Sports science technology products aimed at the strength and conditioning professional are becoming much more available and affordable, but how do you know what to get? Answer these three important questions to see if that new technology you've been eyeing is something you should further pursue.
1. Is it reliable?
The first step when looking at technology must be evaluating its reliability; and by this I really mean two things: Is it accurate and is it robust? Reliability as most scientists think of it, is the accuracy of a tool or device. I'll give an example: An athlete steps on a scale and it reads 200 pounds, if that athlete steps back on that scale 5 minutes later with no changes and the scale now reads 209 pounds, your scale is unreliable.
An unreliable scale can have consequences such as incorrect re-hydration recommendations or poor tracking of weight gain/loss goals. But consequences can become devastating when these technologies are used to make bigger decisions. For example, using measures of HRV, jump height, or even bar velocity to measure athletes' readiness or recovery. If these tools are unreliable, you may be overestimating an athlete's readiness and increase their training load leading to extremely high acute training loads, over-training, or even injury. Or perhaps the opposite occurs and you miss a key training window when your athlete is recovered but your unreliable tech is telling you otherwise.
This bad data can be dangerous, and is often the result of low budget tech. Generally speaking cheaper technology is going to be lower quality and less reliable, but the price differences can be astronomical. Compare DEXA to bioimpedance device or high speed cameras to accelerometers. Depending on how you plan to use these systems, if you cannot afford a reliable product, no data may be better than bad data.
The other way we evaluate reliability is if the tech is robust or not. Does it work consistently and will it last? If your technology is constantly having errors, crashing or breaking it will be extremely hard and frustrating to actually implement. This leads of right to our next question:
2. Is it practical?
Whether or not a technology is practical is going to be highly dependent on the logistics of your situation...
How many athletes are you working with? 10, 40, 300? Five GPS units may be all that is in the budget, but is this practical to implement with a team of 30?
How many hours per week do you get with them? Are you willing to give up 5, 10 or 15 minutes of training time to do testing with your athletes? Do you have the staff in place implement this technology?
How open are your athletes and your coaches to using new technology? Many sport coaches and professional athletes can be reluctant to try new things based on their past success.
These are just a few of the questions you need to ask to see if the technology you are interested can be used within your specific setting. Some types of technology are going to inherently be much more practical than others to implement, but it is up to you as a coach to be realistic and decide if the tech you are interested in will be able to be implemented.
3. Is it going to change anything?
If it isn't going to change something, there is little value in using it. Utilizing technology should help you in some way. Maybe it objectively quantifies velocity, acceleration, force production or training load. Or maybe it gives you more information about your athletes' sleep, nutrition, or recovery habits. But if these data don't actually get used what's the point? At the very least, technology should allow you to simplify and streamline processes to improve time efficiency. (However, if the process is to collect data you aren't using, it may be best to simply eliminate the process all together.)
If you don't have some clear ideas on how you are going to implement the technology you are seeking, there is a good chance you will not see value in the technology you purchase. There are really two simple questions you need to answer:
- WHY are you looking to implement this technology?
- HOW are you going to use it?
By coming up with solid answers to these questions and a few specific goals you are hoping to accomplish by utilizing this technology, you will set yourself up for success come implementation time.
So, what do I do?
Keep asking questions of yourself and your organization, of the technology itself, and of the people who are using it. Before you plan to implement any new sports science technology, make sure you have considered these three crucial pieces to set yourself up for success.
RELIABLE: Is it accurate? Is it robust? If I have a question or problem, who do I call?
Any tech company you use should be able to offer content to show their product is accurate. Also, look to third-party research to see if others have gotten the same findings. If things break or you have questions, you should know who to call. A 1-800 number is not a good sign. Ask coaches who are currently using the technology, what do they think of it?
PRACTICAL: How can we implement this? How are others in similar situations implementing it? How do you recommend we implement?
Evaluate your logistics for your organization to decide if and how it can be practically utilized. Technology companies whose products are actually used should have countless examples of how other organizations are successfully implementing their technology. They should be able to give you specific recommendations and connect you with others who are using it. Again, ask people using the technology how they are practically implementing it.
ACTIONABLE: How can we use it? How are others using it? How do you recommend we use it?
You must have solid answers to why you are implementing and how you plan to use it to qualify. It may drastically alter training or it may simply allow for better communication, but it must do something. Ask for examples and case studies of how the technology is being implemented and utilized with other organizations. And of course, talk with people who are actually using it.