The world of sport performance, strength and conditioning, and physical development is constantly evolving. These days, when it comes to these area of athletics, one of the most prominent evolutions seen stateside in the U-S-of-A is sports science.
Ask coaches and personnel across various sports and levels to define sports science and you might get a different answer from each. To me, personally, sport science centers on using scientific principles and methods to answer questions about sport, while also utilizing data to aid in decision-making.
Thus, to me, the data itself is a major key in ‘being sport science’ (I find that many people use sport science as an adjective in this sense!) or data-led.
There are many components involved in being data-led; there is data collection/acquisition, aggregation, and management; there is data analysis and visualization; and ultimately there is interpretation and application.
And while we would all like to skip to the final step — the application of data to help us make more informed decisions for our athletes — we simply cannot get to that point without first getting our hands on the data itself; this component is a critical part of successful sports science initiatives, as it is the data (whether that data be more objective or subjective in nature) that helps us answer sports’ greatest questions.
With step one being so important, it is also vital that it is completed effectively. This means that the athlete not only complies as a willful participant, but they partner with the coaches or sports science staff, and are ensured stake and agency in the process. It is for this reason that I plan to humbly share why I think the semantics of Data Collection vs. Data Acquisition matter so much, and why I personally prefer the latter.
Call the process what you would like publicly, what matters most is how you frame it in your own mind, as this will be what guides your processes and the interactions you have with your players.
To me personally, the term collection alludes to finding and stashing something for yourself — think collecting stones or seashells on the beach.
Acquisition, however, alludes to the fact that a price must be paid: you did not own the data, you did not find it, and you can’t stash it for your own personal “collection”. You are acquiring the data from others at a cost, and most often that cost is the time and investment necessary to create personal relationships that support a partnership between player and staff in the sport science process.
- “I need to get ____ from a player” vs. “That player is providing me with _____”
- “I am going to measure your ______ ” vs. ” We are going to take a look at ____ together”
- “I need you to make sure that you do _____” vs. “When you get a moment, would you please mind _____?”
- “We will share the data with you when _____ is ready” vs. “Let us know what you’d like to dig in on”
Again, it may seem like semantics, but how we frame this in our own mind as practitioners (which then influences how we behave and interact with our athletes) can make a world of difference. Our athletes are humans; chances are good that they do not like being poked and prodded continually for “the sake of sport science”, no matter how much we preach the value of our assessments and processes.
Establishing strong relationships and channels for communication with the player are effective ways to acquire data from players in a comfortable, reassuring way. Involving them in the process is a sure-fire pathway to maintaining buy-in, trust, and the personal touch often lost in this profession. But, what’s even more effective is ensuring that the athlete is not just as a passenger, but the driver of this process. Giving them the feeling of autonomy and personal decision-making; feeding them as much or as little information as they’d like; being able to answer their questions and provide real-time snapshots of their data — because at the end of the day, it is their data after all, right?
So much more can be said about the soft skills of the sport scientist or coach. However, a lot of this will be dependent on the practitioners personal style, emotional intelligence, communication skills and passion for serving others.
At the heart of it all, though, is understanding that the data is not ours to find, take, stash, hoard, collect; rather, it is our athletes’ data that we should only look to attain through acquisition — paying the cost of personal time and investment in others.