How to Manage Sport’s Biggest Challenge

Written by Tim Gabbett and the team at Gabbett Performance Solutions

In our last article, we looked at the biggest challenge facing sports practitioners today – information. Access to information has increased exponentially in the past decade or more, leading to both benefits and challenges. While we can track far more variables, and monitor athletes much more closely, the challenge now is to decode information. How can practitioners avoid the struggle of sifting through the junk, thereby allowing them to focus in on the information that matters? In this article, we look at my three biggest tips for practitioners for dealing with information.

1. Learn Your Sport

One of the reasons I have managed to do well in sports science is that I am a sports person who has learned to be a scientist – not a scientist trying to understand sport. The most successful practitioners around the world are those that have done the same. Understanding the needs of your sport is crucial.

One mistake I see many researchers make is that they research questions that many sport practitioners would never ask. These people often collect data that has no practical applications to their sport. The best practitioners recognise immediately why this research may be unimportant – because they understand the needs of their sport. With endless information available to practitioners, we need to be able to recognise what is important and what is not; what variables impact success and which do not. Being able to understand the sports we work in will allow us to block out the unimportant information, and focus on the factors that will lead to our athletes’ success.

The most important thing to understand is that sometimes less can be more! Measuring fewer variables is OK – and even better than measuring too many variables. It is so important to take the time to understand the people in your organisation, the culture of your team and the real needs of the sport. If you understand those things first, whatever data you do eventually collect will become much more meaningful.


 2. Ask the Right Questions

Closely tied to our first point is the notion that practitioners and researchers need to ask the right questions. Practitioners need to understand the key problems and issues which arise in the sport in order to work out where possible solutions may lie. Unfortunately, I have heard some practitioners say “Just collect all the data and we’ll work out a question at the end of it.” Instead, practitioners should avoid collecting numbers in search of a question.

The biggest piece of advice I can give someone struggling with data is to start with their endpoint in mind and work backwards from that endpoint. Practitioners can do this by first identifying the problem, and then framing their question around ways to solve that problem.

Sometimes practitioners can be guilty of collecting too much data.


3. Sport is Complex – But Don’t Make Things More Complicated Than They Need to Be

There are so many moving parts in sport that can impact on performance. With so many different variables, it is easy to become overwhelmed trying to solve each of those individual components. This is where understanding the difference between “important” and “interesting” information is crucial. In understanding what is really important; practitioners need to understand the key pillars that will impact on performance.  Conversely, some practitioners and researchers spend too much time focussing on variables and trends that although may be interesting, will not substantially impact on performance.

One example is the recent upsurge in athletes taking supplements to create marginal gains in performance. All the supplements in the world won’t help you if you don’t first train hard and have your best athletes available for action. While the “1%ers” might be important, we can’t forget to get the other “99%” right first.

In this article we looked at the best ways practitioners can use athlete monitoring opportunities without getting overwhelmed by the information. It is important for practitioners to learn their sport and understand what is most important to success. Staff should ensure they are always asking the right question with their data – and not just collecting data for the sake of it. Lastly, sport can be very complex and we only over-complicate it by focussing on everything at once – sometimes it is more important to take a step back and focus on the things that matter!

We hope you enjoyed this article. For more information about training load and athlete monitoring, check out our webinar series on The Training Injury Prevention Paradox.