As North American sports begin to take interest in data and metrics (and try and catch on to what the Australians and Europeans have been doing for several years) there seems to be a number of strength coaches who are starting to embrace the trend.
As I look back on my journey in this profession I can sum it up with three very distinct stopping points along the way where, if you had asked me at the time, I would have told you that these things were the most important things to know in order to be a strength coach:
1. Programming/Periodization & Coaching your lifts2. Stress, Recovery, Adaptation
3. Data collection and analysis
While I can’t say that any one of those three categories are more important than the other (certainly the first two are critically important if you are coaching athletes) I can say that the third stop along the way in my career has been incredibly interesting because, while not directly having to do with coaching athletes in the gym, it has allowed me the ability to connect some dots and provide context to the other two areas above it. It has allowed me to explain things that I see and explain why certain things happen and others do not with specific individuals in training. It has added depth to my training programs that I was previously lacking.
There are three areas where I feel data can be helpful to the strength and conditioning coach:
Athlete profiling is essential because it allows us to define the needs of the individual and create training programs that are specific to what their body needs in order to enjoy success in their sport. While most think of athlete profiling as physiological testing, which is certainly a part of it, athlete profiling can encompass other metrics as well including data about how the athlete plays their position within their sport, how much the athlete plays, and their typical game demands. Rather than just developing a generalized way of categorizing the sport or the position by profiling the athlete we can begin to understand similarities and differences between athletes in the same position and find unique needs that the athlete may have to be prepared for, which can influence how we design our training program.
Enhancing Program Design
Most people don’t think about the program design aspect of things when it comes to collecting data on athletes. Often, coaches believe that collecting data on athletes automatically leads to telling the athlete to “do less” and “not overtrain”. While preventing overtraining is important we can use the data we collect to influence our program design. Some of the ways that I have done this are to adjust training as needed – either increasing training volume/intensity or lowering training volume/intensity based on what the athlete is prepared to do that day – and creating key performance indicators (KPIs) within training phases that allow us to determine if the athlete is improving and if we are getting what we expect to be getting from the training program. The KPIs should reflect the goal of the training phase and can be in the form of an exercise test (where the athlete may not even know they are being tested) or a submaximal test that can be used to reflect improvement when measured against previous tests.
Monitoring Fatigue / Health Management
Finally, what most people think about when they think about data and monitoring, understanding player health and preventing overtraining. As stated above, adjustments to the program based on what the athlete is prepared to do that day is one piece of the equation within this bucket. Other areas of importance here are looking at various factors of the athlete’s health and helping to educate the athlete (and coaches) about how they are tolerating the stress of practice, competition, and life. This area of data becomes incredibly important for the strength coach during the in season period as the goal is no longer to do a maximum amount of training but rather to get from one competition to the next in the most efficient manner possible and training at the minimum effective dose in order to prevent adding extra stress on top of competition stress.
Data can be incredibly helpful to the strength coach and it is nice to see others starting to embrace data collection and analysis as a means of trying create a more complete understanding of their athletes. It is my hope that in future blog posts I can share some ideas around data collection and integration.