Sports are evolving, and we need to embrace the change.
The complexities of the human performance model increase every year – there is an incredible amount of new scientific and anecdotal information that we must adopt to in order to stay best practice. This is true in any competitive environment, but in sport the rate of education for all stakeholders continues to accelerate. Improvement in any endeavor is a combination of many factors - cognitive, behavioral, and physical. Maybe most importantly - no one does it on their own. Behind every successful athlete or entrepreneur there is a team of people they have learned from and leaned on.
Evolving is a hard – sometimes painful – exercise. As a consequence, staying in your safe zone and sticking to what you were raised on is still tolerated at the highest levels for many sports organizations. It is safe. It is a default behavior for most of us; we are actually wired to prefer habits or familiarity over new information, regardless of the information's value.
The Power Law of Practice
This means that the work required to gain an incremental advantage may, to some, may not be worth the effort. To others, to masters of their craft; this is a huge opportunity to differentiate! (side note: I think most people assume they are so far along that they are chasing the 1% - until years later many realize they were chasing the last 20%!)
So we continue to jump on the hamster wheel and work with the same models. It's true, the technology has changed how we ingest information (trees are thankful), and what data points we can track on a daily basis. But the details, the process of development; that hasn't fundamentally changed since I started playing. Evolving is a slow process.
Now a new trend is coming in sport; one where athletes take control of the narrative, where they take more ownership of their careers, where they are comfortable taking responsibility for more aspects of their lives.
Consider the current generation of competitive athletes - the information they have access to, the power of influence they have, and their willingness to find their own path, regardless if it fits in a tidy box others have deemed acceptable. Look at the leadership they have demonstrated in times of national crisis. This is a different kind of athlete, with enhanced expectations.
And this means that as parents, coaches, or institutions involved with sport – we need to heed the law of nature – adapt or die. By this, I mean we must provide the best quality development practices, mentorship, and operational support to these athletes. These athletes are now aware of the support others are receiving, and feel empowered to act in the best interest of their careers. I am focusing on professionals, but the same can now be said for all competitive athletes because of their access to information.
Due to Covid-19 many athletes were forced to try new models. From this perspective, Covid has been an opportunity to evolve. It was proven that if the best practice method to support their career advancement lies somewhere else, these players will go find it. They have the confidence, the curiosity, and the means to seek out the best platform for them to maximize their opportunity.
For example, the amount of ‘ outcome based information’ available to every team is at an all-time high (AWS stats, top speed, distance run, etc.). Despite this, often teams do not understand the reason why some athletes continually make the same mistakes, or more importantly how to address correcting the area of opportunity– particularly during the season, when time is at a premium..
Let me share some information from my Development Data from the 2019 season to illustrate. I spent years pouring over film to gain insight to why teams struggle running sound scheme plays. Schemes are designed to combat specific weaknesses in the opponent, or highlight one’s own strengths. Schemes are generally created in a vacuum – the play assumes everyone executes their job and wins their individual matchup. When an offensive play goes sideways, there are two major reasons as to why: opponent called the right defense (guessed right/read a tendency) and had more players to the ball than the offense could handle. The other reason is that someone broke down on their individual matchup. This is the area we can dramatically improve on if we can understand why it is happening.
Here are some examples from the 2019 season:
- Offensive lineman entering into contact too high 34% of play-side run blocking, 44% backside run blocking. Both areas stem from leverage issues with initial footwork (ex. 27% poor 1st step on all drive blocks).
- Professional linebacker giving up too many yards after contact early in the season because of a wide base into contact. Arming the team with hard data and corrective exercises reduced the occurrence by 18%.
- Offensive system struggling on specific situations in part because of tipping plays by offensive players. Information to coaching staff allowed for intervention, correction.
- Defensive unit continuing to make the same mistakes with their in-game tackling. Data uncovered two major areas of opportunity for the coaching staff to focus on during preparation. Resulted in 20%+ improvement in tackling efficiency.
Why bring this up?
All of this data is extracted on the individual level, and in then compiled to make group decisions. But now that players know this information can be theirs, and they can create action items that dramatically improve their performance. They are doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of a clear opportunity to differentiate. Because differentiation means dollar signs.
AND THE INFORMATION DOESN'T STOP WITH FIELD PERFORMANCE
Now that the top athletes can see all options on the table and have been exposed to 2020’s setbacks and opportunities, we will be seeing athletes making different decisions about how they approach their careers, specifically how they divide and spend their time. This could mean how they look at business relationships, the agent model, or working with subject matter experts in individual fields to promote growth. As we all know intuitively - quality trumps quantity - and a soccer player can receive 3000-5000 quality touches in an hour training session with a top level coach versus 100-500 in a team session. The information is out there now, the decision lies solely at the feet of the individual athlete.
Most importantly through all of this; athletes will continue to develop their concept of time. Think about the key stakeholders in developing an athlete. You have the athlete and their family – and you have the organization or club. Both sides want the athlete to develop. Both sides want the athlete to be the best version of themselves.
Here’s the difference – time
Organizations and the people within the organizations do not have the luxury of time. The game is about results, and there is pressure to win now. Win or lose their jobs. And nearly everyone is working with constraints – financially, contractually, or in terms of manpower. Magnify this with the general lack of time with our athletes, even before COVID took away our training sessions. Teams are now forced to compress much of the development process into these small windows of time that might not cover what is required for individuals.
An athlete understands that the best version of themselves isn’t going to happen in year one; the best thing they can do is surround themselves with people who will positively affect their ability to constantly improve over the course of their career. Live in the moment, but think long term. Athletes must improve their process, their routines, and the way they react to stressors. These people in their lives aren’t just transactional – they are hopefully acting with each athlete's best interests in mind now and in the future.
As we move towards a post-COVID reality, sports will not be the same. Athletes who take advantage will create tremendous career opportunities for themselves. Teams that adapt will find longer term success. It is always a question of evolution, and this latest crisis may have caused us all to evolve faster.
1) Information and access is causing an evolution in sports
2) Athlete will demand the best practice methods to further their careers
3) We as parents, coaches, and organizations must adapt to our new environment or be passed by those who will