The Grind. Long hours. Poor sleep. Stress. The Struggle. Perseverance. Working toward a common goal. Losing the forest for the trees. Coming out on the other side. These are all the ways a sports performance coach can describe a college hockey season. That’s not to say it’s not worth the challenge, success, growth, enjoyment, and satisfaction. These are ways to describe the same experience. Either way you cut it, a season in high-level athletics is long—essentially year-round at this point. Because of this, the end of season review is crucial to our development process. It allows us to reflect on our past successes and failures, better understand the path we took versus the path we thought we took, and helps us reorient moving forward.
To Improve the Future, Learn from the Past
The end of season review is both formal and informal for me. From a formal perspective, I begin the retrospective process by looking at our varied streams of sports science data. I want to look at metrics over time in order to see whether there are any major trends. Are there any pressing questions from the season that we might now be able to answer? How did our readiness scores correlate with performance? What about our physical KPIs? Did our players objectively improve over the year? And did that translate to what really matters—performance on the ice?
Of course, this ratio will never be 1:1. Just because players are getting faster in training doesn’t mean the team will automatically win more games. There is obviously much more to team success than a simple checklist of physical inputs. However, moving the needle in the direction of improved physical KPI’s is our job as performance coaches, so we need to know if we are accomplishing this.Analyzing #KPIs over the past year helps see where we truly are and where we need to go, says @DMcConnell29. Click To Tweet
The process takes some time and does not necessarily follow a linear course. Initial questions lead to new questions. Retrospection sometimes creates clarity and other times creates confusion. In either case, taking the time to reflect both formally and informally is inherently beneficial. By analyzing what occurred over the past year without the hustle and bustle of the in-season day-to-day routine, we begin to paint a picture of where we truly are and where we need to go. But, as I said, the season is long, and some mental downtime needs to be a part of this journey as well.
End of Year Continuing Education Helps Recharge
Time off after a long season is crucial, both for mental health and to allow everything that happened during the year to sink in. However, I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t actively try to get better, you will get worse. Our field is progressing rapidly, and burying your head in the sand and refusing to learn is a recipe for getting passed up.
The early off-season is the perfect time not only to reanalyze what went well and what did not during the year, but also to plan out and engage in continuing education opportunities. I’m an avid reader, so nothing from that perspective changes much for me during this period. I do, however, tend to catch up on some non-sports performance reading at this time. I find my mind to be a little burned out after a long regular season and (hopefully) an eventful playoff. At the same time, I’ve noticed that a little time away from training, the rink, and my typical day-to-day routine of reading research, blogs, and other performance related material sets me up to have a clear mind and a renewed excitement about the upcoming time period.
It’s not much different than what I want our players to do at the end of the season. I give them a little less than two weeks completely off. I don’t want to see them in the gym or the rink. They need to get away, both physically and mentally. I want them to be regular college kids for a few days.
Once we get back to training, we start pretty lightly. I call our first phase back reconditioning because the purpose is to address many of the chronic overuse issues that arise during a long hockey season. And for me, it’s important to recondition mentally before digging back into the heavy lifting of sport science analyzation.
How to Analyze the Past Season from an S&C and Performance Perspective
There are many relevant reasons to use sport science. Establishing KPI baselines and trends over time might be one of the most important in a high-performance environment. The reality of any boots on the ground, in the trenches coach, or practitioner is that it’s very hard not to lose the forest for the trees. It’s all well and good to have your annual plan laid out in detail, but we all know that when you get to work, even the best-laid plans often go off the rails.
The day-to-day chaos that is high-level sport means that you often make adjustments on the fly, using coaching instinct along with data to make the best decision possible in the moment. Keeping track of every adjustment along the way is probably impossible.Leaning back on your data to paint a picture of the year is an important first step in starting the annual process all over, says @DMcConnell29. Click To Tweet
The ability to look back after the season and take a 30,000-foot view is crucial to understanding what went well and what we could have handled better. Being able to lean back on your data and paint a picture of the year is an important first step in starting the annual process all over again.
Once I’m mentally in a place to dig in and review the previous season, I like to use a combination of tools. I lean heavily on the athlete management system CoachMePlus (CMP) and the various dashboards and reports that it offers. CMP is my go-to hub for all of my data collection throughout the season, and the review process is no different. I also like the ability CMP gives me to easily export data so I can throw it into Tableau for easy, in the moment visualizations and tinkering.
I find that playing with my data in various ways lets me think through different scenarios and possible connections that I don’t always have time for during the season’s hustle and bustle. If I come across something that I’d like to dig into a little deeper from a statistical point of view, I can pull data from CMP to throw into JASP. Either way, this process helps me refine my process inside CMP for the next season, stripping away data or visuals that are no longer helpful and building new ones as my program changes over time.
How to Make Adjustments Based on What You Found and Liked
Our biggest takeaways from this past season came from our force plate data. This was the first season we had access to Hawkin Dynamics force plates, and I’m still getting my feet under me, so to speak. That being said, looking at the relationships between various metrics and our performance KPIs has been interesting. I was able to “bucket” our players into several different groups during the season based on a combination of force plate data, velocity and power data, as well as “coach’s eye.” This allowed us to train with slightly different points of emphasis within the team setting, giving each athlete what they needed to continue to progress, regardless of where they were at the time.We used our force plate data to plan different points of training emphasis for each athlete within the team setting, says @DMcConnell29. Click To Tweet
I highly value the psychology behind team training but recognize that there can be slightly different priorities within a group. From a practical perspective, for example, I had a force group, an eccentric group, and an RFD group. Bucketing our team into these subsections based on their movement profiles allowed me to keep the continuity of the group in check while addressing each subset’s biggest needs.
Video 1. Consistent testing of a vertical jump over the course of a year will show more than just peak height. Using the Hawkin Dynamics software, coaches can mine key details that ensure each athlete’s strength training and training load are cohesive with the development plan.
In practice, this simply meant that we tailored the primary lower body exercises for the day to each group. The force group might have performed heavy clean pulls and lower velocity (higher load) rear foot elevated split squats while the eccentric group performed vest-loaded box drops and kBox split squats, and the RFD group performed hang snatches and band resisted RFE’s at a higher velocity.
By looking back at our velocity and force plate data, we were able to tailor the primary training stimulus around our athletes’ most pressing needs while still respecting and cultivating the all-important culture that drives the development mindset within our group.Finding ways to use data to connect the dots for everyone on staff is where #sportscience and #performance training need to move, says @DMcConnell29. Click To Tweet
I was also able to articulate and create visuals around player strengths and weaknesses for our staff that helped drive conversations around what the coaches saw on the ice, what I saw during training, and what else we could do to improve the end product. This is really where sport science and performance training need to move—if the sport coaches aren’t involved or interested, it doesn’t matter. A big takeaway for me this year was finding ways to use data to connect the dots for everyone on staff.
How to Plan to Monitor and Track the Changes
Moving forward with our force plate data, we’ll be tracking several key metrics that we’ve identified as influential and informative for our performance KPIs as well as a way to audit our training program. With countermovement jumps, we’ll look at average relative propulsive force as well as average relative braking force. These will give us an indicator of our force output as well as our eccentric ability relative to bodyweight over time in a dynamic movement scenario.
With squat jumps, we’ll look at average relative propulsive force and propulsive RFD. These metrics will allow us to compare propulsive force from CMJ to squat jump as well as track any changes in the rate at which athletes can produce force. With our isometric RFE, we will be looking at peak force, time to peak force, relative peak force, as well as force at 150ms and 250ms. This will allow us to monitor changes in maximal force output as well as how quickly the athlete can produce this force without needing to test traditional 1RM’s during the season.
I'll continue making in-roads to quantify and then better understand things that are usually relegated to coaching instinct, says @DMcConnell29. Click To Tweet
We’ll also begin assessing speed on the ice. This sounds like basic common sense, and it is. We’ve done it sporadically in the past but will hopefully implement goal to blue line timing once or twice per week, just as we do off-ice sprint timing once or twice per week. The off-ice results have been so good, we must move onto the ice at this point.
The addition of Catapult this season will expand our player monitoring and tracking program and give us another layer of on-ice performance metrics to go along with our standard game-based analytics. Hockey continues to be a very “gut feel” sport as viewed by most coaches and management. Since I’m a hockey player and have the sport science skill set that I do, however, I plan on continuing to make in-roads to quantifying and then better understanding the things that are usually relegated to coaching instinct.
Your Expectations and Planning Ahead
Now that I’ve had time away to clear my head and some time back in the gym to dig into our data, I plan on refining some of our processes. Using CMP, for example, we’ve collected sRPE from our players daily for several seasons. The original idea was to compare these scores with our physiological training load scores from our heart rate system. If we saw any large discrepancies between the subjective and the objective data, we would consider that a red flag. The discrepancies also helped me inform and educate our coaching staff on the relative intensities of the practices they were running. It was eye-opening early on to ask them what level of intensity they thought the practice was and compare that to what the team reported.
Over time, we’ve dialed in our prescription so that our coaches are more aware of the actual physiological demand of their drills and practices. We didn’t see many significant differences between the sRPE scores and the training load, so we’re getting rid of the sRPE questionnaire. The fewer things I can ask our players to do daily, the more focus and attention they’ll pay to the things that remain. sRPE became redundant for us, so we stripped it away.
I’ve also streamlined our integration of sport science technology into our training process and reworked the placement of our sprints and jumps within the training day. We’ve moved to more of a modified French Contrast set up, where we combine heavy sleds, bodyweight broad jumps, resisted broad jumps, and 10 or Flying 10 sprints into our A Series with great success. And we’ve built our jumps into our B Series, using both our jump mats and our force plates in a contrast fashion along with our RFE split squats. These small changes have sped up our training by eliminating bottlenecks and allowed us to integrate our sport science tools seamlessly into our process.
I plan on integrating our ISO RFE assessment more often to begin assessing how the training program affects peak force output as well as RFD and will look closely to see how well these numbers correlate with our performance KPIs. It will take another season’s worth of trial and error most likely, but my experience thus far has me excited about the possibilities. If the assessment works out the way I think it will, we’ll have a great way to assess qualities that are difficult to analyze in-season. It will also continue to help shape the individualization of our development plan for each player while maintaining the integrity of our team training model that I believe is hugely beneficial to our team and organizational culture.
Know What to Change and What to Keep
Overall, the process and procedure for taking us from the end of season review to the planning period involve some time away, some time catching up, and some time reviewing our data. CoachMePlus is an integral tool in this process, allowing us to quickly and easily visualize our data, generate reports, export data for agile interpretation, and reassess what we need and what we don’t need moving forward. This period is crucial personally and for our team, as we’re all able to relax and refresh, coming back to the training process excited, informed, and ready to improve.
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