At the collegiate level, my fellow strength and conditioning coaches and I are able to see our working environment and teams’ culture from a bird’s-eye view. We sit at the back of the meeting room for film and game day walk-throughs, and while we play a role in practice, we are certainly not at the center of it all (at least, we shouldn’t be!).
With this bird’s-eye view, we can offer honest, 360-degree feedback to our head coach on what we see and how this may be of good or of harm to the culture they are trying to uphold. Providing this feedback is important, and we must be brave as support staff to communicate with the head coach things we see that might be a blind spot for them.
If I am to provide this feedback, I’d better be in a self-reflective mood when assessing my role within the program as well. At the start of each off-season and in-season phase, I write a new “interventions” list and a daily checklist that hang above my desk as reminders of what I need to do to provide the best S&C program I can with the knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated.
I’m in my fifth off-season with Furman—working with men’s basketball and men’s golf—and the longer I’m in this profession, the more I value and make time to reflect on my previous years’ work and how I can improve it for the next macrocycle. Over the last couple of years at Furman, my biggest bird’s-eye view reflection was that I needed to incorporate technology into my S&C program to take it to the next level. Technology was an area I didn’t have any experience in, but I knew it would make a huge impact in providing the most holistic S&C program possible for my teams.
Adding technology systems to an already busy workload, like anything new, requires time and effort. It also requires us as coaches to be brave when communicating with the coaching staff about what the data is telling us, how we have assessed it, and what practical steps we should take to improve based on the data insight.You’ll save time if you use technology correctly and get a deeper, more wide-reaching picture of many things that contribute significantly to your athletes’ health & performance, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
This article aims to show you that with the right systems in place, technology doesn’t have to add hours to your already busy day. In fact, the opposite is true. You will save time if you use technology correctly, and you will get a deeper, more wide-reaching picture of many things that contribute significantly to your athletes’ health and performance. And this, at the end of the day, is how our jobs are assessed.
Good to Great
To clarify something before we move on, I know from discussions and various social media posts that this question is being asked a lot:
Do I need technology (force plates, GPS, heart rate, etc.) to run an S&C program and get good results in the weight room and on the field/court/pool?
I can hear us all saying to ourselves, “My days are already busy, my program is already good, I’ve had good results in the past; I don’t need technology to be a great S&C coach.” I don’t want to contest you on what you’ve done in the past. My challenge is to get us all into a proactive mindset with our thinking. What else can I do that will raise the level of my S&C program? How can I take it from good to great? What could move the performance needle if I added it into my program?
Following on from this, I want to propose some questions.
- Is the team high-performing? How do you define and quantify high-performing?
- How do you quantify your job performance? Wins and losses are tricky ones that we would all do well to tread lightly over. Program-best winning season, “it all starts in the weight room”; sub-500 record, “it all starts in the weight room.” My advice here would be to check yourself in the mirror, don’t take the bait, and just continue to add value where you can. Learn from the wins and the losses from a physical preparation standpoint and remember that a strength coach has never made a winning play (or any play!) in any game. We are support staff, not student-athletes.
- What data do you have that you can show an athlete so they can see their progress, both in the weight room and on the field/court?
- What data do you have that can show a coach their practice loads and work to periodize this better? After all, games are truly won and lost on the field/court, not in the weight room. Keep the number 1 thing as the number 1 thing: the sport the athlete is at the university to play. Your lifting sessions are just a mandatory add-on to that sport.
- What data do you have that can show a coach the team’s game loads? If we are to reverse-engineer the sport to best program and prepare the team to compete, we need game data/loads to work from and prepare for in the following pre-season period. Wins and losses don’t help you program a pre-season conditioning session. Having game data with a tracking system that shows game intensity and average work/rest periods does.
- What training program feedback are you getting? In this power block of training, how do you know if the athlete got more explosive? Does a 1RM power clean improvement equal an improvement in their force production? Did they get stronger, enabling them to get a new 1RM? Did the programming to work on the power clean lead to an increase in power?
- Do you have a yearlong readiness and fatigue monitoring system in place? Wellness questionnaires are great but subjective; athletes can manipulate their answers (shocking, I know!). Do you have a quantitative way of tracking their fatigue/readiness throughout the season?
- Can you provide the freshman with normative data that they can work toward to match the performance level of older athletes in the program?
- When assessing NBA/NFL talent and using these examples to motivate your athletes, do you look at their combine scores? Do you work toward improving your athletes’ combine scores? Isn’t this considered a test and retest using data to show progression and performance gaps? I assume you use some equipment, maybe even technology (speed gates), to run these combines—if you use technology and data to help your athletes reach the next level, why wouldn’t you incorporate it into your daily work to ensure more accurate, detailed, and player-specific programming?
You will get better results with the use of technology within your S&C program. Answering these questions without data, without evidence of improvements, and without quantifiable results is near impossible. You can turn a good program into a great one with technology because you are now getting player-specific feedback—internal and external load—that can help your decision-making as an S&C coach.
With all sports technology systems, there is a range of different metrics collected and made available for analysis. The first few conversations with the tech company’s sports scientist are crucial in establishing what they perceive to be important within your sport and what you were looking to track and monitor (which is hopefully what led you to buy the product, not pressure to do so just to say you have “X” product).
After you have used the system for a few weeks, the analysis and subsequent interpretation of the data is the next, and arguably the most important, step. (It has been said that to get the most from the data, a full yearly training cycle should first be recorded before assessment.) As strength and conditioning coaches, it is highly likely that we are the ones who really like, care for, and are heavily invested in the data, not the coaching staff. It is our job to present this data so that our coaching staff understands, cares about, and can make practical decisions. Often, this involves adding context to the data—such as showing which drills produced the highest load or highlighting which players stood out in terms of high or low exertion during the session.It is the S&C coach’s job to present the data so our coaching staff understands, cares about, and can make practical decisions. Often, this involves adding context to the data, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
For example, as you can see with the slide below, I can describe some training recommendations that are in easy-to-understand terms and simple to apply practically. It requires no data analysis or extra work for the sports coach; they can tweak practice plans easily based on your detail and prior work.
Take ownership of the data and do a deep dive into what you find interesting and what could help the team prepare/recover and optimize game performance. These may be bigger projects to work on, but they’re likely important questions to find answers to. Only share with the coaching staff the crucial data sets that can answer specific questions you have been asked to report back on or proactively seek to improve. For example:
- How you want to structure the pre-season differently this year compared to last year.
- How your day-before-a-game practice load could potentially contribute to a fast start in the game or not.
- How player X has been trending recently in practice/games.
- How player X is working through their return to play protocol efficiently.
Practical Reporting Examples
When using Hawkin Dynamics force plates in the weight room, I will clean the data after every lift session and compare the latest jumps to the athlete’s previous session and total data set. We jump on the plates whenever the athletes are in the weight room to train. The more data points I have for them here, the better, both from a fatigue monitoring perspective and a training response perspective.
The picture below highlights a player’s jump height during their freshman year. Jump height is the main metric I look at and track with the countermovement jump, with time to takeoff and L/R average braking force. When players perform the drop jump, the focus is on seeing changes in their reactive strength: RSI and mRSI.
I like to share with the coaching staff via text when a player gets a PR jump. I’ll let my head coach know when the team average is very high above the average or very low below the average. I do this to create a conversation around the team’s upcoming training and how best we can program to ensure the team stays healthy and high-performing.
Reporting good news to the coaching staff from the weight room is always fun; if the team’s energy is good and their jumps are above average, it’s productive to reinforce the staff’s desire to have an intense practice. What makes a coaching staff impressive is their ability to use their eye and know when to pull back on intensity or duration of practice (or sometimes both). Even when the jump heights have been well below average, it’s been interesting to report this to the staff and see that the plan for that day or the next day was for a lighter court session or no practice anyway, which is a great connection between their instinct and the data. This isn’t always the case, of course, but this is where we have to be brave to report what we see and trust that the information is received and some training modifications, even if they are small, are made.
I am also very selective with what I share with the coaching staff about the on-court training. I no longer send out post-practice reports (Kinexon), as that wasn’t an effective way for me to communicate training loads to the coaching staff. I found that sending an email wasn’t adequate for sharing the sessions with them; texting them or printing out the data with context and putting it on their desks led to much greater conversation around Kinexon and our use of the system.
I look at the week as a whole and create a slide on Friday of each training week that shows the team practice loads for that week. I print this out and put it on my coach’s desk so that he can see what days were more intense than others. It can be a discussion starter for us on how to best plan for the following week. Using extra features on these reports to present the data in the coaching terms and vocabulary that we use as a program has also proven to be an effective way of data reporting (for example, changing the term “accumulated acceleration load per minute” into “high-intensity effort per minute”).Producing work with a high level of detail will go a long way when presenting data to staff and wanting the desired outcome, says @SCoach_Aldo. Click To Tweet
For bigger-picture questions, such as comparing in-game intensity from this past season to the previous season, I print out some slides and put these on the staff’s desks. I then text the group chat some background on what I have given them, my conclusions, and how to get a better result next time with some practical application points. Producing work with a high level of detail will go a long way when presenting data to staff and wanting the desired outcome.
Here to Stay
Whether you currently use technology in your program or not, one thing is for sure—sports technology isn’t going anywhere! To provide my athletes with the most holistic strength and conditioning program possible, I must integrate performance tech. The information these products provide is game-changing compared to not having it.
It’s 2022. There will continue to be more and more products on the market that will help us do our jobs as S&C coaches. There’s never been a better time to be in this profession, given what we have available to us to help program and coach our athletes to higher levels of performance.
Kinexon first started working with college basketball teams in 2018, and Hawkin Dynamics did as well. Both companies are market leaders in the service they provide, and yet they are only four years old in the basketball strength and conditioning world. Yes, technology may be harder for older coaches to get behind, as many have had good success without using any, but for me, if you’re in this profession now, the future path is clear. It involves great sports technology products that make our jobs easier and allow us to reach new levels of insight and performance.
Lead photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire
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