– Derek M. Hansen –
Continuing on from our initial instalment on keeping your sport science program out of the garbage heap, we have four more suggestions for organizations.
5. Communicate Effectively and Often
We always hear that communication is crucial for the success of any organization. It is no different within the realm of sport science. Team members must be able to communicate effectively. We have no excuses for not communicating in modern times. We have email, text messages, social media, Skype, hands-free cell phones and in-person conversations. But so often we get caught up with our means of communication that we forget how to communicate. Sending an email is often not enough. Any correspondence via email should always be followed up with a more personal form of communication, whether by phone or in person. These interactions should always be introduced with pleasantries that help you connect with the person you are working with, whether it is asking them about their weekend, their family or their sick mother. Even scientists need to develop a personality in order to succeed. Trust will be built and communication will flourish.
In my opinion, the less formal methods of communication are where the work gets done. Staff meetings and scheduled reviews tend to be less personal and less efficient, with less disclosure. The conversations in the trenches, during travel, after a tough loss and when staff members are in the midst of problem solving serve as the most productive means of connecting and building trust. If you can foster and encourage these types of interactions amongst staff, you will have a strong team that can accomplish great things. We often talk of developing the right chemistry, but this magical chemistry does not spontaneously occur. It must be developed through leadership that values the contribution and ideas of every single member of the team. Poor leaders do not bring people together, but will typically create a divisive, petty environment that is toxic and unproductive.
6. Work Towards Well Defined Goals in an Organized Fashion
I will often hear that sport science staff will spend their initial stages in a new job simply collecting data and observing patterns. While this is all well and good, sport science program staff should have a good idea what to look for, based on their experience and expertise, and should identify well-defined goals for their program. Simply scanning numbers for patterns can be a futile and time-exhaustive exercise. Team members should be able to identify potential issues, concerns and opportunities from the outset, and then set a course for data collection and the generation of potential options. Figure 1 provides a schematic representation of how such a process could be arranged. I have used the example of excessive numbers of hamstring strains in an American football training camp scenario. This is not an exhaustive list, but simply an example of the thought process involved in addressing performance issues for a team.
The intent is to put all your thoughts, data and options on the table for comprehensive review. The process must be thorough and follow a logical sequence of analysis and implementation. Not only does such an approach help you lay out your options, it provides a great accounting list that you can use to re-evaluate your approaches every year. Deficiencies can be present throughout any stage of the process, so it is imperative to document all of your actions throughout the analysis and decision-making process to make it easier to identify corrections and move forward.
7. Advertise Your Accomplishments, Not Your Ego
It seems that many organizations feel the need to advertise the fact that they have fully embraced a sport science approach. I have no problem with this. There is no need to be bashful when embarking on a path to progress and innovation. I am even a big proponent of the benefits accrued from the placebo effect of surrounding yourself with new technology. If athletes feel like all of their needs are being monitored and addressed, it goes a long way to bolstering their confidence and their trust in the organization. When they make progress, they will likely associate it with the advances in sport science that are being provided.
Where it can get out of hand is that some programs promote themselves as experts by simply saying we use “such-and-such technology.” Surrounding yourself with technology doesn’t really prove anything except the fact that you have deep pockets (or you have convinced someone with deep pockets to finance your sport science shopping spree). I would like to see more well documented case studies regarding use of technology, the changes that were made as a result and the benefits that were accrued. I met with a very intelligent individual who is heading up the application of GPS technology for one NFL team in particular. He was doing some great work in correlating injuries with training load changes from period-to-period and day-to-day during training camp and throughout the regular season. His data has been instrumental in changing the philosophy of the coaching staff and reducing the incidence of injury through the management of fatigue and the creation of physiologically realistic progressions of work. This is a great example of how technology can provide value added.
If you have something groundbreaking to share, then by all means tell us about your findings. Sport science is all about sharing and advancing the field of sport performance and health. However, some of the best solutions are the simple ones that don’t necessarily require the use of advanced technology. We rarely see news stories about sport teams using “common sense” to solve their problems and advance the performance of the players. A deductive, process driven approach is something we should hear more about, not band-aid solutions and quick fixes that give the false impression of progress.
8. If an Approach Isn’t Working, Don’t be Afraid to Trash It
Some of the smartest individuals I have met are people that have admitted their mistakes and changed course to achieve success. Intelligent people understand when to abandon fruitless ventures and divert their energy to more productive pursuits. Less successful people keep pushing through an agenda or system, even when it is obvious that they have not made any progress. As mentioned previously, ego often takes the place of common-sense and things start to fall apart in a hurry. Know when to say “when.”
It is important to understand that no singular approach is absolutely necessary for success. “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” and “All roads lead to Rome,” are definitely applicable quotes. Find an approach that fits your particular circumstances. I find this is common issue in the sport performance realm where a one-size-fits-all approach is often employed. Many people rigidly believe the weight room is the answer to all athletes’ strength problems. Yet, I have repeatedly seen where speed work and explosive medicine ball throws have enhanced an athlete’s strength and overall performance equally as well, if not better. In rehabilitation, some practitioners rigidly adhere to timelines and progressions that are “carved in stone” and applicable to every patient. Yet, we have seen countless cases where some athletes recover more quickly, while others need more time. The quicker you can recognize that human beings exhibit non-linear adaptation qualities that require active monitoring and ongoing management, the more effective you will be at addressing their needs and advancing their performance.
I had an interesting response from a colleague when I showed him my draft list of recommendations for this article. He remarked, “This list is no different than what I’ve seen for other fields of expertise or industries. Most of these suggestions are universally applicable to any successful organization.” That is when I knew I had the building blocks of a sound article on the development of a successful sport science program. Although we are inundated with new technologies on a weekly basis, the success of any program that incorporates new technologies is the quality of the people implementing the program. Do not think that the acquisition of new technology will solve your problems and vault your sport science program into the elite levels of high performance. Furthermore, a program dominated by technology can easily lose sight of the important qualities required to advance the organization, including keen observation skills and good decision-making abilities.
As legendary strength coach Al Vermeil once told me, “Don’t let someone tell you different from what you can clearly see with your own two eyes!” Trust your instincts and use technology to support your decision-making, not make your mind up for you. Your success will be the result of good decisions made by good people. Technology can amplify the talent of your staff, but not replace it. Microsoft founder Bill Gates offers a great quote in this regard:
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
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