The popularity of earlier articles on sports training and rehabilitation equipment and technology was a natural sign that we should provide information on Athlete Management Systems. Currently, about a dozen systems exist on the market, but we narrowed it down to the top 10 based on market usage and the projected outlook of the company.
Several vendors have come and gone, meaning they started out with gusto but are now struggling to get adoption. New companies are sprouting up every year; some make it and some don’t. While the market is evolving quickly, we share timeless advice in this review on how to go about selecting the right system for your needs.
What Is an Athlete Management System?
If you ask different coaches and sports medicine professionals what an Athlete Management System (AMS) is, you will likely get a few different answers, but everyone will know it’s software. AMS products range from very inexpensive cloud software to major custom investments that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
While it’s hard to define what an AMS is in 2017, everyone in the sports technology space will likely agree it’s a platform to update important athlete status information for organizations and teams. The details of what the platform can do beyond storing simple data like biographical information or a limited medical record will vary, but those differences are the reason we put this guide together.
A good case for an AMS to simply be a central organization solution for teams was accurate in the early 2000s, but today the expectations are much higher. Professional teams, colleges, and leading training centers demand more than a portal to update athlete data; users want to have analysis and integration with devices and other software programs. A perfect definition isn’t possible now, but the expectations are that the AMS market should do more than just recordkeeping.
Some software products are mostly training or workout design tools, while others are excellent dashboard solutions but can’t do much beyond visualization data. A few solutions do a great job managing different data sets from devices, while others can’t import anything beyond their own hardware. With such a range of differences and variations of roles, AMS shopping is very difficult to do without knowing what is possible with athlete’s software and what may be important in the future.
Important Technology Terminology for Coaches and Sports Medicine Staff
If they don’t know the key terminology specific to software, professionals can get quickly lost in a sea of three-letter acronyms that sound exciting at a sales meeting but are likely just buzz words. The backroom staff is growing larger and larger, so organizations now have more support personnel than players. With different roles and needs, one software program will have a lot of work to do to satisfy the many unique requirements that staff have in sport. We have touched on many of the terms below, but now we are going to define them and explain why they are important for every staff member.AMS software has to satisfy the many unique requirements of different sport staff members. Click To Tweet
Metric: A single measurement is called a metric, and usually its value and how often it is calculated separates a metric from a random measure. Metrics can be nearly anything, ranging from morning Heart Rate Variability scores to practice workloads. Metrics are predominantly distilled to single numbers and displayed, but they are also used in calculations with other metrics to tell a more contextual story.
KPI: Many measurements matter in sport, but Key Performance Indicators (KPI) are usually high-value metrics because they connect to success more than other measurements. Teams and performance experts typically use KPIs to guide them in training and to see a cause and effect with design training and competition strategies.
Dashboards: The most common feature of an AMS is the athlete or team dashboard, a one-screen or one-page summary of the current status of the player(s). Dashboards are simple at-a-glance summaries of athletes with data that changes rapidly, and those measurements are usually KPIs. Dashboards are visually stunning to coaches and medical staff and are huge sales tools to encourage adoption, but most of a team’s needs are in other areas like workout builders and reporting.
Algorithm: The most abused buzzword in sport science is the term “algorithm,” or another way to say a calculation. A simple weight conversion formula from kilogram to pounds is technically an algorithm, but the term conjures Manhattan Project blackboards with high-level astrophysics. While you can argue that any calculation is an algorithm, the true connotation is that it’s a high-level, step-by-step, custom procedure in software to handle difficult math that is unique to the needs of the problem.
Analytics: Data is an easy way to spark up the value of what coaches are doing, and the current trend is to look at as much data as possible to see patterns or trends that go beyond the eyeball test. Advanced statistical analysis is necessary at times to show true importance or validity of a belief, but for the most part the best data is actionable, it’s simple and it’s straightforward. Some AMS programs provide analytic engines, or software to help break down data into meaningful outputs, but many AMS products work with third-party products.
API: An API is simply a way for external developers to interact with the website or application. Coaches, especially those that use wearables or monitoring tools, demand an API from the device companies to extract information and aggregate it to a central AMS product. Constantly exporting files and uploading them is time-consuming and monkey work, so team staff has asked device companies to provide an API for AMS companies. Some data providers are not allowing for an API as they want their own platform to sell, and they are “cutting off the pipe.” This is the reason costs are high and speed of use is low.
EMR or HER: The first AMS product was likely the paper or analog medical health record that eventually evolved into the modern electronic medical record. There isn’t much of a requirement to be considered an EMR from a technology standpoint, just being current with software security. Medical record software requires HIPAA compliance and that’s easy for any vendor to do. Most EMR products are shortened medical histories of dates of service, medications, and past medical imaging. Because all EMRs are top-down—meaning doctors summarizing their findings—sports teams are using more bottom-up approaches from athletes and their support staff and leaving EMRs to store medical imaging and prescriptions.
The above terms are most of what constitutes an AMS product, and they are enough to help you select the right software package. Some systems don’t touch medical information, and some are mainly medical in nature, especially the early AMS products from the U.K. Managing data centrally is not a big challenge; the real challenge is making it user-friendly for everyone, while keeping it powerful enough to do what teams need.
Essential Components and Functionalities in AMS Software
Most of the core features of AMS products involve communication between parties and the ability to share information when communication isn’t possible. Beyond those two needs, the market gets into a gray area of when a product becomes something else. For example, designing workouts and storing them is the most effective way to reduce injuries, but for the most part, training loads from GPS products are one of the few shared data sets.
Team coaches or position coaches rarely see workouts in the weight room, resulting in a limited view of the process. Add into the equation the fact that athletes often hire private trainers even during the season; the AMS system usually has only a partial snapshot of what is truly going on.
Common AMS Features
A Calendar Planner allows for everyone to view what and where things need to be, and organizes large groups effectively. Some conflicting information exists on how athletes should share their private calendar, but this is resolving as the market evolves.
Every system should have a standard or customized Dashboard so staff can act quickly and effectively.
Push or SMS Notifications are a staple for teams wanting to organize communication beyond texting from a smartphone.
Simple Data Visualization is a midpoint, since action steps taken afterward are the full solution. Still, the right charting and graphing properly informs staff to make the right decision for the athlete.
Wellness Questionnaires are a staple with most products because they are easy for software developers to make, but on average most of them lack the user experience required to keep athletes engaged.
Session Designer tools are important, and they range from very functional strength and conditioning tools to a glorified whiteboard application that allows for the sharing of text. Typically, as you focus on monitoring, the training programs seem to fall off the hierarchy of importance.
It’s uncertain if AMS products will start to evolve and grow or break into smaller components that work with other systems instead of competing. The challenge is to service teams and sporting organization with more turnkey solutions, but the standard and feature’s demand for power only makes development slower and more difficult for companies that build AMS products.
Several AMS companies have partnered with other similar software platforms that have unique differences to encourage collaboration and communication. Other data providers that collect physiological or sensor data have analysis software that simply can’t be replicated to be housed in an AMS product, but some metrics can be pushed to dashboards and other analysis that is more manual can still be done offline.
Top AMS Companies for the 2017 Buying Season
We will refresh the current list of AMS providers in a year or two, as the market has been surprisingly stable since 2012. One expectation is that the list will grow and market share will likely shrink due to the space having very few ratings and vetting programs. Based on adoption rates—meaning how much client traction the AMS product has—the list below summarizes the most commonly used systems and the next review will feature more software evaluation. For now, here are the Top 10 software options.
Kinduct: This Canadian AMS option is no stranger to the team and fitness sector, and has a strong presence in all major sports, especially in North America. Kinduct’s popularity in pro sports is due to the fact it has very strong visual appeal and the ability to use data from different providers. Kinduct is active with some high schools and colleges, but they focus on pro teams and private training facilities.
AthleteMonitoring: The most direct monitoring tool has a lot of strength in the management of workload and the ability to identify risk of injury with evidence-based metrics. Based in Canada like Kinduct, AthleteMonitoring is exceptionally strong on essential sport science needs. While less visually appealing than products such as Kinduct or Smartabase, the low cost, simplicity and feature set of AthleteMonitoring are the main reasons why teams and small market institutions love them, as the system does enough to solve most of their data management and monitoring needs.
SMARTABASE: Australia-based Fusion Sport is the company behind SMARTABASE, and it has a rich tradition of working with sport scientists. SMARTABASE connects seamlessly to testing products like electronic timing and jump testing, and the product can import a lot of different data types and do marvelous reporting. The adoption is strong with larger organizations, such as big-time colleges and professional teams, but the price point is not appropriate for high schools and small facilities. SMARTABASE is doing very well internationally, and they have entered surprising markets like research and military.
Metrifit: Similar to AthleteMonitoring, Metrifit is a smaller market product, with enough of a following to appear on this list. However, due to the competitiveness of the space, they are less visible in the market than Kinduct, SMARTABASE, and CoachMePlus. One of the Metrifit’s strengths is that they are very developed on the mobile side of things, and really focus on the core essentials of AMS products, namely communication and subjective athlete monitoring. Many satisfied clients, ranging from English Premier League football to college basketball, are in favor of the product doing the fundamental aspects of athlete support.
AMP: AMP is a smaller company like Metrifit, and has a nice solution for simple and fast communication between coaches and athletes. AMP was at the International Sports Technology Association Conference and should be poised to grow and evolve if they take advantage of the brain trust from the meeting. AMP is a lean solution, and is working on a way to push correspondence training programs as it caters to more Olympic sports based on their early adopters. Due to the cost of the system, some teams consider it an entry point product, but with software development in a year this can change very quickly.
BridgeAthletic: San Francisco-based BridgeAthletic is the only “Silicon Valley” product, and is a classic startup company. Named after the Golden Gate Bridge, the company traces its origin to college sports. They are very strong on the strength and conditioning side of athlete support.
CoachMePlus: Perhaps the most tenured vendor, this U.S. product has the most adoption by pro sports in the U.S. market, and is the most visible of all systems in the AMS market. The appeal to teams is likely the focus on supporting coaches by making data collection and analysis more applied and simpler to perform. They spend much of their development budget on connecting devices to their system and they are like TrainingPeaks in terms of outside data partners. CoachMePlus is available to high schools, colleges, pro teams, private training facilities, and military.
TeamBuildr: Another U.S. product, this one is getting a lot of traction in the small college setting and is thriving with high schools as well. Mainly an Excel and clipboard replacement for teams, TeamBuildr does have some limited communication tools that are sufficient enough to function, but not robust to be dependent on. TeamBuildr is a very small company, with less than five employees, and is one of the least expensive entry point products on the market next to fitness apps. The strength of TeamBuildr is that it’s simple and fast for coaches who may not have a lot of office time and need to be on the floor.
TrainHeroic: This Colorado startup is very strong on the strength and conditioning side because they place a lot of development resources into the strength-training design parts of the software. The company also has a marketplace for coaches to share their workouts like the iTunes store. Another strategic benefit is their geographical proximity to TrainingPeaks, the most successful endurance software product on the market, giving them an anchor to lean on as the competition becomes more demanding. TrainHeroic works with high schools, colleges, and some of the best pro teams. The product has some monitoring features, but its primary role is workout design and post-training analysis.
EDGE10: One surprise in the AMS space is the U.K. company, EDGE10, which survived the onslaught of new companies over the last five years. With strength in soccer, they were agile enough to grow to other sports here in the U.S., including American football. One of the best features of EDGE10 is the medical recordkeeping, and other tools like statistical analysis of other areas outside of sport science. EDGE10 has its roots in other markets outside of sports, and that may either be a strategic move to ensure revenue or a way to learn from other industries (or both).
The list above will surely grow even if companies go out of business, which is a notable fear of teams worried about committing to a product that orphans them later. Smaller products are being launched, meaning much of the growth is in specialty solutions, but even those companies feel compelled to widen their services to accommodate fickle clients. There are other products on the market being used as replacement AMS products, such as business management solutions and developer tools for collaboration.
Not included in this list is the new system from Microsoft that recently launched. The reason we didn’t include it was because any platform must have two years under its belt for us to evaluate. Also not listed is Mladen Jovanovic’s software, Athlete SR, a specialized program that includes a rapid and effective way to capture both session RPE and wellness questionnaires. While Athlete SR is not a full AMS product, its value is more effective data collection and having the right tools to maximize the subjective monitoring process.
What You Need to Know Before You Trial or Buy
Overall, the entire market is the Wild West, and many teams and colleges are simply unsure about what they want, tending to buy only because other competitors use an AMS product. Several teams have built their own system or collaborate with different platforms that are not listed, such as Kitman Labs. The key is to decide what your needs are and how much time users have or want to invest.
The worst thing a team can do is having meetings with companies without having the actual users give their feedback. A vital reminder is that the goal of an AMS product is to save time and clarify roles for who should be doing what. It is not about the number of features the product has or who is using it when making a purchasing decision.The goal of an AMS product is to save time, and clarify roles for who should be doing what. Click To Tweet
Before buying or even trialing, create your own list of expectations, send them to the company, and ask if they can fulfill those needs or provide additional ideas if a gap can be filled with a complementary smaller product bundled in. Commit to using it for a year before thinking about other products. Then, after using it, decide if it satisfies your needs and performs what you need it to do. Talent, not software, is usually the winning reason why a team succeeds or fails, so don’t stress too much about picking the perfect product.