23Jan

Why some athletes performance will never improve

Evidence based learning best way to go

Why some athletes performance will never improve

The Australian Open Tennis is in full swing and I have had the pleasure of attending a few matches, not only seeing the top 100 players in action but also the players in the qualifying rounds who hope to make it into the final draw. I am always interested to listen to the post game interviews to see what interesting bits of information I can glean from each player as to why they won the match. Then, if interest piqued, I will further investigate the athlete to see how they have managed to get to where they are. I also do the same for some athletes who are branded the "next big thing" or who once were rising stars to see why they (in many cases) have not realised their potential.

Now tennis is a sport that has many experts - and many opinions. Not coming from a tennis background is actually a benefit because it allows me the opportunity to inquire without any preconceived ideas as to what good coaching is.  But I am biased, I am biased towards using scientific principles of performance improvement. This is where data is used to assess performance. This is where one needs to understand how to work from a baseline and then implement a program for improvement, understand the variables that affect improvement and control for them, and then look at the data to see if performance has improved.

Here is my conclusion - athletes who perform consistently, that is, you can rely on them to make it to the second week of a major tournament year after year (of course not forever due to physical limits), are the ones who work off a stable process. A stable process can be defined as one where you can control the variables that affect performance for example the amount of training you undertake, the type of training, nutrition, rest etc, and collect data on all of these to show what impact they have on your performance. Athletes whose whose performance is more variable, that is sometimes they do really well and then sometimes are just as likely to bomb out, are the ones who are not working off a stable process.They will not be able to show you data which indicates that they are actively measuring these performance variables or worse will be ignoring the data or changing their training without using data as a guide.

Simply put - tennis players who change coaches and fitness trainers less often perform better. Tennis players who change coaches and fitness trainers more often have greater variability in their performance. Take two examples: Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal. Federer has had the same fitness trainer for over ten years (by the way so did Andre Agassi). Nadal has had the same coach for his whole professional career. Why is this so important? Because these coaches can work on player development and can work off a baseline to measure improvement. They create a stable system first and then implement ideas for improvement. All athletes are different but you can't change the laws of nature or the principles of science. The more you alter training schedules or introduce variability in a training regimen the less consistent your performance will be. It takes evidence based practice to see what changes work and what changes don't work. For that you need to collect data and sometimes that requires patience, patience that some tennis players (and their parents who pay for this support) don't have.

Some coaches are better than others and if you are looking for good coaches ask them what evidence based practices they use. Then make your decision. For me it's a no brainer.

Posted in Performance Improvement

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