As we go about our daily business with mobile phones playing an ever larger role in everything we do, the impact of systems and data on all our lives are clear for all to see. Rowing is starting to feel the effects but not yet to the same extent as other sports where the use of data to improve game tactics is having a big impact.
Race tactics in rowing do not need the same analysis as the big team sports such as football or rugby so where will the impact be felt? There are many possible areas but this blog explores a couple.
For a coach and for club management, making sure the training programme is having the desired impact (and responding if it is not) is a core part of their responsibility. This means having a good baseline of athletes’ capabilities and monitoring changes on a regular basis. For many this means seeing how ergo scores improve. Flat out testing aside, which is not feasible on a regular basis, regular submaximal testing can be an unreliable indicator without knowing how hard the athlete is working. Systems need to become more sophisticated so measures such as heart beats per watt produced can be observed.
Ergo scores tend to be recorded with 500m splits which gives us some idea of pacing at a high level. But ergo data can now be recorded every stroke and a much more granular view of how watts change throughout the piece shown. Averaging hides a huge amount of variation so measures which indicate how output varies stroke by stroke throughout a piece are needed to gain a fuller understanding of how the athlete is responding to physiological pressure. The interaction of rate, stroke length and power is key in the boat so practicing it correctly on the ergometer can only help.
“Is a measure of variability of power and stroke length on the ergo an indication of fatigue”
Telemetry systems which are increasingly available also record every stroke in the boat so we can see how watts produced interacts with heart rate, stroke length rate and other measures of technical proficiency eg slip, % through the stroke of peak power. But once again this data has to be assigned to the correct individual in monitoring systems and saved in a way which allows changes in response to training to be observed over time.
Modern measurement systems provide all this data; now its simply a question of maximising the marginal gains available. Of course, changes in these improved measures need to be recorded and observed over time, so once again the impact of training can be seen.
The arrival on the market of more and more sophisticated monitoring systems eg for heart rate, boat speed, technique, lactate levels, sweat rate, hydration etc. gives coaches ever better tools to ensure their training programme is being implemented by athletes in the way intended and to make sure it is having the intended impact. As with any monitoring system if that is not the case changes need to be made. Those who adapt their training programme best will stand a good chance of winning.
At the organisation level
Simple improvements like using Googledocs to communicate availability, arrange outing times and distributing training programmes are already in common use. This means the data is available over the internet and for Europeans the introduction of the “General Data Protection Regulations” (GDPR) which define, amongst other things, the right to be forgotten and for data to be transferred will inevitably have an impact if only in raising awareness of the associated issues.
Search engines not sports clubs are the organisations primarily in the spotlight of the new regulations but if athlete data is held on many different coach laptops (especially if the coach takes the data when leaving the club) it will be hard to argue care is being taken in relation to privacy or that athlete welfare is being properly exercised when the inevitable dispute arises in the future. Clubs should be thinking about how they control their data (from subs records to performance monitoring) to ensure their expectations are clear. Being able to see the impact of previous training programmes ought to be a key strength of a club. Also knowing who rowed with who and having the videos is valuable when fundraising in the future.
So there are many data challenges on the horizon for rowing clubs where lessons should be able to be learned from the corporate world where they are already high on the agenda. The volume of data and data sources to be managed, the data management infrastructure including athlete unique identifiers, policies and permission structures concerning who can see the data are obvious issues. Skilling up coaches to interpret the data and make appropriate adjustments to their training programmes will help ensure a proper return on the data investment
But once again as with the corporate sector the hardest issues are likely to be cultural. “This doesn’t really apply to me does it? I’ve always done it this way and its not been a problem before”.