This week we had the honor to interview again a group of sports performance experts.
Alexi Pianosi, S&C coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL).
Dr Andy Barr, consultant for the Brooklyn Nets, a top NBA team. Andy is also the Founder of Quantum Performance.
Dr Marco Nunez, who is the former head athletic trainer for the LA Lakers (NBA).
Dr Derek Lawrance, head athletic trainer for the US men soccer national team.
📝Show Notes: Through this interview, we touched on the future of wearables and sensors for sports performance. Then we discussed whether or not there is a correlation for teams between how much teams invest in performance technologies and the performance of the teams or the reduction of injuries for that team. Then we touched on what makes a great sports performance team. Lastly we talked about their experience with tech vendors that were overpromising and could not deliver.
🚀Best Quotes: Here are some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Marco, Andy, Alexi, and Derek:
On the future of wearables and sensors for sports performance, the improvements and challenges there:
Dr Andy Barr:
“ The wearables and sensors are getting more efficient, smaller, easier to use, and with more information and insights. I think technology in it overall is just constantly improving and progressing. And in the age of collecting data, the sensors are a big part of that, so I think they're going to be huge in the future and they're probably just going to be more efficient, smaller, and more impactful, and probably more invasive (…) Personally, I'm more interested in the motion capture sensors and their capabilities, just because that's more in my area of expertise.”.
Dr Marco Nunez:
“At end of the day, it's a tool, and then it's how you interpret the information. This is the most important thing (..) I don't quite still see how via an algorithm, if there's a camera shooting from far away, it's telling me what my heart ate is and what my blood flow's like, Really? But it is what it is. That's just my personal opinion on that part, but I'm more interested in the biomechanical movement”.
“I think the real trick or the real gold is going to be in how people integrate those pieces together and use them to answer questions. I mean, you look at technology assembles a force plate that spits out 60 different metrics or whatever, but you're not looking at all 60, you don't, you maybe need one or two”.
“But then if you're doing an ACL rehab or reconstruction or something like that, and you want to look at some of those force parameters, well, they might not be as useful though if they're not paired with some kind of motion capture. So how do you integrate motion capture with force plates? You have to answer the questions you need to answer”.
“It's also going to open up even more possibilities that we then have to figure out, well, which road should I go down? Because this technology's going to take me down one of 40 different roads and I need to know the one that's going to give me the best bang for my buck, or answer the question that that's going to make the biggest difference for my player or my athlete”.
Dr Derek Lawrance:
“We're seeing now with the influx of all the different types of technologies that companies are presenting us, the data that they can give us and what they could actually do for us. But if we're bringing in five to six different technologies but we are not adding any more bodies to our staff, that's where the biggest complications can come from”.
“I still think that keeping a very sound fundamental process or protocol of how you're doing this and kind of going with Alex said, the bang for your buck, because we have to be efficient. We can't use all these technologies if we're not expanding our staffs as most people don't have that ability in some sports to really hone in and say, okay, I need you for 30 minutes, every single day for one person or something because I have to do this program, this program, I have to hook up this camera, put you on this sensor. It's just not going to work”.
“Even though it could give you the most value in terms of the data that you can have to use, but it's just inefficiencies. It is what kills most of the daily life and for practitioners like myself or athletes, because they're just going to lose interest if you're asking them to spend too much time on it”.
On the importance of understanding the context of the game to properly apply technologies and make sense of it:
“I think we also have to very critically appraise, I think what the technology might not be telling us about certain things and things look really good. I get this metric and this parameter. And a great example I can give is just, GPS or motion tracking in live games in the NBA, the Premier League soccer, things like that”.
“The same technology exists in hockey or in the NHL right now, but it's a little bit different on the ice. One is a non-running based sport, but also if if I have a player who's standing in front of the net and their position is only changing by a few inches at a time, but they're pushing with all their strengths to try to move, the GPS, the load metrics is not going to quantify that, but I can tell you that guy is working very, very hard for 20, 30 seconds”.
Dr Andy Barr:
“I think that's an amazing point (..) If you start from more the game down and understand the context of the game, what the ingredients are of the game, then you start to understand the gaps of what the actual data is that you're getting just from that technology”.
“Not that it's not useful, it's important because it can help you understand stuff. But in the example you gave, it is a great example of where you're not getting any real insight into something that's huge effort and huge load. It's like, well, what is load? There are so many different types of load and the biggest load for me is psychological load because that drives you physiological, and do we measure that? Not really”.
“How do we measure psychological fatigue from games? Hardly ever. But that's what drives physiological. That's why a training session load does not compare comparative to a game load. But we often make that comparison. It's like, oh, you've done that enough, that amount in training, so you should be fine for a game. Well, no, it's two different things. It it's not even equal”.
Whether there is a correlation between how much they spend and how well they're doing in the league:
Dr Andy Barr:
“No. It's got nothing to do with that. Zero. So the technology is a tool, right? The system, the coach, the organization, the players, the people that they're working with, they're the ones that drive injury prevention. They use the tools to possibly help, but that's an adjunct. They're just an adjunct”.
“If you have a bad system, then you're going to get injuries regardless of the technology that you have (..) It's the system that is what is important. It's the culture, the philosophy, the integration, how they work together. how the organization decides who they're going to buy, how the coaches prioritize the program, how the strength coaches, physios, how they work together to create injury prevention programs, how they utilize the technology together to then make better decisions to inform the coaching staff, to monitor fatigue and the things that might be of injury”.
“But that's all the systems that are in place. It's got nothing to do with the tech itself. You could spend $20M, a $100M on tech and still have the worst injury record in the league”.
Dr Marco Nunez:
“Some teams may spend so much money trying to get all these new technologies and it make them look great, but if you're not using it properly or you don't have the staff how to use it or you're not implement, or like Andy said, if your team, sports medicine team, is not on the same page or same philosophy, it doesn't really matter”.
“You can just have one technology, nice and simple, very basic. But if the whole team, and if they understands that you do the assessment, you're implementing, you're applying it, you're following through…That's all you need”.
“I remember when I was with the LA Lakers, we were thinking about getting motion cameras in our facility, which would've been awesome and great. But then the question was, well, if we're in a two week road trip and we're traveling, I need to reassess the player. What am I going to do? Am I going to fly him back and go back and forth?”.
“So we ended up going with a wearable device called DorsaVi. It was based on an algorithm. And I get it, it wasn't like the camera system, but at least we were able to travel with it. It was less expensive and the whole team was able to utilize it, and the whole staff was able to utilize it”.
“But we had a baseline and we kind of implemented it. So it doesn't really matter. It's more, I guess, about how you use it, so to speak, and how your team is implementing it together”.
On how Technologies should not overshadow the impact of a team’s winning culture:
“So if players are taught to believe or draw that correlation between all of the sports science and the testing and the metrics, then you, or the team or organizational culture, might lose sight of how the games are won and what you've done in the past to be successful and what makes your players great players or what makes this individual a great teammate or a leader”.
“And those things kind of get lost when you start to focus a little bit more on the minutiae of the technology and the science and the application, and less on how is this going to impact our winning culture for lack of a game”.
On the importance of getting the buy-in from the players to successfully use technologies:
Dr Derek Lawrance:
'“I remember years ago where questionnaires were like, this big thing, and w thought let's have these 10, 12 questions. We would walk into the locker room and ask the players: how did you sleep? How many hours did you sleep last night? One of the funniest ones I always laugh at was, how many hours did you sleep?”.
“People don't know how many hours they slept, and so we would actually get a more accurate reading with a sleep tracker. But we were obsessed with trying to collect all this data of subjective data from the players. But then you look over time, 50% of our squad was putting the same question every or same answer every single time”.
“So again, you're collecting data, but, is it efficient? Is it being useful, and can you do anything from it? More than likely not, and so that's why it's a big thing when you can have this great technology, but if the buy-in isn't there, it's worthless. And so that's one of the harder things, and I think goes back to my original response of your seamless integration and just making sure that everyone uses it and then making sure that everyone knows what's the benefit of it”.
On what makes a great sports performance team:
Dr Andy Barr:
“I always say, I'd rather work with great people than great practitioners. It's like the personalities that you don't want, such as having all superstars in your department. You need a balance of everything. So for me, it's having a team behind a team and you need obviously a certain level of skills, but the ego often gets in the way of teamwork”.
“The departments that have the least amount of ego that can work together and communicate really well, in my experience, are the ones that are the most effective. And rather than having your own individual area as the priority, it is best to put in the player as the priority. That’s key. So if we all have the same goals, then we're all trying to do the same things. And often that's not the case. And that's where there can be challenges”.
“So I think it's more about the teamwork behind the team and having everyone in alignment with what the organizational goals are and the players’ goal”.
Dr Marco Nunez:
“One thing as far as for myself that I've told myself, it's that if I do return to professional sports, it doesn't really matter what's the name on the jersey, I don't really care the name of the jersey. I'm more interested as far as who are the individuals I'm going to be working with, meaning we should have the same philosophy, same ideology, and we're working as a team at the same time”.
“It's always great to have different pieces and understanding that, hey, you know what everybody brings a different element into as part of the team.
And you are going to be able to build that team, Hey, this is my understanding, as an individual that this is my weakness. So I need to hire somebody that's going to be able to compliment me. That's their weakness. I need somebody to compliment, or that's their strong suit. That's not my strong suit, and so on”.
Dr Derek Lawrance:
“That was one of the things, with my experience in the World Cup, this past November in Qatar, that was our staff. We kind of prided ourselves, on our ability to set our egos as egos aside, and work towards the greater good”.
“We had six former or current directors of professional teams or professional football teams, soccer teams within our staff and collegiate teams. It was a very highly regarded staff in that sense. But we all knew our role, clearly defined roles”.
“We knew what to expect of one another and great minds led to really good conversations and formative discussions, long discussions because everybody had their own thoughts, which was okay at that point because of such the level of that tournament. But again, typically, you're not going to have a bunch of directors or former directors get into one squad and be able to, put their egos aside and just not be able to say anything”.
“But we all found that way because it was the personalities. And if you saw us out of the bar, at some point we'd all just be laughing and joking because that's just who we were. We could set work aside and just talk about personal life, no problem. But when it came down to work, we knew exactly what we had to do just by clearly defined roles and understanding that part and putting the egos aside. So definitely complimentary of each other and finding the best way to work with one another was huge”.
On their experiences with vendors that promised the moon, but couldn't deliver:
Dr Marco Nunez:
“So one thing that I always ask when I have vendors, and this is kind of was my rule of that, I would ask them, what's the margin of error on this device? And if there answer was like, there is no error. I'm like, dude, really? There's no way, there's no error? It cannot be a hundred percent. So right off the bat, if they were like, yeah, there's no error here, I'm like, Thank you. There's no point for us to continue type thing”.
“Now if they were honest, Hey, you know what? There is a margin error. This is it. Then I understood it”.
Dr Andy Barr:
“What I've experienced is you get companies that promise you the world just to get the contract, and then once they've got the contract, they can't deliver or they just can't really live up to a bit enough more than they can chew, or they do deliver, but it takes way longer than expected”.
“It's often the case where the data management system, or I should say athlete management system (AMS) type companies that want to please you because there's a lot of competition (…) So they promise the world to you, and certain things they can do and then they get in. And to be honest, it's overwhelming because everybody wants to have their own bespoke kind of part and piece within that system, which just gets challenging for them”.
“If we have plans to upgrade a system and improve it and specify to our own needs, then having an upfront conversation about, look, we're going to have some needs on the back end to build this out, so we want some assurances. Is this something you guys are capable of? How big is your staff?”.
“Whether it's your coding, your R&D, things like that. If we want to grow this platform within our organization, do you want to work with us on that front? And usually people are not very upfront at the start”.
“But when you start to ask more questions and maybe go a level deeper into a manager level, or even talk to some of the data engineers, you can get a better understanding of what these guys might actually be able to scale this out and make this into something that we want versus these guys have no idea what I'm talking about. I am going to be just talking to the wall for the next three years with this contract, and I have to get out of this now before I can. So a little bit more of those conversations on the front end have started to serve me a little bit better”.
Dr Derek Lawrance:
“One of the bigger issues I think we have all face with some of the companies that approach us is maybe their early or infancy of their development and they have this grand idea. But how do they get there?”
“They need the help. And it's just hard for certain clubs, organizations to invest in something that's not quite ready. And I know there are always bigger challenges for some smaller clubs who I've worked with in the past. That was one of our biggest things, the budget wasn't there”.
“So to invest a significant portion to something that might work in a couple years is very difficult. Even though we may have liked the product, liked the idea and the people, but we just couldn't take that risk. And it's often difficult in that sense, but also having companies that approach you, who actually understand what you do on a daily basis can go a very long way too”.
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