Monitoring in Team Sports on a Budget

March 7, 2018

The following is an excerpt from Monitoring Training and Performance in Athletes by Mike McGuigan

For the purposes of this discussion, baseball, American football, rugby union, rugby league, basketball, volleyball, netball, handball, Australian rules football, ice hockey, field hockey, softball, and cricket are considered team sports. Typically, the greatest challenge facing practitioners working in team sports is the number of athletes they have to deal with. In individual sports, practitioners may be dealing with only several athletes, but team sport scenarios can involve playing groups with upwards of 30 athletes. In American football, more than 50 players may be training or practicing at the same time. Because large-scale monitoring systems can be difficult in such situations, practitioners often default to simple, but still effective, methods.

A crucial guideline in team sports is not to rely on a one-size- fits-all monitoring model. Ideally, the goal is to monitor team athletes individually and create individual training programs. Practitioners working with elite rugby union athletes identified the need for greater individualization (33), although this must be balanced with the realities of monitoring large numbers of athletes. Like practitioners working in individual sports, those working with teams need a good understanding of the demands of the sport and an appreciation of its culture.

A large budget is not required to monitor athletes in team sports. With a few simple resources, a practitioner can implement a monitoring system that provides useful information. For example, the cost of obtaining measures of wellness and subjective internal training load is only the practitioner’s time. With research supporting the value of subjective measurements, practitioners can be confident that they provide valuable information on team sport athletes’ responses to training load (23, 47, 50). Practitioners can also develop their own athlete monitoring databases using online tools (see chapter 8). Although dealing with data is not everyone’s forte, doing so provides insight into how the information is generated and what it means so that practitioners do not have to simply accept the numbers.

Practitioners on a budget can develop a monitoring system gradually, adding aspects over time that they believe have value. The length of each phase is determined by the practitioner and the characteristics of the group of athletes. Ideally, each phase would last long enough (typically several weeks) to accustom the athletes to the monitoring tools. A practitioner working with a high school rugby union team, for example, might take the following approach:

• Phase 1: A simple training classification scale is assigned to the athletes at each session (e.g., A = full training, B = modified training, C = in rehabilitation, D = absent). The duration of each session is also recorded.
• Phase 2: A training diary that includes a place to record each session’s duration and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is introduced to the players.
• Phase 3: The training diary is expanded to include more detailed information about the content of each session such as the mode of training, exercises, sets, and repetitions. A wellness questionnaire is distributed and collected at the start of each week.

• Phase 4: The athletes continue filling out their training diaries, but now the wellness questionnaires are completed three times each week. For one training session, a smartphone app is used to monitor velocity in one upper-body exercise (e.g., speed bench press) and one lower-body exercise (e.g., vertical countermovement jump).
• Phase 5: Phase 4 continues with the addition of a 4-min submaximal running test (51), in which postexercise heart rate and RPE are measured. The test is performed as part of the athletes’ warm-up for one training session every other week. A vertical countermovement jump test is also used to monitor fatigue and serve as a monitoring tool for one power training session.
• Future phases: Athletes can complete a more extensive wellness questionnaire (e.g., Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes) every 2 or 3 weeks.

Practitioners with more extensive budgets can start with a wider range of monitoring tools from which they can determine the ones that are particularly effective. In the majority of settings, however, a phased approach is more sensible.

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