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  • Neelam Babardesai

Sports Science implementation: The Athlete Management System

This article is the final part in a 3-part series by Neelam Babardesai, Head of Sports Portfolio - Tata Trusts, in which she draws upon the learnings from the High Performance Leadership Program and her personal experience of implementing Sports Science interventions with Tata Trusts and Gymnastic programs to suggest a practical and cost-effective model of building Sports Science support programs for sports academies targeting excellence in various sporting disciplines.

Neelam is an alumna of the inaugural edition of the High Performance Leadership Program launched by ELMS Sports Foundation in association with the Abhinav Bindra Foundation.




Till now, we have set up the Sports Science Team comprising of sports physiotherapists, strength and conditioning experts, masseuses, nutrition consultants, and psychologists. To this team we added a Sports Scientist and Data analyst to help them identify problems, prioritise specific issues, collate data generated by individual team members, analyse it and make sense of it, to help resolve issues, which would ultimately improve the performance of the athlete. The number of resources in these Sports Science units depends on the number of elite athletes supported by them, as well as the level, at which they are playing – the higher the level, the greater the individualization and hence more focused attention is required. This also differs from sport to sport and hence it is important to do a detailed need analysis (sport specific, team position specific and athlete specific) before recruiting the resources. It’s always good to start lean and then expand the team.



In my last article we learnt, using a case study, how monitoring specific data points such as attendance on the field, reasons of missing attendance, wellness information of athletes, injury information and tracking the Acute Chronic Workload Ratio (ACWR), analysing it and taking quick action to modify the training of the player the next day, the team helped reduce the injuries in the athletes and improve training attendance.


To achieve the above, the team needed individual wellness information input by athletes along with their training attendance data on a daily basis, with a sports scientist and data analyst accessing and analysing this data and presenting information to the coach, about the readiness of the player to train the next day, before the training starts, so that intensity of the training could be modified accordingly. If the ACWR of the player indicated that he/she is over-trained, then the intensity of the training for the player would be reduced or the recovery strategy would be modified to ensure better recovery.



Capture -> Collate->Analyse->Notify->Act->Record would be the 6 basic steps required in any successful Sports Science implementation.

Using the traditional methods of data collection – paper charts for updates from the athletes and individual units, digitising the data in excel and word tools and using WhatsApp/shared drive for communication, the above steps can be achieved. But this has some disadvantages :

  • A lot of time, energy and effort is spent in follow ups for collecting and collating the data.

  • Access to the data is still person dependent. The complete analysis lies in the laptop of the data analyst or sports scientist and not everyone has access to the raw data. And if the person changes then the data is lost.

  • Difficult to look at the data over large time frames for generating trends and further analytics. We ideally can use them to define benchmarks for Indian elite athletes – which as of today is non-existent since we do not have any recorded data.

And that’s where the Athlete Management System (AMS) App/Tool can be helpful.

Imagine you have one such app where every stakeholder responsible for the performance of the player, has access and a specific role to play.

Let’s recreate the above example, with the help of the AMS.


Collection and Access to Data:

AMS has a Wellness Tracker, a functionality where every player can put in a score for their wellness. When the player logs in they can see the schedule for that day – training time, S&C time, recovery time, physio session – some other events as well as actions expected. The players can use the application to input specific data points such as sleep quality, mood, the perceived intensity of training, water intake etc. within 2-3 minutes. Based on the schedule, they can also update the exercises/rehab/prehab/recovery etc. post-session, as required, to confirm that the planned activity has been completed.


All the sports science support staff, along with the coaches, when they log in to the app, can see a dashboard – summary of players wellness information – highlighting those who are not fit and ready for the training that day and take the required action.


The physio/S&C can update the attendance and fitness of players ideally before the session. If a player is going to be absent, the physio/warden/psychologist can update the reason for absenteeism. The coaches can then plan the training knowing the exact number of players on the field as well as their readiness to play. They can access information from all the support staff which can give them an idea of what all is happening with the players. They can also define their training session plan so that all related information is in one place.


When the physio logs in they can also see the players scheduled for physio/recovery sessions in the day, and they can update the injury report for each player along with a treatment plan. If the player is going to miss the training session, an alternative recovery/rehab/S&C session can be planned ensuring minimal loss and maximum progress.


The S&C can update the S&C plan for the group or individuals in the app. Based on the inputs of the coaches and fitness assessments done, he/she can work closely with the physios to make different sets of exercises having different objectives and allocate them to the group/individual as required.


The event calendar can record the schedule for the day/week/month/year for the player.


Collate and Analyse

A sports scientist and the data analyst logging into the AMS now have all the data in the system. The data analyst can export them into excel sheets and work with them. Advanced AMS can directly have the required analytics in the system itself – which can be represented in different ways in data sheets, graphs, trends over a period, individual vs group etc. But the sports scientist is still required to decode, analyse and give recommendations to the respective units on possible actions.


Notify:

The AMS can be a useful tool to send notifications to the support staff. There can be alerts sent to the concerned unit to take action based on the urgency.


Action:

Once an action is completed, which can be a rehab program or a new S&C program, the impact needs to be assessed on the field. There has to be a transfer of training from the gym to the field. Hence foreach notification calling for action, the action needs to be updated to close the loop and record the data for future referencing.


As the systems and team matures, further API integration with GPS devices can help easy collection of more precise data. GPS tracking devices can be very exciting and helpful, but only if processes are clearly defined on how to use the data churned out by these devices.


So AMS or any technology can help in easing out the mundane tasks and freeing up time for analysis and action. Now that we feel the need to have an AMS, we need to decide on one. Our tendency is always to go for the best in the market – used by the best sporting academies in the world– which also come at a steep price. But best is not necessarily the right tool for your academy.



Here is a quick checklist that can help you make the right decision.


Establishing the need for AMS.

Ask questions. What is the need of our players? What are the short term and long term goals? What are the gaps between where the players currently are and where we want to see them? And what could be the possible reasons for the gaps?

Many attributes contribute to improved performance. Which ones are in our control and which are not? Prioritize the ones which are in your control.

Since we all are working towards a coach-led system, we need to first ask this question to the coach. All the sports science unit heads need to come up with solutions that can help bridge the gap.


Get the buy in from all stakeholders.

Ask yourselves, who are the stakeholders for an AMS? We established that they are the funder, the project director and most importantly the coaches and sports science support staff – since they will be using it. Since technology in sports is new, not many are comfortable using it – implementing a change is always a challenge. Any technology that is expensive and comes with the latest features,is good only if it is used effectively. Keeping the actual users in the loop from the beginning, involving them in the process of selection of the AMS will help get their buy-in and drastically increase the chances of successful implementation. In case customization is an option, then let the users drive the requirements.


Establish processes.

Define SOPs for usage of the AMS. Get each individual unit to define their own. Integrate KPI’s for AMS within the KPI’s of the individual units and track it diligently in the initial months of implementation till the team gets familiar with its usage.


Review at least 3 different AMS and compare functionality, support, ease of implementation and most importantly, relevance of the functionality to the processes in your academy – either existing or in the future.


Go for the AMS brand that gives implementation support for the initial month. This is crucial for successful implementation. Let them understand your systems and get them to define a roll out plan. A phased approach is the best approach. Define milestones along with the roll out plan and review the same with the management at regular intervals.


Reiterating the importance of awareness sessions and workshops for the users - coaches, support staff as well as the athletes for understanding how AMS is helping implement Sports Science processes which in turn will help improve performance. These workshops should be an integral part of the roll out plan. This will help increase their buy-in to an extent and also help improve the reliability or genuineness of the data they enter.


And that brings us to the end of this series. We have set up a sports science team, expanded it, developed and defined processes to support the head coach and his vision for improving the performance of the players and used technology to increase the efficiency of the process.



Do remember that technology will ease your processes, over the years, once you have recorded a lot of data and built in the artificial intelligence, it will also give you solutions to the problems but you still need resources with the correct mindset and capability to decode all the different reports and analytics churned out by the AMS and understand how you can use it to improve your team’s performance. So before you invest in technology, do invest in the right resources for successful implementation and application of sports science.


On that note, we end the series. Hope this has been helpful to you.


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