From a 2019 Unrivaled Article
Professional teams spend a great deal of time trying to improve the quality of their practices. Teams hire performance experts who use the latest technology to identify and measure what they have determined to be "key performance indicator (KPI)" such as training load or high speed yardage. Teams will evaluate every pass and shot based on outcome; all in hopes of measuring the quality of practice. Unfortunately, these key performance indicators fall short of evaluating process, focus, and effort in training. It is difficult to develop culture using KPI that are not a reflection of the vision of the organization. To improve the process of continual development, we can turn to Standards of Execution to drive our vision.
Turning vision into culture starts with creating long term, definitive, ambitious goals for the program. The ability of leadership to clearly communicate and enforce these goals to team members goes a long way in determining how the vision for the program turns into culture. Standing on the sideline of any practice field, an educated observer can quickly make determinations about the culture of a program by watching the level of focus and effort that the players are putting into training.
Teams with a defined vision and culture attack the practice field with purpose. Pete Carroll has developed a culture around his vision to "Win Forever." It is a big, ambitious idea that is clearly communicated and policed by the entire organization. "Winning Forever" translates into all aspects of their operation. It is no surprise that Seahawks' practices are regarded as the most intense sessions in the league. Clarity and purpose promote focus and effort.
I prefer to formalize and measure when applicable. Historically, practices are categorized by the summation of the outcomes of each play; clean, sloppy, fast, slow... This is intuitive, but foregoes information that can be the greatest driver of improvement and accountability. Instead of relying solely on completions or high speed yardage, we can use Standards of Execution to communicate, assess, and improve the on-field behaviors teams prioritize in their vision statement.
Standards of Execution (SOE) are process-based and unit-specific KPI for training sessions. By identifying, measuring, and adjusting based on the ability to sustain effort and focus over the course of the session; organizations can focus on process and not solely results. Using objective data to shift the focus from outcome based measurements to process based applications allows coaches and players to create behavioral change that will drive greater output. This is intuitive, of course, but rarely practically applied.
All dynamic movements that must be prioritized and practiced to master have SOE. On the individual and group level, these are the details of movement that athletes and development coaches can use to measure accountability to the details of the mission. Standards of Execution emphasize body positioning, footwork, mobility, strength, and timing components. They are the details embedded in the larger picture. Boxing out on every shot, chasing the ball to protect possession, coming to balance on a tackle...Standards of Execution are set by the coaching staff and monitored daily to ensure we are attacking practice with the culture of our team securely in mind.
Using SOE forces emphasis on detailed habits and routines. The more detailed fundamental technique is emphasized, the better our athletes will perform those techniques under pressure. Olympic weightlifting is a marvel to watch at the highest level. Because of the physical requirements and the weight involved, technique is refined in practice to the smallest detail. Every set up is indistinguishable from the last. Breathing has a cadence, exact foot and hand placement, specific hip height at the second pull…if any one of these is not exact, the chances of making the lift go down enormously. Focused, consistent training effort will always reveal itself under the lights.
Some might dismiss non-confrontational or segmented sports as the outliers when it comes to detail: it is easier to refine and standardize when no one is guarding or attacking you. Anyone watching professional basketball or soccer will acknowledge that players who have mastered the core techniques of ball control can manipulate their situation with little regard to individual size or position. Watching the tika-taka style of Barcelona leaves no doubt that beneath the art form is a group of individuals who have completely bought into the culture of the program and live it daily in practice. We must demand that level of detail and accountability, and in many sports the units of measurement are not clear.
American football creates incredible mismatches from the ability of one or a few individuals to execute technically better than their opponents. Coaching technique in terms of inches and bullseyes is crucial to developing mastery across the positional board. The level of detail when examining an offensive lineman's first step should be comparable to the footwork of a wide receiver out of his break, or a defensive back coming to balance pre-contact. To best create a culture of focus and effort, we can utilize the transparency and detail of SOE during practice to help transfer technical mastery to live action.
SOE are powerful tools in individual and unit/team development, because they allow us to focus on the process of mastering our craft. Data analysts and sports scientists have become headline hires for professional clubs in recent years. Teams needed data to crunch, so they purchased monitors for heart rate, sleep, distance, speed, etc. Only context can bring true value out of this information. Understanding the top speed of your athletes does not account for the opponent, style of play, or circumstances of the game. For a development coach or player, what matters is whether or not we are executing the game plan to the best of our ability.
We want to measure process to improve outcome
Enter SOE: a simple way to name, describe, and measure the position specific characteristics/details that matter most to your organization. Simply ask yourself what is most important to your culture, and how does that manifest in an ideal practice environment? Then create your own SOEs to hold your staff and players accountable.
The results are amazing - coinciding with a reduction in missed tackles; an NFL defensive SOE improved by over 80% during the course of the season. SOE give coaches and players opportunities to focus on the details, regardless of upcoming opponent or time of season. They are part of the culture, established as a reminder to never lose sight of the importance of accountability, focus, and effort.