- On April 27, 2016
Getting self-reported data from your athletes can provide valuable insight into their well-being, training readiness, physical and emotional stress. Online sports software systems like SMARTABASE now offer organisations the ability to collect information directly form athletes via the web and mobile devices, which is a great help and can save coaches and scientist a huge amount of time.
But how do get your athletes to comply and provide data regularly so that it can be analysed over time?
Whilst there are many articles and books in the field of behavioural psychology which go into a whole science of motivation, survey design and education, we wanted to share a number of practical things that we have learned in implementing our SMARTABASE Athlete Management System with over 40,000 athletes and 5,000 professionals.
Make Data Entry Easy
The first step is to remove as many barriers as you can to data entry. There is some trial and error involved in this and also seeking the feedback from athletes can be helpful. Here are a few examples of how you and your data management system can make the difference.
Simple Interface and Form Design: With a highly customisable system like SMARTABASE there are many different ways to go about asking questions, and designing forms correctly is critical to gaining compliance. Here are a few examples.
A common type of athlete monitoring data is to ask athletes to rate their wellness variables like soreness, sleep quality, motivation and so forth. When designing forms, think about the format of the question, taking into account how the athlete is most likely to interact with the system. For example, if we are going to ask an athlete to rate their sleep quality on a scale of 1 to 10, there are actually 4 different ways you could do this using the mobile app, as pictured below. Whilst all methods have the same data outcome, they are very different in terms of ease of use and visual appeal.
The first option here (enter a number) is not very user friendly, as the athlete has to tap the box, enter a number on the keyboard and then hit enter or next. So it takes at least 3 actions on the screen and is also lacking in visual appeal.
The second option (dropdown) might seem a lot better, but actually it still requires them to tap on the question, scroll the dropdown and tap again to select – still 3 actions. But at least it looks better.
The third option (radio button selection) is much better, as it only requires a single tap, and looks better again. Also, they can see all the options so their answers are more likely to be accurate.
The final option (slider) once again only requires a single action, shows the athlete their options, and also looks cool. It actually takes a little more effort than the radio button (hold and swipe), but the feedback from athletes in general is that it’s “cool to use”.
There are a lot of tricks to good form design and we make sure our clients are well educated in what works and what may not.
Access Anywhere/Anytime: Since we released the SMARTABASE mobile app a few years ago, our clients have reported much better compliance than when asking athletes to go online and us the website interface. But even providing a mobile interface can provide a barrier to compliance. Athletes are busy people, so you need to make sure they can enter their data whenever they want. So when we designed our iOs app, we made sure it also worked offline when no internet connection was available, such as on the bus home or even in a plane on the way back from a game (our offline Android app is due out later this year by the way!). Some clubs also provide “kiosks” at their club where athletes can just walk up, tap their photo and enter their data when they arrive for training – this is actually a really good idea as athletes are reminded by seeing other athletes doing it.
If you are going to reward or punish compliance you first need to make sure you are measuring compliance objectively. How can you do this? You need to set clear expectations of when/how often the data is to be entered, and then you need to count compliance and generate objective measures.
In SMARTABASE we encourage clients to achieve this by adding compliance counts to their athlete monitoring forms. This allows the system to automatically count how many times the athlete has completed the form in the last week/month/year and compare to how often they should have completed it, generating statistics such as % compliance over these periods. This them allows you to set benchmarks for athletes that you think are reasonable. Of course you don’t want this to create a lot more work for your staff but thankfully in SMARTABASE you can completely automate it.
Driving Compliance: The Carrot or the Stick?
Once you’ve set up your forms and your compliance monitoring it’s time to go live and get athletes to start using the system. And even on an ongoing basis, to keep them using it once the novelty has worn off.
Put simply, we explain to our clients that there are essentially two options – “The Carrot” (rewarding athletes for good compliance) and “The Stick” (punishing athletes for poor compliance). Whether you use one method or the other, or a mixture of the two depends on your athletes, team culture and even geographic location of your athletes. We won’t go into that in this article, but here are some good examples of carrots and sticks that you can try.
Carrots: Ways to Reward Good Compliance
The Psychologists amongst us will know that there are two types of motivation – Intrinsic (internal, such as a feeling if pride or satisfaction) and Extrinsic (external, like offering money, gifts or public praise for good behaviour). Most Psychologists will also agree that, especially with athletes, Intrinsic factors tend to last longer whilst Extrinsic rewards may tend to “wear off” over time. There are a myriad of factors that weigh in here, such as athlete age, athlete level (amateur vs elite) and more. I only did undergrad Sport Psych so am going to stop there on this whole area!
One of the things that seems to work especially well with highly motivated/elite athletes is to make sure they are given high quality, regular feedback based on the data they are entering. The biggest failure of a lot of “databases” is that they become seen as a “black hole” into which people have to enter data but nothing ever comes back out. But once again providing this feedback also needs to be easy for your staff – their compliance is important too of course.
You can just start with something simple – set the system up to automatically send them an email or SMS to thank them for entering their data. Simple but effective, especially in the early stages of rollout. They know the system is “listening”.
But if you really want to push the intrinsic motivation button, try this:
- Set up the compliance counter and communicate the expectations to your athletes e.g. “we expect you to enter your wellness data at least 6 days per week”
- Set up and automated report to be sent out to the athlete on a Sunday night which summarises their recent data and provides meaningful information e.g. “your sleep this week was above average for you based on the last 12 months of data” and also shows some nice charts etc of their progress over time.
- Set up the system so that the automated report ONLY gets sent to the athlete if they meet the desired compliance levels
Thankfully this can all be fully automated with SMARTABASE and customised to your rules and reports, thanks to a recent new feature called SMARTSAVE.
Athletes like to know where they stand, so if they are missing out on these reports and see their team mates receiving them, the competitive fire within is almost sure to ignite.
Whilst extrinsic rewards may or may not work long term, they can certainly work well in certain situations, especially with junior athletes. But if your athletes are getting paid $2 million a year, extrinsic rewards will get expensive…
You can even get creative and combine intrinsic and extrinsic rewards – like including a voucher for a free coffee at the local café as part of their Sunday night automated report, or handing out certificates each month to your junior athletes in front of their peers (intrinsic/pride) with a voucher for the local sports store (extrinsic/financial reward).
The Stick: Punishment as a Motivator
Some psychologists will completely frown upon punishment of any type, and we are not going to say what is right and wrong here. But here are some examples of “Sticks” we have seen in use by some of our clients.
Financial Punishment: We have seen some teams use fines as a way to drive compliance, and whilst this may work in some situations, it may actually add to the financial difficulties a lot of athletes already find themselves facing. There may also be contractual, ethical or other legal regulations you need to consider, so be careful here. And again if your athletes are getting paid $2 million per year, then fines will have to be considerable to change behaviour.
Selection: Irrespective of how much money and athlete makes, most athletes hate being put on the bench. “Benching” or “Dropping” and athlete from the team is a commonly used tool for punishing athletes for poor behaviour or for not supporting team culture. But again there are some things to consider – are you really prepared to bench your star player? What about contractual obligations? What if the athlete actually wants some time on the bench? Once again it depends on your athletes, culture and rules in your situation.
Peer Pressure: This is one which we have seen work really well. The SMARTABASE “live reports” feature can be used to output a basic report to TV screens in the gym or team room showing the compliance stats for all team members on a dashboard (this can also be a useful place to show the team schedule for the day or other announcements). Players with poor compliance are singled out with red colour coding and perhaps an automated comment, while good compliance is instead praised on the board for all to see. This technique brings in feelings of pride and recognition for good compliers, and shame for poor compliers. If you team culture is healthy, team mates are likely to apply pressure to poor compliers or motivate them to “get with the program”. Whilst this can work really well, again you have to think first about what you are going to say on the board, and consider moral and legal obligations etc. And if your team culture is not healthy (for example you have a rebellious senior group in the squad), good compliers could actually be picked on by their peers.
There are of course a number of other forms of punishment, this is just a few examples.
One final word of caution though with respect to using “The Stick”. Whilst punishment may be successful in driving compliance for athletes to complete their data input, it may do so at the expanse of data quality. Whilst they may still login and complete their daily wellness questionnaire for example, they may put little or no thought into their answers and simply do the minimum required to gain compliance.
Providing direct access for athletes to enter data into your Athlete Management System can save your staff considerable time, allow data collection more frequently, and allow this collection to continue at times when it may otherwise be difficult (for example when travelling). However in order to understand your athletes’ responses, you need regular continuous data on which to base your analysis and indicators.
Using and Athlete Management System such as SMARTABASE provides a number of advantages such as web access and mobile apps for ease of entry. Additional features such as ease of customisation and being able to also use the system offline allows you to tailor the experience to what works for your athletes, and minimise the barriers to data entry.
There are many methods to gain compliance, by either rewarding the athlete (intrinsically and/or extrinsically) or by disciplining the athlete. Your choice of these methods needs to take into account the age of athletes, financial and contractual factors, team culture and a host of other attributes.
In general with our more successful SMARTABASE clients, we have observed that the best compliance is gained by properly educating and training the athletes on using the system easily, and the by demonstrating to the athletes the “return on investment” for their efforts, with good reporting, regular feedback and constructive use of the data to maximise their health and performance.