Data Collection and Athlete Monitoring Strategies for Every Level

The race to acquire the most effective sport science technology in college athletics is on. As the stakes are growing higher and higher, the need to win—and to win consistently—is expected and enforced. As budgets continue to grow, more emphasis is placed on sports injury prevention, sport management software, and applied sport science. With some of these through-the-roof budgets at the highest level it is not a matter of what the team can afford, but what is worth purchasing? At the opposite end of spectrum, the mid-sized and smaller athletic departments often brush sport science off because these departments do not think it is something they can afford. What coaches and administrators do not realize is that there are many ways to monitor athletes without overspending. Regardless of your budget and level, individualizing your athletes training needs to be a primary focus.  This article covers how to strategically choose what data collection strategies and sport science technology are best for each budget and time situation.

Heavy Hitters (BCS Division 1, High Major)
At the highest levels, budget usually isn’t an issue. At many schools around the country we are starting to see a dedicated sport science department working in conjunction with the strength and conditioning staff. This allows each area to focus on its own expertise and to work collaboratively to help coaches make informed decisions. With a larger budget you have the opportunity to provide the best money can buy, however it is important to note that these examples should be used in conjunction with the cost-effective options recommended at the mid-sized and smaller schools. This will ensure you are capturing internal and external loads with the athlete’s perception remaining a priority.

EXAMPLES

  • GPS tracks speed in the form of accelerations and decelerations, change of direction (linear motion, angular, and rotational movements), and heart rate. Additionally, the algorithm measures player exertion based on speed, motion, and heart rate to come up with player load.
  • Force Plates are useful for examining the kinetic characteristics of an athlete’s movement. They provide information regarding external forces involved in movement and can assist to quantitatively measure an athlete’s execution of different movements.

Middle of the Pack and Smaller Schools (FCS Division 1, Mid Major, Division 2, Division 3)
The struggle at the lower level doesn’t just come down to money; it is a time issue as well. Strength and conditioning coaches at larger schools typically work with 1-2 teams, often with the help of support staff. In contrast, at smaller schools it is not uncommon for coaches to work with 6-8 teams. Therefore, middle of the pack and smaller schools need to think about time first, regardless of what they can do financially. If you purchase all the bells and whistles without the right people and collection software to help you manage the data, you will not be maximizing the potential of your technology. At the mid-sized schools budget and resources are not as abundant, however technology such as a heart rate monitors have become affordable for this level. The last three examples listed come at no cost to the athletic department and require no set up or man power. This allows you to individualize your training regardless of what level you compete in.

EXAMPLES

  • Heart Rate Monitors are an excellent cost-effective tool to measure training load. Most monitors will measure excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), heart rate variability, and heart rate recovery. 
  • Session RPE: This is a great option for any level. Simply put, the human element needs to be taken into consideration regardless of what other technology you are using with your athletes. Session RPE is the perception of the intensity of the training session on a 0-10 scale multiplied by the length of the training session.
  • Readiness Questionnaires:  Another simple but effective tool to measure athlete readiness is questionnaires.  Questions such as “How many hours sleep did you get?” or “Did you eat Breakfast today?” can initiate conversations and give a coach awareness about how his/her team is doing outside of practice and the weight room.
  • Functional Movement Screen: The FMS (Functional Movement Screen) is a great tool to assess movement in athletes and allows a coach to create a starting point for each athlete. Additionally, it allows you to create individualization within a team setting by prescribing corrective exercises based upon each athlete’s personal needs.

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse
While there are differences in what teams and Universities can afford at each level there are two keys to success that remain the same. The first is organization. Investing in an analytics software provider for time and interpretation purposes is imperative and is central to tying it all together. In order for the strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, athletic trainer, and sport coach to work synergistically there needs to be one place where this information is interpreted, stored, and organized.  The second key is achieving support and buy in from the head coach.  If a head sport coach is not invested in the technology you are using, at the end of the day no interventions will be made and you will be wasting your time, the athletes time, and the universities money. Get the head coach on board by providing research and education on the front end before making the investment.

Tying it all together
Regardless of the size of your school or budget, tracking and monitoring athletes needs to be part of your game plan.

To recap:

  • Data collection and athlete monitoring can be utilized at every level regardless of budget
  • Individualization should remain the primary focus
  • Establish support and buy-in from the head coach first before investing in technology
  • Organization is key; invest in an analytics software provider to help organize and interpret your data
  • Athlete perception is important at all levels; include questionnaires and session RPE in conjunction with other technology

Whether you are a strength and conditioning coach in the power 5 or a division three school, you are on your way to successfully monitoring and tracking your athletes at the highest level.

Co-authored with George Greene.

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