The science and art of player/athlete welfare

Player/Athlete welfare is about reaching a balance between the demands of a sport and the mental and physical health of an individual. "Balance" is an important keyword here because it refers to the tug war between all the relevant parties that play a role in the dynamics of a sport, including coaches, management, the environment, even the fans and the personal circumstances of the athletes themselves.  We need to consider the psychological aspects, the personal wellbeing and the physical demands of the sport and manage personal habits, training and game/competition dynamics.  We are looking to bring about peak performance whilst minimising injury in our journey to achieve the ultimate goal: winning.  

Player/Athlete welfare is fairly complex in terms of its scope.  We need to deal with the preparation of the body and the mind, the competition/match day requirements and post-competition/match requirements to keep our athletes performing and injury free.  

Education of the athlete is paramount to be able to drive the right behaviours when it comes to sleep, nutrition, hydration, hygiene and training loads.   Monitoring and screening are also important to be able to identify signs of increased or diminished performance as the result of training or early warnings of injury risk.

There are a lot of moving parts that need to come together.  It is not an exact science as there are way too many variables involved in attempting to fine tune the ability to perform, including what goes in (training, nutrition, environmental variables that have a bio-mechanic or psychological impact among others), the dynamics of a competition/match and the individual ability to leverage his/her resources and make the right choices and decisions on demand.

The first step is to be able to measure the core aspects that may have an impact.  With GPS and video analytics technology, there is plenty of opportunity to measure performance metrics.  These solutions are not necesarily cheap at present, but if you can afford them, they certainly would add tremendous value in constructing the analytics platform to give us clues for success.  If money is an issue, there are plenty of other options.  For instance, the use of structured interview based surveys is an effective way of measuring key metrics that will give you a good indication of the state of being.  If athletes and coaches are committed and there is rigour in the data capturing process, this technique could be incredibly accurate.  You can measure Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE), nutrition and hydration metrics, sleep quality and time, mood, training loads and self-assessed metrics, among other things, which would give you a good welfare measurement. The secret for these to work is in the consistency of the information gathering process.  RPE, for example, needs to be captured within 30 minutes of the training/match being completed.  Otherwise you will be dealing with inaccurate information.  Hence it would be of great assistance to have processes in place to ensure the information is reliable.  For instance, the use automated reminders, educating athletes on the importance of these metrics and a establising a reward system for the quality of the information being captured are some of the strategies you could use to deliver better results.