Speaking in X’s and O’s: How to Talk Data with Coaches
In the realm of Athlete Performance Data, there’s an emphasis on communicating “meaningful” and “actionable” data to coaches. Your ability to successfully optimize player performance, reduce injury, and speed recovery time depends on the coaching staff hearing and trusting your message.
However, when you combine the vast amount of available data points with your deep expertise in human performance, it’s easy for your message to get lost on a coach.
“My role is not to give our head coach reports and graphs,” says Mike Curtis, Strength and Conditioning Coach for Virginia Men’s Basketball. “He wants me to interpret the data and put it into basketball-speak.”
In working with over 260 elite sports organizations around the world, we’ve discovered the key to having an effective data-driven conversation with your coach:
Stop talking data. Focus on decisions.
To help you do this, we’ve developed an easy-to-use Data Conversation Prep Sheet to translate those 1s and 0s into Xs and Os. Below, we walk through the process of using the prep sheet, so go ahead and download the free template now and follow along.
Quick Tip: Using the Prep Sheet
The Data Conversation Prep Sheet is a simple tool to help you think through a conversation with a coach before you have it.
Consider it a glorified “back of the napkin” or sticky note. Don’t worry about spelling or writing in complete sentences. It’s intended to be completed quickly and tossed once it has served its purpose. After some use, you may even find you don’t need it anymore. You’ll naturally think and communicate using this model.
Step 1: The Shared Goal
The numbers coaches ultimately care about are the ones on the scoreboard. Yes, a good coach cares about the health and wellbeing of their athletes. But in the end, their job security and reputation hinges on wins and losses.
Before heading into a conversation based on athlete performance data, a good place to start preparing is by grounding yourself in a shared goal that ladders up to wins and losses.
Using the prep sheet, for the players you need to address with the coach, be clear about the desired outcome for that athlete. Put it into terms both the coach and player can understand, such as: “Perform a step-back jumper without ankle pain or risking further injury within 7 to 10 days.”
With a goal the player, coach, and physical training staff can relate to and get behind, you’re on the path to providing meaningful and actionable data.
Step 2: What, So What, Now What
Originating from John Driscoll’s Model of Reflection, the “What, So What, Now What” framework has been effectively used for problem-solving, innovation, and data analysis.
We’ve taken this simple model and adapted it to help you distill the key message from your athlete performance data that a coach will care about. Before we dive into each step, let’s look at this framework as a whole.
- What: The relevant facts based on your data and observations
- So What: Why we should care
- Now What: The decisions to be made and actions to be taken
Now, let’s look at each step of using the Data Conversation Prep Sheet.
The “What” step brings to light the key facts culled from your universe of athlete data and observations. In our article, How Asking Better Questions and Eliminating Silos Makes Athlete Data More Useful, we explore strategies to help you uncover the most pertinent metrics for your team.
This is where the right Athlete Management System delivers its most fundamental value. Beyond centralizing your data and facilitating sophisticated analysis, customized visualizations and dashboards ensure your human performance team is working from the same data and aligns around the facts.
For example, you may notice that Jaylen’s Sleep and Player Load numbers are concerning. Your S&C coach also mentions he didn’t bring his typical vigor to the weight room yesterday. You know he’s someone you want to manage.
Once you’ve pinpointed the metrics of concern for a given athlete, make a quick note of those on the prep sheet and move on.
It’s time to answer: “Why do we care?”. The “So What” step is where your team turns facts into insights and gives meaning to the data. It’s also where you begin to translate the 1s and 0s into “coach’s speak”.
“We figure out how our metrics connect to variables on the field for a specific sport,” said Travis Vlantes, Director of Applied Sport Science at the University of Texas. “For example, in baseball, we know home plate to first base times are directly related to RFD numbers. These become the ‘big rocks’ we focus on which help us more effectively talk with the head coach.”
Vlantes provides a great example of “So What”. He took the fact (the concerning RFD numbers) and articulated why a coach should care. On the prep sheet, he’d simply jot down “RFD > home plate to first base.”
This step often requires collaboration and debate with others on your performance team. You may also need to take a step back and dig into more data when new questions arise. Again, this is where your AMS can support an efficient workflow, providing the ability to easily drill down into a given metric or quickly locate new data sets and relationships.
At this point, you and your team have aligned around the facts (What), and given them meaning (So What). Now comes the decision: What do we do?
You and your team collaborate on the best plan for the athlete. In the end, you develop your data-informed recommendation for a given athlete’s training and recovery plan. The prep sheet is not intended to capture the details of your plan. Instead, quickly note the key elements, using as few words as possible – just enough for you to remember them.
For example, your note may be: “75% speed, no lower-body lifting, increase hydration.”
You’re almost ready to talk with your coach. But there’s one more critical step to get buy-in on your recommendation: the core message.
Step 3: The Core Message
The “core message” is about simplifying and stripping away all superfluous information to get to the heart of the matter.
Imagine you dropped your car off at the dealership for a service check. When you pick it up, all you really want to know is: “Is my car good to go?”. If not, you want to know what it will cost and when it will be ready.
The same is true for most coaches – they just want you to tell them what they need to know, and do, at that moment.
Using the prep sheet, review what you’ve captured for the “Goal” and “Now What” steps. Next, define the ONE thing you want your coach to hear about each athlete. For example, if they remember nothing else, you want them to remember this: “Alyssa needs to go half-speed at practice in order to be ready on Saturday.”
Now you have your Core Message. Much like in our auto repair example – lead with your core message, don’t bury it. Give space for the coach to ask for details or engage with the data on their own terms.
Custom coach’s dashboards and reports are especially useful to provide a “one-pager” reinforcing the core message for each athlete and color-coded visualizations for easy interpretation. But as with all data, it’s only as valuable as the discussions it sparks, decisions it informs, and actions it inspires.
The Right Human Performance Solution Partner
You want to feel confident that the data-informed decisions you make will have a positive impact on athletes and teams. That’s why it’s important to find the right partner.
When you work with Fusion Sport, you’ll collaborate with our Sports Science Consulting Team and benefit from their deep expertise in human performance optimization. Together, you’ll tailor your AMS to your specific sport and adopt the proven data practices that uncover meaningful and actionable insights.
To learn how Fusion Sport can help your elite performance organization or to receive a demo of our solutions, please contact us.
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