The Most Critical Factor of Sports Science: What Wearable Technology Won't Tell You

November 7, 2013

In this era of big data, wearable technology has made some impressive innovations to gauge an athlete's performance. Sensors can record speed of movement, distance covered, and how many times an individual stops and starts. Devices can also measure heart rate variability and other indexes to judge an athlete's ability to recover from a stimulus.

Basically, this technology automates the recording of data, and can significantly improve the objectivity and consistency of  your measurements. While improved data collection is important for sports science, there can be a downside as a coach. By automating the entire process, it takes the athlete out of the equation and you lose touch with one of the most important variables of performance - accountability and buy in.

The Power of Subjective Self-Reporting

Many professional and collegiate teams use a wellness questionnaire to gauge their current state or best practices to recover throughout the day. At Sparta, we use something similar, our regeneration meter, which is based on a daily ten point scale. We could discuss why carbohydrates are not in this scale, or what happens if athletes lie to record unreliable results, but that is not what the regen scale is really about. The subjective recor of this manual recording, the data is not really statistically significant, but what is significant is the act of consistently tracking your efforts.

One primary goal of the regen scale is to improve awareness of all the activities in an athlete's day. What has proved to be the most difficult, is the actual 20 seconds of effort required to actually input the results into a mobile device. Because this action requires prioritization from the individual, choosing this awareness and action ahead of other distractions is really a testament to the athlete's commitment.

Taking your Culture's Temperature

As a coach, the logging of regen is your best tool for measuring the temperature of your training culture. The number of athletes that are motivated to quickly input their results for tracking speaks to the commitment and accountability of the team as a whole. Our coaches and others using Sparta Software can look at this usage and get a feel for the temperature in their training environment. Regardless of the time of year (in-season vs. off-season) or your programming philosophy, the simple act of athletes inputting information indicates respect and a desire to improve.

For an athlete's regen scale over a week, he or she has 7 exposures to log so the percentage is calculated from that total opportunity. When you have 50 players on that team, a week contains 350 total exposures. With all data you would be surprised when the numbers are reliable and calculated correctly so expectations must be adjusted.

Each day is an opportunity to log regen, and the total number of days logged over a period of time can yield a percentage that indicates accountability and buy in. We have yet to see a culture above 90%, and our best experiences have been around 80%. This number indicates that athletes are doing things right under your supervision, but more importantly during the times they are away.

3 Takeaways for a Hotter Training Culture

  1. Involve some lower level of manual input from the athlete, encouraging them to be accountable
  2. Wellness or Regeneration scales tend to be effective for manual input due to their subjective nature
  3. Set proper expectations, aim for lower temperatures first, then slowly raise the bar

Technology can be very useful for improving the objectivity and tracking of performance data, but remember that all the data in the world is useless unless the athletes are engaged in the process. This simple task of engagement is invaluable.

What is your temperature?

Gastin PB, Meyer D, Robinson D. Perceptions of wellness to monitor adaptive responses to training and competition in elite Australian football. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Sep;27(9):2518-26.

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