Some of the best practitioners in the world in their fields rely very little on hardware and software solutions. They instead trust years and years of “in the trenches” experiences, intuition, mistakes made and learned from, advice from mentors, and even learn from experts in “unrelated” fields to excel in their profession. Some of the best coaches, sports medicine professionals, doctors, administrators, and executives are hardly household names. Number of followers is hardly synonymous with level of expertise.
Meanwhile the market is flooded with countless products that relate to the Sports Performance industry; from courses, clinics, and certifications, to training equipment, hardware solutions, software platforms, and mobile apps. Most organizations, coaches, and sports medicine practitioners feel behind the competition if they are not educated on all of the latest and greatest the world has to offer. We must remember however, that these tools are only as useful as our ability to utilize them.
As a brand new, first time head strength and conditioning coach at a small school, it took me two full years before I felt I was at a point to start looking for tools to implement to improve my program. Sure, I might have been able to sell the importance getting GPS units to my administration and coaches, but most of my athletes didn’t know how to do a proper squat. They showed up late for training and athletes (and coaches) didn’t understand how lifting weights could possibly help them in their sport. I had to teach them the value of training, even getting athletes to record their weights was a constant struggle. Teaching the true importance of sleep and nutrition, as well as practical tactics to implement all took priority over new training tools or concepts. With time being our most limited resource, for a young sports performance department our time was better spent educating and creating relationships with athletes, coaches, and administration to allow for us to just do the simple things well.
Had I simply inherited a GPS system, I still did not have the knowledge, systems, or processes in place to even know where to start. Who would be able to understand and analyze this data? What would we even do with it? Without any previous knowledge of GPS, having this data would have been of little value for myself or our athletes. Even simpler, who would be sure the units were fully charged each night and the athletes wore them each day? Without the systems and processes in place to make the use of this system reliable and practical, we can’t even think about collecting this data, much less analyzing it. Organizationally, we did not have the knowledge nor the processes in place; implementing a tool like this would have caused more harm than good.
Tools in your toolbox...
This is by no mean a knock on the growing market of both educational and technology based products available in the performance field. There are absolutely a number of high quality products that can be extremely beneficial for sports organizations at any level. When looking to invest in these solutions, we must make sure we have invested enough in the people who will ultimately be implementing these tools.
If we look to many of these elite practitioners, most of them are selling just this. The power of simplicity, culture, knowledge, and experience will far outweigh the number of “tools in your toolbox.” But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail... Ok, so you have a hammer, and a drill, and a screwdriver, and a hacksaw, and a 100 other tools you don’t know how to use, now what? Are you really in a better position than only having a hammer? The nice thing about a hammer is at least everyone knows how to use it. Whether we are talking specifically about actual tools such as training equipment, measurement devices, and other technologies or more conceptually about methods and techniques, too much can be just as harmful as too little.
- Is there a benefit of measuring the velocity of a poorly performed squat?
- Will your athletes benefit from wellness surveys no one ever looks at?
- Is electronically timing your athletes beneficial when they don’t train consistently?
- Is learning a new manual therapy technique going to benefit your athletes if they are still told to avoid the training room like the plague?
Humans > Hardware
The goal of utilizing new tools and technology are to make your life easier, not harder. This seems like common sense, but in our years of working with high school, collegiate, and elite sports programs across the globe, we have seen thousands of dollars of high quality sports technology equipment collecting dust in closets and cupboards after failed attempts of implementation. This waste of resources often has much less to do with the quality of the products themselves, than the lack of proper processes, education, and motivation to utilize the products. Organizations must have the proper education, culture, maturity, and motivation to make investing in these tools worthwhile. The field of sports performance is still extremely young as is the market for related products. However as the market grows, we must avoid being simply seduced by these tools and remember they are only as effective as the people who wield them.