by Charlie Graves
European soccer clubs, the NFL and the NBA have led their sports into the era of big data. More than a Moneyball-approach to statistical analysis, wearable technology now allows players, coaches, managers, physiologists and neuroscientists to evaluate an athlete's performance on a level far beyond combine results or a game-day stat sheet.
Experts use performance data to understand how the player absorbs his or training, responds to competitive pressures and manages stress. Capturing all of this information and organizing it into manageable fields is at the heart of software systems and apps like Fitbit, MyFitnessPal and Garmin.
What's missing is the analysis and application of the information to actually help players get better. With everyone being pressed for time, and now big data telling us to train smarter, the aspiring athlete is left wondering, "Just do what?"
I lead a network of performance sports training centers that have trained more than 1 million athletes over the past 26 years. We collect, document and organize performance information to support athletes' individualized training plans.
This knowledge has allowed us to identify five elements that will help aspiring athletes improve their training plans or better understand just what to do.
1. Lead with speed.
Speed is a defining attribute of athleticism and developing it requires a focus on training. No longer considered a genetic gift, speed can be improved by training stride length, stride frequency, power output, symmetry and stamina. Speed training should improve running mechanics and running economy, while developing acceleration, top-end speed and endurance to help players create separation, close a gap and play as well during the closing minutes as they do when the game started.
2. Power is not strength.
Science says power equals force times velocity. Being strong is only half the equation. The ability to produce more force quicker than an opponent is what ultimately separates an athlete from the competition. If you want to jump higher, accelerate quicker, deliver a crushing blow or move at warp speed the instant the ball is in play, you need power. The key is to combine a wide range of movement velocities, with a variety of age-appropriate loads, to safely expose muscles to training that will improve power at game speed.
3. Stability reduces the risk of injury.
Agility hinges on an athlete's ability to control his or her center of gravity in all situations, including making quicker cuts and turns, maneuvering in traffic and maintaining position during a double team. Stability means maintaining control of the body in all directions and in all situations. It's developed by building strength through a progression of plyometric movements to improve foot speed and balance, while training the core and hip girdle for the safe transfer of power to the turf.
4. Remember recovery.
Preparing for the next workout begins when an athlete completes the current workout. Fluid hydration and mobility exercises begin the process, as range of motion is increased while the muscles are warm and supple. Compression helps flush lactate and soreness, while protein helps rebuild muscles. Getting enough sleep and sufficient rest are also critical elements on the recovery process.
5. Establish a Year-Round Plan.
In addition to training with the team, the athlete needs to make time during the year for a training season. Dedicating time prior to the start of a season to build on athletic strengths and concentrate on areas that require improvement will improve game-day or race-day performance. For the teen athlete playing multiple sports, the parents serve as the athletic director of the household, managing and balancing practice schedules, transportation, events, meals, academics and budget. Establish a big-picture plan that includes the dedicated time to improve speed, power and stability.