It is always worth reflecting upon the past to gain insight into how things may go in the future. This is an annual ritual for many with New Year’s celebrations at the turn of the year. However, taking a historical look at trends in the world of sport can lend insight into what practices are trending towards in the coming year and beyond. In my realm of organization and management, there are many upcoming developments to be excited about and many to be wary of. Below are three areas of high performance here I see big developments on the horizon.
Bridging the gap from the computer to the field
The explosion of accessible technology has allowed for the quantification of a dizzying range of parameters. The ability to record data in real time and then process the data to an actionable form has created an entire discipline within the high performance realm, that of Sport Technologists/Data Analysts. It is not uncommon to find teams of these new professionals working for organizations. Their biggest challenge will be to bridge the gap between data and practice, applying what is seen into actionable, relatable information to help make informed decisions at every level, including management, coaching, training and medical.
As valuable as technology may be, the ability to communicate it effectively from screen to coach is a critical element of successful integration. There are two ways this will be accomplished: (1) better output systems that “speak the language” of whomever is getting the data, whether it be medical, coaching or S&C, or (2) coaches who “speak the language” of the technology and can therefore implement whatever useful information it may provide.
Despite the tidal wave of technology promising to lower injury rates or increase performance, it will be critical to locate more accurate, valid and reliable technology, specific to the sport or populations that use them. There has been a rapid and relentless proliferation of new devices and data processing methods without an established framework to evaluate their validity.1 The marketing for most devices has far outpaced the research on their validity and reliability. Even with limited studies, validity and reliability for one sport does not mean the device is valid and reliable in a different sport. As professionals, we will have to be vigilant in asking the hard questions about the technology’s ability to deliver what it claims to do before we can reach the conclusions they claim are attainable with such devices.
Various technology platforms have already started to try and find ways to integrate their data with other systems. As Dr. William Sands of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard acutely points out, it takes a “constellation of variables” to more accurately gauge various parameters of performance, so the merging of different sources of data sets on a common movement or game is critical to gain more thorough understandings of what is happening and why. We have only scratched the surface on ways to measure external and internal variables, yet few have successfully merged those various data sets into one actionable model. New platforms that try to access various technologies into one actionable display will give those organizations an advantage in understanding how they all contribute to a clear picture of what is happening and why.
Sorting out the science for coaches
The amount of published research will continue to increase across journals and online sites. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of publications and the ease at which any research is accepted (including via open-sourced sites that are marketed via social media), the challenge to navigate through the ocean of studies and articles to find quality research becomes even more daunting. Our challenge lies in maintaining awareness about quality research design, appropriate statistical methods, insightful discussions and proper conclusions and not following the masses by judging quality based on likes or retweets.
Similar to the challenge of sifting through the mass of research publications, a similar challenge is arising with the quality of education and training of applied professionals. The problems that have arisen from nearly anybody being able to attain a certificate to train an athlete has moved into the education realm, where attaining an advanced degree has never been easier due to favorable costs and online convenience. Although there are still select quality professionals coming out of these systems, there is an alarming trend towards a lack of practical experience, communication skills and research knowledge among many young professionals who feel that an advanced degree, no matter where it comes from, confers upon them immediate placement in roles they are not prepared for. Sifting through the masses to find quality trained and educated professionals for applicable positions will be more challenging, but worth the effort in finding the right fit for a staff.
Shifting the arms race from facilities to people
Palatial facilities are now the norm across professional/elite sport and major NCAA institutions. What was once justified as being a marketing tool that will aid in the recruitment of free agents or blue-chip recruits is now standard rather than being a competitive advantage. However, not having quality facilities stands out as a disadvantage to those organizations who have not invested in the environments in which their athletes train.
Now that facilities have started to hit their peak in size and quality (for those that have them), organizations are now looking to invest in staff. By improving the athlete-to-staff ratio, organizations are giving athletes more focused attention and care in all facets of their performance. Management are also starting to realize the need for better qualified professionals, especially at the professional level, so the quality of care provided by individual staff is increasing. Despite the higher cost of compensating better qualified staff to work with their athletes, teams recognize this is an investment worth making.
The High Performance Model that integrates all athlete support services under one collaborative system will continue to take hold in North America. With the number of staff and disciplines being added to support services, organizations are seeking guidance as they maneuver into unfamiliar staff structures, skillsets and cultures. Finding quality Directors with experience and perspective that can lead multidisciplinary staffs without conflict of interest or a skew towards specific disciplines is the challenge these organizations face. In addition, finding staff in various disciplines willing to work within a collaborative system can be just as challenging, as many staff will “defend their territory”, either openly or covertly. However, the successful organizations who are willing to perform due diligence in staff, either in recruitment of in-service training, will reap big rewards.