When Athlete Monitoring Doesn’t Matter

I plan to devote much of this blog’s content to athlete monitoring….specifically what I’m doing with the Whitecaps, but also to what I’m finding from my research on other clubs, other sports, and pulling from research literature. Athlete monitoring is receiving quite a bit of attention in the sport because there’s frequently the impression that anything fancy, technological, involving gadgets, or science is better than simple and old school. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. I say this as someone who is a self-professed gadget geek and a PhD-toting, published sport scientist. There are a couple problems with this misconception but for this post, I’ll focus on the most pragmatic….sometimes I don’t care to assess the athlete’s training load because I don’t need it. Specifically, if an athlete isn’t at the level of performance yet (in the health-fitness-performance continuum) then I personally feel it’s a waste of my time to assess training load and physiological readiness when they aren’t meeting the minimum standard of physical preparation. Tools like match performance analysis, salivary cortisol tracking, heart rate variability and omega-wave analysis are all well and good…when an athlete physical state warrants it. Using them on an unfit athlete is both unnecessary and could potentially stunt their return or development to higher levels of performance.  At those lower levels of fitness, athlete’s should train hard regularly. They are effectively behind their more fit peers…and need to catch up. This might mean that they get sore and tired and their daily RPE surveys, heart rate variability values and endocrine profiles throw up red flags. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, I don’t give a crap what an athlete’s HRV is if they’re trying to play professional soccer and aren’t capable of running a 7 minute mile. They’re simply so far off the minimum standard that using tools of precision is a waste of time and akin to measuring the distance from LA to NY using a caliper. I don’t need a caliper to tell me that LA is very far from NY. Likewise, a good coach doesn’t need fancy tools to determine training load for an athlete who is not meeting minimum standards of fitness. Hard work + smart programming will take an athlete to the level where assessment tools can make a difference. But even in these scenarios, coaches should remember that this difference is more similar to putting icing on a cake than making the whole cake (with icing!) itself.

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Mike Young

Director of Performance at Athletic Lab
Mike is the Head Fitness Coach for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC. He is also the owner and Director of Performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center. He previously served as the fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carolina Railhawks. He has a PhD in Biomechanics, an MS in Coaching Science, and a BSS in Exercise Physiology and has coached Olympic and professional athletes in Skeleton, Track & Field, MLS and NASL Soccer, PGA Golf, NFL Football, MLB Baseball and Olympic Weightlifting. He has lectured around the world and authored 2 books and dozens of research and coaching articles.