Can a Coach Rely on Intuition Alone?

Your weekly research review

Cody Roberts

By Cody Roberts
December 16th, 2020 | 5 min read

Contents of Research Review

  1. Background & Objective
  2. What They Did
  3. What They Found
  4. Practical Takeaways
  5. Reviewer’s Comments
  6. About the Reviewer

Original study

Crowcroft, S., Slattery, K., McCleave, E. and Coutts, A.J., (2020). Do Athlete Monitoring Tools Improve a Coach’s Understanding of Performance Change?. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance15(6), pp.847-852.

Background & Objective

Long before the advent of monitoring strategies, such as heart rate variability (HRV), coaches leaned heavily on their experiences and instincts to make training decisions. The goal of monitoring technologies is to allow for a deeper
understanding through objective representation of the training dose and athlete readiness to perform. This study set out to evaluate a coach’s predictive ability of athlete performance and looked to see if additional means of monitoring could assist in this process.

What They Did

This 9-month observational study monitored the training volume (i.e. duration and distance) and intensity (subjective rating) of nine elite swimmers, and their competition performance across a minimum of five races (93 total). Morning resting HRV and subjective reports on the perception of recovery and fatigue were also collected.

No monitoring data was shared with the coach (13-yr national and international experience, Australian Swim Coaches Teaching Association gold license), and prior to competition the coach predicted athlete performance (i.e. no change, 6% decrement, or 6% improvement) based on the previous race result for each athlete’s two primary races based on distance (e.g. 100- to 400-m) and stroke (e.g. freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly, and individual medley).

Training data, coach’s performance prediction, and monitoring information were analysed to assess the relationship between variables and determine if the additional monitoring data was consistent with or could have been helpful to the coach in predicting readiness to perform.

What They Found

⇒ The coach in this study was not perfect in their ability to anticipate performance outcomes, but through observational analysis was able to do so with high accuracy.

⇒ The athlete’s subjective report of fatigue and recovery was not consistently associated with performance outcome.

⇒ Morning HRV measurement results were unreliable in forecasting performance changes.

Practical Takeaways

⇒ A coach’s confidence and ability in observational analysis develops over years of experience around a sport, as well as through a reflection method known as nested thinking (see HERE). Regardless of experience and knowledge, training decisions should be made based on a combination of factors. Do not be overly distracted or influenced by one specific monitoring strategy (e.g. an athlete’s subjective report) or metric (e.g. HRV), aim to take multiple factors into consideration.

⇒ Experience and intuition may be of greater use with a sport like swimming, because of the individual nature and consistent environment, but in the team-sports environment, there are many variables that make monitoring readiness a difficult task. It is important for a coach to work with the athlete directly and other members of the support staff to analyse objective data, subjective reports, as well as reflection and discussion to assist and improve the decision-making ability in training prescription and competition strategy.

⇒ Although morning HRV was not sensitive to change, nocturnal HRV measurement (i.e. through the night) has shown an association with performance potential (see HERE).

⇒ It is important for a coach to recognise and admit mistakes, respecting that perfection is impossible. As a coach gains experience, they must reflect and grow; fine-tuning educated intuition and observational abilities. A coach needs to learn to notice slight signs or signals related to athlete body language, performance ability in training, and be mindful of the comments that come up in conversation with an athlete before, during, and after training.

Reviewer’s Comments

“The concept of nested thinking was presented, encouraging coaches to reflect and evaluate the decisions they make, considering the possibility of other choices or directions that could have been taken along the way to change and possibly improve an outcome. This practice facilitates experiential learning and showcases a growth mindset (see HERE). At the same time, using data and athlete feedback should not be viewed as a crutch or weakness, but rather to assist to reduce the emotion or biases that are ever present in a very competitive athletic environment.

Just as an athlete is a human being, with thoughts and feeling to manage, a coach can fall victim to their own personal desires and past experiences that potentially distort their perception of the bigger picture. With all the variables involved in athlete development and performance it is important for a coach to talk with others, especially the athlete, as well as collect objective data to help support their decisions rather than confuse them.”

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    Cody Roberts

    Cody Roberts

    Cody has been a strength and conditioning coach within NCAA Division I sports since 2008. He currently works within Olympic sports at the University of Iowa. He holds a Masters degree in Exercise Science from the University of Kansas (‘10). A former collegiate discus and hammer thrower (University of Kansas ‘07), Cody has also served as an adjunct professor within the Health & Human Physiology department at Iowa, as well a written over 200 research reviews for the Performance Digest since joining the Science for Sport team in 2019. Cody is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Strength & Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association, and a USAW Certified Sport Performance Coach from USA Weightlifting. The entire psychophysiological process of coaching and athletic development is what drives Cody to learn and engage others daily to best serve and develop the athletes he works with. In his role, he has numerous resources at his disposal (e.g. GPS, force plates, tensiomyography, and other testing/monitoring tools). His experience and application of these tools, implementing consistent and sustainable monitoring strategies, make him an excellent resource for all things technology and monitoring. Aiming to maximise the quest for optimal performance through a holistic and scientific approach.

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