance, Canberra Australia (kinetic.com.au) when they commercialized their GymAware system in the early 2000’s. GymAware is clearly now the benchmark tool in the world of bar velocity assessment (another subject that I will share my thoughts on at a later date).
Following the release of the aforementioned article, I received a comment on my blog that I would like to share as I think it is a good thought stimulator.
Carl Valle (firstname.lastname@example.org):
It’s not rocket science to know I am commercially interested in electronic timing, and I find the use of hand timing is like using rocks or random stones and using them without weighing for strength training. True the eyeball test is helpful, but for velocities one hundredth means something in sport, and the one tenth measure is nice but frankly a little off base.
Firstly, thanks to Carl for taking the time to contribute your thoughts. Carl has a fantastic blog at elitetrack.com/category/carl-valle/.
After reading the comment, I definitely reflected on what I had written and how I utilize velocity and its management in my program. On that point, I think it is extremely healthy to have your ideas challenged as it does force you in essence to “defend” your logic, if not publicly, certainly internally, and that level of reflection can lead to reinforcement of or improvements in your systems.
Here are my musings on Carl’s thoughts:
The “rocks or random stones” strength training analogy I found quite amusing…mainly because it is ironic that that is the way many strength coaches have now gone with the non-conforming objects methods, but more so because as a raw 16yr old I learnt to deadlift using a old street sign with a lump of concrete on either end!
Amusing historical anecdotes aside; I think it would be a fairer analogy of inaccuracy if in my hand-timing methodology I had failed to measure the distance of the track, as opposed to using a stopwatch. That said, clearly stopwatch timing is not in any way gold standard, but that does not mean it is not extremely valuable.
There are a myriad of tools on the market that can provide accurate timings over whatever specific distance you choose. Not the least of which Carl’s system (Freelapusa.com), which I hadn’t seen before, appears very simple and effective.
The question for me is always “how many athletes can the system handle at once?” This really gets to the heart of the matter I was endeavoring to convey.
Firstly, as I’ve noted many times before, I write from a field sport perspective, that is where my experience lays. That being that, I need to deal with 40+ athletes simultaneously (I will address this further in a minute…logistics). I’m not a track coach and I’ve never professed to be one, and as such I rarely have the luxury of working with individual athletes or small groups. This is one of the primary reasons for developing a repeatable skill set with a stopwatch, so that many athletes can be trained accountably, in an efficient time frame.
Now logistics. In all sport: where, when and with whom you train has a bearing on what you do. In my current environment, I am limited in when I can train my athletes based on both directive from the Head Coach (wants team based drills adjacent to speed training and all done at once) and weather (when we do the bulk of our speed work; summer, it can be 40°C by 11am). Small groups, staggered starts, or evening sessions just aren’t possible. So then it’s either all in one hit or don’t do it at all. Young coaches out there try answering that for yourself…what would you do?
My solution is this. I have four coaches on the field (including myself). The main squad is broken down into players with similar needs and each is assigned to a coach (one of four groups). Programs and objectives are designed based on the needs profile of the specific groups then the programs are implemented and documented by the individual coach. Each coach follows his group through the program for continuity of both coaching and to a lesser degree data consistency. Individual reps are run only on the coach’s call and each rep is hand timed (in the manner previously described) and recorded.
Now this system is not perfect! And it certainly cannot account for variations of one hundredth of a second. However, you need to decide if your sport is actually decided by one hundredths of a second. In track and field it most certainly would be. In Rugby and AFL, my experience would say no, not relevant. Which brings me back to one of my main points…young coaches can get carried away with data that actually has limited bearing on the outcome of their sport or focuses them on things they can’t possibly impact.
One of my guiding principles as a coach is “Training is testing, testing is training” re: Kelvin Giles, Vern Gambetta. Therefore, my training sessions must be quantified to a level that allows me to confirm that the appropriate work is being done in the manner specified. While I’m sure many companies could put their hands up to say “we can do that” the other point that hasn’t been mentioned is budget.
I’m privileged enough to work in a full scale professional team in the biggest sporting economy in Australia (AFL…but still has nothing on Premier League Football, NFL etc.) and I am not in a position to have four systems (of whatever brand you care to name) gracing my field to document my players speed session to one hundredth of a second (if that were in fact deemed necessary…which in my case its not). Further, I think I would be right in assuming that many of the people reading this article are probably in jobs with lower budgets than mine and therefore presented with similar restrictions, if not worse.
So, on reflection…I’ve heard the comment contributed and I definitely agree that in sports or environments where working with small numbers is possible, yes use of an electronic timing system would be preferable.
However, for my brothers and sisters at the coalface, trying to break into S&C at a team level, or running your own business where a timing system may just not be practical, I stick by my original recommendation…learn how to use a stopwatch! Used in a repeatable manner, controlling for as many variables as possible, the data can be very useful.
Use stopwatch skills as a starting point, and when and if more advanced technologies are available then use them to accelerate your program.
In all things…walk before you run!
Again, my thanks to Carl Valle for a thought provoking perspective.
For a different view on things check out OBF on Pinterest!
I liken it to map reading: learn to read a map and navigate properly. Then buy a sat nav for convenience. But, when that sat nav breaks down, or it goes down the wrong way, you can still navigate.
Thanks Evan for expressing your view. I must say that this is more a comment on my writing skills than anything else as it would appear I have again failed to impress the point that hand timing should be used as a function of logistics not as a “best case scenario” system. Further, my point about accuracy referred to our level of inter-tester variability not its reliability against timing systems. That said I have seen that many systems fail over the last 15yrs that I am surprised most companies are still in operation. As for not knowing about Freelap…well I agree I am at fault of not know every timing system in the world. In future I look forward to hearing comment based on actually paying attention to what is written and the contribution of some practical solutions based on experience…should you have any!
The fact you have never heard of FreeLap and believe that handtiming is accurate to the tenth of a second (which it has proven not to be) discredits pretty much everything you have said on this topic. Pretty sad for a supposed professional.
Great article JW. I think GymAware have some amazing products, but you also have to look at exactly what you have stated – the needs and practicality of the sport you are involved in. Having had some exposure to World Tour Beach Volley competitions, that sometimes provides yet another factor in travelling to so many places in a short period of time. Is it practical to be able to bring several devices to all these locations, for testing on the road? Very unlikely. Sometimes without knowing exactly what facilities certain locations can have for the athletes, this is where a stopwatch, or simple measuring tape and chalk for vertical jump tests for example, can be simple, but very valuable.
Great article again mate, keep ’em coming!