March 2016

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Why pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?

by Matt Jordan on March 31, 2016 No comments

Article Overview: 1251 words focused on providing S&C coaches with important concepts for incorporating data analysis into practice.

Over the past few years, an important theme in many of my presentations is that elite coaches need to figure out what matters, track what matters and change what matters.

In addition to my presentations, effectively tracking what matters is the single biggest area of consulting I provide to strength and fitness coaches.

Coaches want to know: How do I figure out what matters? How do I efficiently track what matters?

And most coaches want to know: How do I do this without having to spend thousands of dollars per month?

The new breed of high performance coach gets the importance of being objective and knows he or she must integrate science with practice.

After taking all the internships, weekend courses and certifications one can afford, high performance coaches are ready to generate their own knowledge and understanding with a more scientific approach to training.

No doubt this takes some effort and expertise but it’s an essential part of the coaching process.  This is why mentorship can be so valuable – my goal is to teach coaches how to fish versus catching a single fish for them.

I teach the coach how to develop effective performance monitoring systems.  I don’t sell systems.

I also emphasize that without objectively determined metrics we are prone to confirmation bias, missing important training insights and prescribing the wrong training stimulus.

Confirmation bias is the big killer.

In the presence of observations that don’t fit our current belief system, we build narratives that dismiss away the anomalous or conflicting evidence and stick with only the observations that fit our beliefs.  This leads to plenty of issues.

I can tell you from many years of working with elite athletes that what actually happens in terms of training response can sometimes be entirely different from what is depicted in textbooks.

Thus, having a front-end plan without ongoing metrics is kind of like building a house and not getting your plumbing inspected before you put up the drywall.  How do you know that the plan was executed properly and that things are tracking according to expectations?

However, the challenge for implementing this new approach to training science is often cost and expertise.

Commercially available online training monitoring systems are often expensive and cumbersome.  Just like your computer, they often include a bunch of features that most coaches will never use.  On this front, you probably use a handful of reliable and effective applications on your computer and the other hundred or so applications never get touched.

Monitoring is the same – there are a few metrics that matter and mastering these metrics is the first step for effective tracking.  Trying to make sense of the multitude of potential numbers and metrics only leads to more noise and more confusion.

Performance monitoring and tracking has to be simple.

The truth is you can build a highly effective method for tracking your athletes without having to invest a lot of money.

On the other hand you can also invest a lot of money in a turnkey cloud training monitoring application but if you don’t understand how to manipulate data, synthesize data and distill down to what matters, you will be lost and you will lose your athletes along the way.

It is also critical to move beyond “pen to paper” solutions or the arduous task of typing data into a spreadsheet.  I have coaches that have years of data on scraps of paper in a desk drawer.

I applaud them for tracking what is important for their programs but how can anyone possibly make sense of a notebook of split times, loads lifted and days lost to injury?  It’s impossible with this format and the time needed to convert paper data into computer data is almost a complete roadblock.  No one has time for this.

These are some of the major barriers for effective athlete monitoring that I hear from the strength and fitness coaches with whom I consult.

Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated but it needs to be efficient.

One of my inspirations on this front is famed Canadian throws coach Derek Evely.  Having worked under the great Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, Derek has refined the science of athlete monitoring.  Derek understands the importance of tracking the variables that matter.  To this end, he has established best practice for tracking reaction curves or the performance response of his athletes to his training programs.

The evidence Derek has amassed over the years of tracking his athletes is really impressive. What’s even more impressive is the deep knowledge he has about training.  He doesn’t read textbooks – his textbook comes from years of writing programs and tracking what matters – this is the only textbook a good coach needs after developing knowledge in the foundations of exercise and sport science.

So, what are the first important steps?

Step one, is to learn the basics of collecting good data.  Again, mentorship is key.  Unless you have done a graduate level statistics course, you probably haven’t learned these skills.  But they are teachable!

Step two is to figure out what metrics matter for your athletes.  Simple measures that are almost universal are: weekly training load – athlete wellness – metrics to build reaction curves – and days lost to injury and illness.  More advanced metrics could be: heart rate variability for a team sport or endurance athlete – a measure of neuromuscular fatigue – or functional asymmetry (this is a big focus of my research as it pertains to ACL injury / re-injury prevention).

Step three is to begin collecting data with free online solutions and to learn how to visualize or summarize the data in a meaningful way.  A picture paints a thousand words and collapsing a 5000 row spreadsheet into a single graphic is where the magic happens.

Step four is to synthesize the data and understand what it all means.  Whether it is showing up to a training session with a conversation starter after flagging an athlete with poor sleep, reporting weekly fluxes in training load to your athletic therapist or team coach to identify athletes at elevated risk for injury, or reviewing four years of data with an athlete to determine what worked and what didn’t, synthesizing the data into something meaningful is a key final step.

This is where you create your own textbook and develop your own training systems.  This is what all great coaches ultimately do.

The last piece to remind you of is that the cost for this sort of system can be anywhere from thousands of dollars per month to zero dollars per month! 

I opt for the zero dollars per month – why would you throw away your hard earned money when free solutions exist to help you achieve your desired outcome.

What I aim to teach strength and fitness coaches is how to use freely available tools to implement good data collection practices around the metrics that matter.

I then help these coaches understand the principles of how training prescription impacts the performance of athletes through tools like reaction curves.

I think merging the science of training adaptation with the art of program design and coaching is where the truly great coaches emerge.

I plan to write more on this over the months to come but if you’re interested in diving into this area, stay tuned for webinars I am hosting throughout the late spring and summer.

You can also contact me to book a Skype call so that I can help you move from coach/artist to a scientist of training adaptations.

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Matt JordanWhy pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?