By Cody Roberts
A subjective wellness questionnaire serves as the epicenter for successful performance monitoring during competition, enhances the reflective and educational process of the interactions of recovery and performance, and informs the proper training dosage for each athlete. Ultimately, this allows us to apply individual, minimal effective training doses confidently with improved trust and devotion.
Periodization and planning may be linear in concept, design, and theory, but life and training are far from that with their constant fluctuations and reactions to the world around us. Proper monitoring allows a practitioner to adapt the training to the athlete. And accounting for their ongoing, day-to-day and week-to-week instabilities encourages continued progress and a successful training experience.
The only way we can adapt the training to the athlete is to understand where the athlete is and what they’re enduring physically and psychologically. Carl Valle’s recent article “Monitoring Athletes – What You Should Know Today” provides an excellent synopsis on monitoring athletes as a whole—what it means, why we as practitioners do it, where it fits for each performance team member, and how to balance a program without getting discouraged immediately. If you have yet to read it, it’s a definite must-read.
Another great piece that gets the wheels turning is the Sports Science Roundtable by Daniel Martinez “The Effect of Monitoring on the Training Process.” As usual, focusing on consistencies and drawing parallels rather than pitting parties against one another regarding who is right and who is wrong is a productive way to learn and gather information on the subject, allowing you to form your own plan of action and implementation.
Most general training questions provoke the answer “it depends,” and decisions and actions are made based upon a summation of details and nuances. What works for one may not work for another, but the more we can share our insights to help simplify and provide a head start, the greater and more effective training interventions and productivity we will have.A subjective questionnaire at any level truly is your entry point into athlete #monitoring, says @Cody__Roberts. Click To Tweet
Among the gems of Carl’s monitoring strategies is that a daily subjective questionnaire is vital. I couldn’t agree more. In the pyramid of monitoring strategies, a subjective questionnaire at any level truly is your entry point into athlete monitoring. It provides incredibly valuable data that can empower all parties involved and help efficiency and effectiveness all the way from training microcycles to mesocycles.
I’m not going to dive deeper into why you should monitor and the benefits, but I am going to expand on some simple strategic approaches to successfully implement a questionnaire in your training environment. It’s a process I’ve struggled with, reflected upon, and found success with that I want to share.
Know Your Audience
“People make time for the things that are really important to them.”—Mandy Hale
With the benefits of modern technology, millennials and Generation Z communicate with methods that are quick, easy, and usually electronic. Smartphones are bedside, and an immediate response is rarely more than an arm’s length away. Likewise, technology allows automated questionnaires we can send to these smartphones. A series of questions or markers allows athletes to designate a numerical value based on a sliding scale of metrics, reporting their subjective feelings and creating objective data.
Fatigue, for example, can be reported and objectified, ranging from an alarming 1 (severe fatigue) up to a “cocked, locked, and ready to rock!” 5 (zero fatigue), as well as anywhere in between 2 to 4. Deciding which markers are important is an organic process and completely depends on your situation and particular athletes. But as with most assessments and monitoring, pick something that is sensible (Dr. Matt Jordan offers relevant insight), repeatable, and reliable. The more consistent you can be with your measurement, the better your data will be regarding quality and comparability.
Choose Your Starting Point
The following markers give a good foundation from which to start and allow you to identify the psycho-physiological readiness point for an athlete on a given day:
- sleep quality and duration
The secondary level of markers would include a deeper dive into quantifying and rating nutrition as well as identifying physical readiness in terms of soreness.
All of this stems from consistent compliance with filling out the questionnaires. With consistency, you can see trends and understand an individual’s recovery process after a specific session or competition while also gauging where an entire team is based on a general sense of feeling outside of the training environment.
But, as Carl said, the athlete is “the most central person involved,” and the only way for this vital monitoring tool to be effective is for the athlete to truly buy-in to its value and understand that the information—although very simple—is incredibly profound and useful. The data allows us to visualize the linear connection from one day to the next, hopefully creating a wave of highs and lows (days of “ready to perform” versus days of “ready to rest”), and mitigating a downward trend of insurmountable fatigue, stress, and maladaptation.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
As practitioners, we’re often guilty of getting far more excited about annual plans, training blocks, and monitoring strategies than our athletes do, which leads us down a path of despair, frustration, and resentment. Questionnaires go out and land on deaf ears. Rather than having a boomerang of actionable information returning to alert us to a problem or give us feedback to help guide the day’s training, we’re stuck playing Frisbee by ourselves. We throw out the questions but never get anything in return. But this is athletics—meaning teamwork is essential—and great teamwork starts with great leadership.
To win buy-in, adherence, and commitment from the student-athlete, the product we’re selling must be a good one. What makes a good subjective questionnaire?
- It’s practical and user friendly3
- It has feedback and understanding3
Practical and User-Friendly
First and foremost, the questionnaire itself must be user-friendly and not burdensome to the athlete. It cannot interfere with a morning routine or have a lag time when loading or connecting. Even a minuscule delay has a profound effect.
“Latency matters. Amazon found every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales. Google found an extra .5 seconds in search page generation-time dropped traffic by 20%. A broker could lose $4 million in revenues per millisecond if their electronic trading platform is 5 milliseconds behind the competition.
The Amazon results were reported by Greg Linden in his presentation Make Data Useful. In one of Greg’s slides, Google VP Marissa Mayer, in reference to the Google results, is quoted as saying “Users really respond to speed.” And everyone wants responsive users. Ka-ching! People hate waiting and they’re repulsed by seemingly small delays.”1
Feedback and Understanding
Once the submission process is seamless and the athlete has taken the bait, to truly reel them in, we must provide a verifiable response to set the hook. Action must be taken, which can be as simple as a remark or something noted or a follow-up question proving we took time to look at the response. These comments are golden nuggets that go a long way in building the buy-in bridge between coach and athlete.
- “Based on the questionnaires today…”
- “I noticed a lot of fatigue from yesterday’s workout, therefore…”
Something has to be done or said about the data. Bring value to the numbers, and bring value to the time the athlete spent to respond. This gets the ball rolling with compliance.
The law of diminishing returns sets in, and the golden nugget comments become stale and unprofitable. We need to take further action, and understanding of the process needs to ensue.
Complete the feedback loop and help athletes respect and understand the process.2Are they overly fatigued when they should not be? Are they struggling to manage stress outside of training? Is sleep limiting their performance? Help connect the dots and compare the line of poor sleep and high fatigue with poor ground contact times, RSI-mod’s, or potentially even sprint times. Combine their subjectively objective measures with other reliable objective measures.
What Not to Do
Through this process, the fishing line can snap in an instant if you pull too much, and you need to manage the first face-to-face interaction of the day appropriately. One way to kill the trust you’re building with the athlete’s compliance is to ask the athlete verbally “How are you feeling?”2
This generation of athletes communicates electronically, and this must be acknowledged and appreciated. If you ask an athlete this question verbally when you first see them, it completely negates the time and effort they put into filling out the questionnaire earlier in the day. Instead, this is the time to offer the nuggets of information from what you noticed or comment on the prior training session or competition to show you’re invested in their holistic picture and training load.
Build Accountability and Trust
In the midst of all this, make sure you, as a practitioner, hold yourself accountable and continue to watch, track, and interpret these responses. It takes time, and it is not automatic. The athlete has to build a habit, and building this kind of habit requires someone to be there encouraging, motivating, and helping them along the way. This does not mean punishment (“consequences for non-adherence were negatively viewed”). There are always excuses and deeper context (potentially), and if the consequences cannot be applied regularly, the athletes will see through that in a heartbeat.2Ensure athletes know the information they give in a questionnaire will not be used against them, says @Cody__Roberts. Click To Tweet
Also take steps to ensure the athletes know their information will not be incriminating. It cannot and should not be used against them in any way, but rather used as a reflection opportunity to improve lifestyle factors outside of training that’s directly related to performance. If the athlete simply tells the coach or practitioner what they want to hear, nothing productive will come from this experience, and it will likely end in poor adherence and data collection.
The Snow Ball is Growing: Education and Awareness
By staying on the right path, a flood of great things ensues as the athletes are empowered and feel like they have some say in what’s happening on a daily basis. Teamwork makes the dream work, and they become more invested and engaged in the process.
They learn to manage stress outside of training because the training itself is not such a psychological pit of despair, and they begin to prioritize their sleep habits as they see the connection between sleep, recovery, and fatigue. The athlete begins to mature and appreciate the 24-hour commitment required to be a holistically committed athlete. This can serve as a bedrock for the coach-athlete relationship, and both sides can communicate about the training plan and process of managing load and response.
Discussions, both informal and formal, can be had with an athlete and performance team as information is shared, visualized, and correlated with other performance results or simply the coach’s subjective report2 (foreshadowing to the next stage).
Be Consistent and Committed
Even though the questionnaire may be sent automatically, it’s far from automated and takes a practitioner’s time and effort. Stay committed to examining the data daily and making mention or modification based on what you see. Understand this won’t completely guide the process, but you’re at least providing feedback (completing the loop) and not letting the athletes’ responses fall on deaf ears.
Be Transparent and Honest
There’s a level of honesty required by both parties. Keep the questionnaire interaction professional. Don’t allow it to become a scapegoat for athletes who want to avoid training. Manage it appropriately and continue to use it as a conversation starter about lifestyle habits like improving sleep quality through meditation or relaxation techniques. Use opportunities for nutrition intervention to try to mitigate fatigue and improve sleep quality. This is the intertwining of life and training, which are often one in the same, and what you do in one area impacts what occurs in another area.
Evaluate and Adjust
As with anything, be adaptable. If the fish (athlete) does not take the bait, you may have to switch the lure. You may have to attack from another angle, or all angles. Get other members of the performance team involved in the process. Make sure they’re doing the same things you are regarding feedback, adjustments, and conversations. Continue to bring value to the three minutes of time we steal from our athletes in the morning to gauge where they are during the day.
Time and Place to Adopt an Athlete-Centered Model of Training
In the end, the questionnaire is the beginning of monitoring. It opens the door for very productive conversations and important information regarding the training response. Subjective questionnaires will never be perfect, and they require the right ingredients and proper planning by the practitioner and performance team. The more people there are on the team, the more difficult it can be. But as with most things, proper communication and partnership can make for an effective piece of the training process. Build your training and monitoring on the solid foundation of a subjective questionnaire and assure that you involve the thoughts, feelings, and responses of the most important piece to the puzzle.
1. “Amazon Found Every 100ms of Latency Cost Them 1% in Sales.” The GigaSpaces Technologies Blog, Dec. 14, 2016.
2. “Modern Pillars of Strength, Assessment, and Training with Dr. Matt Jordan.” SimpliFaster Blog, Sept. 15, 2018.
3. Neupert, Emma C., et al. “Training Monitoring Engagement: An Evidence-Based Approach in Elite Sport.”International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2018: 1-21.
4. Valle, Carl. “Monitoring Athletes—What You Should Know Today.” SimpliFaster Blog, July 14, 2018.