Athlete Monitoring: How to do it like the pro’s
The goal of training competitive athletes is to provide training loads that are effective in improving performance (Meeusen et al., 2013). Season-long competition schedules in sports create challenges for coaches in balancing the requirements of developing and maintaining physical fitness, optimizing recovery as well as adjusting the training load before and between games (Gastin et al., 2013). Athlete monitoring is critical to be able to do this effectively.
Athlete monitoring methods
Advances in sports technology have resulted in the development of cutting-edge athlete monitoring tools (e.g. online platforms) to provide coaches with subjective information detailing the internal load (i.e. rate of perceived exertion and wellness markers) of an athlete’s training in response to the external load (Killen et al., 2010). Training response to a prescribed load can be assessed using markers of wellness. The monitoring of markers of wellness has the potential to reduce periods of over-training and fatigue among sports participants (McLean et al., 2010).
Therefore, sports practitioners are encouraged to incorporate some form of psychometric athlete monitoring questionnaire (e.g. stress, mood state, fatigue) to assess the players’ training response to the previous day’s activity.
“Training response to a prescribed load can be assessed using markers of wellness. The monitoring of markers of wellness has the potential to reduce periods of over-training and fatigue among sports participants”
Athlete monitoring in GAA
The amateur status of Gaelic football means coaches have limited access to players across a training week (maximum 2-3 collective pitch sessions). Therefore, careful planning for these sessions is imperative to ensure that technical development and tactical awareness are developed in conjunction with physical fitness (McGahan et al 2018a).
A multitude of factors contribute to the higher emotional and physical fatigue in elite Gaelic football athletes (Burns, 2014). The management of this fatigue is compounded by the fact that these athletes are involved in multiple teams (Club, County, and in some cases University). With most players either in full-time employment or at university, the frequency of, and travel associated with, matches and training mean that players rarely have adequate time to fully recover (O’Neill et al., 2007).
Measuring the training response
The term training response can be defined as a physical and psycho-social state that reflects whether an athlete is responding positively or negatively to training (Saw, 2016). The training response is highly individual, a collective influence of factors such as age, sex, training history, current training status, psychological factors, the presence of other stressors outside of training, and ability to tolerate stress are all influential on the athlete’s well-being (Borresen & Lambert, 2009).
Research studies within the field of athlete monitoring and over-training have demonstrated that psychological indicators are more sensitive and consistent than physiological indicators (Meeusen et al., 2013). Furthermore, McGahan et al. (2018b) found perceptual ratings of wellness were shown to be sensitive to changes in both external and internal training load in elite Gaelic Footballers.
Research (Taylor, et al 2012) has found the measurement of an athlete’s self-reported wellness to be an essential method for monitoring the training response, and furthermore, this process is a relatively simple, cheap, and effective method of monitoring your athletes’ well-being (Saw, 2016). Self-report measures based on an athlete’s perceived physical, psychological, and/or social well-being are regularly completed on a daily and weekly basis.
“… the potential to predict the loading for a given session or training week may allow coaches and high-performance support staff to be more agile in their planning practices… “
Taylor et al. (2012) revealed that more than 80% of sports practitioners use self-designed questionnaires in high-performance sports environments. To minimize the unnecessary additional burden on athletes whilst obtaining high-quality and meaningful data (McGuigan, 2017) over the long-term, the majority of these self-designed wellness questionnaires typically consist of 4 -12 items, measured using either 1-5 or 1-7 Likert scales, with higher scores indicating greater levels of wellness (McGuigan, 2017; Taylor et al., 2012).
Consistent items identified within these questionnaires are muscle soreness, fatigue, wellness, and sleep quality/sleep duration (McGuigan, 2017). Interestingly, Saw et al. (2015b) found the use of technology as beneficial with the implementation of questionnaires and compliance with athletes. This suggests that the use of apps for athletes to complete their questionnaires on smartphones or tablets is to be recommended. This method of evaluation will also decrease completion time and the inbuilt program should contain the capability to analyze the data and provide feedback automatically to the athletes and coaching staff.
Concluding, the use of a tool that measures markers of wellness is highly recommended to evaluate the training response when monitoring your athletes’ load and to aid in the determination of their well-being. Knowledge of when these scores return to baseline relative to the respective mesocycle may provide coaches with the necessary and accurate information required to prescribe the heaviest load within that week or block.
Therefore, the potential to predict the loading for a given session or training week may allow coaches and high-performance support staff to be more agile in their planning practices within Gaelic football. This is of importance in an amateur sports environment where most players are either in full-time employment or at university; and the frequency of, and travel associated with, matches and training means that players rarely have adequate time to fully recover (McGahan et al 2018b).
- Borresen, J., & Lambert, M. I. (2009). The quantification of training load, the training response, and the effect on performance. Sports Medicine, 39(9), 779-795.
- Burns, C. (2014). Correlates of adolescent sports participation. Presented at the GAA Research Forum 2013/14, Croke Park, Dublin. Presentation retrieved from https://learning.gaa.ie/research.
- Gastin, P. B., Meyer, D., & Robinson, D. (2013). Perceptions of wellness to monitor adaptive responses to training and competition in elite Australian football. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(9), 2518-2526. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827fd600
- Kellmann, M. (2010). Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 20(2), 95-102.
- Killen, N. M., Gabbett, T. J., & Jenkins, D. G. (2010). Training loads and incidence of injury during the preseason in professional rugby league players. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2079-‐2084. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181ddafff
- McGahan, J. H., Burns, C., Lacey, S., Gabbett, T., & O’ Neill, C. (2018a). Relationship between load and readiness to train in a Gaelic football pre-competition training camp. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning.
- McGahan, J., Lacey, S., Burns, C., Gabbett, T., & O’ Neill, C. (2018b). Variation in training load and markers of wellness across a season in an elite Gaelic football team. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning
- McGuigan, M. (2017). Monitoring training and performance in athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- McLean, B. D., Coutts, A. J., Kelly, V., McGuigan, M. R., & Cormack, S. J. (2010). Neuromuscular, endocrine, and perceptual fatigue responses during different length between-match microcycles in professional rugby league players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 5(3), 367–383.
- Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Foster, C., Fry, A., Gleeson, M., Nieman, D., Raglin, J., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J., Urhausen, A. (2013). Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(1), 186-205. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318279a10a
- O’Neill, P., Daly, P., Devaney, J., Duffy, P., Fitzgerald, D., Moran, M., Moyna, N., Qualter, S., O’Rouke, C., Reynolds, M., Tobin, J., Young, E. (2007). Report of the Task Force on Player Burnout. Dublin: GAA Headquarters Croke Park Press.
- Saw, A. E. (2016). Self-report measures in athletic preparation. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(18), 1377-1378. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096888
- Taylor, K., Chapman, D., Cronin, J., Newton, M. J., & Gill, N. (2012). Fatigue monitoring in high-performance sport: a survey of current trends. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning, 20 (1), 12-23.
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About the author
Jason is Head of Athletic Performance at Kerry GAA. Jason has over 15 years’ experience working as an S&C Coach/Sports Scientist with elite international professional and amateur athletes within several high-performance teams. He holds an MSc in Sports Performance, a UKSCA Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, and ASCA Coach. He recently completed a Ph.D. in Applied Sport Science, with special reference to training load, its impact on training practice and performance. Jason has been published in several peer-reviewed strength and conditioning journals and has presented at national and international conferences.
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