What will sports performance look like in 10, 20, 30 years time. Will ultimate performance be better, will it be worse. And how do we get there? 

This is the discussion that a recent letter to the editor article for the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports looks to address. Damien Harper and colleagues discuss how the use of technology and individualisation will continue to transforms sports performance, monitoring and injury management particularly in the context of elite international football (soccer). 

For professionals working in this space it has become increasingly clear that sports performance is transforming rapidly. There has been a significant increases in the use of technology to profile, assess, monitor, enhance and evaluate performance and injury measures to implement increasingly individualised plans. The big question that it poses is whether this leads to improvements compared less sophisticated forms of training?

To any coach, medical or sports performance professional it is clear that evaluating what is in front of you, the individual, will give you much greater opportunity to implement a plan specific to them and enhance their capability further. But the challenge lies in exactly how to do this and what approach may provide useful input. Because tracking and testing everything is not useful unless it can be used in the setting effectively. 

Harper discusses using a greater understanding of individual profiles by monitoring acceleration and deceleration speeds, power and forces in real time as well as accumulated loads across training and games to individualise the understanding of the capabilities of the athlete, the loads endured and the precise training that needs to be implemented to improve performance. These ideas are obviously not new. Coaches and sports professionals (performance and medical) have been looking to extend our understanding of these areas and implement strategies to maximise the training and monitoring practices in an effort to optimise performance. 

The big question is whether moving to this level of granularity will work. For those that have been following our weekly education videos they will have seen one of our lead team members at MAD, Jack WIlliams, discussing the work of John Kiely in the last few weeks. A key area that was discussed was that the individualisation of performance and programming is influenced heavily by allostasis. Allostasis throws a huge spanner in the works when it comes to finer granularity of assessment and monitoring. It refers to the adaptive response that we have to the perception of the stress that we will encounter. This is the athlete who makes a judgement call on how hard they need to run, jump, stop, to achieve the result whether that be in training or in match play. And their motivation to do so can heavily influence how they perceive the difficulty of the task, irrespective of the external monitoring  and forces, loads etc. 

Why is this important? Its important because until we can match the perception of the athlete with the data that is being collected by this technology and integrate it with the human psychology of the situation we may not get the full picture. An example would be an athlete who perceives that a game was not difficult in regards to the amount that they exerted themselves, but the wearable technology suggests that they experienced greater volume and intensity of acceleration and deceleration loads. The external measured data may suggest that the athlete is now in a position to be at greater injury risk, because they have not experienced these levels of forces before. But the athlete reports feeling good, minimal fatigue and soreness. Who is correct? The data or the athlete? And which do we listen to as sports and health professionals? 

Herein lies the challenge over the next 10-20 years of sports performance. We are not claiming to have the answers by any means but what is clear is that matching up the person and their perception of the situation will be a key influence on the ability to use the improving technology that is available. That will be the ultimate leap in performance and it will be a significant step forward to improving not only performance but injury numbers in professional sport. 

To access the letter to the editor head to: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346676297_Elite_Football_of_2030_will_not_be_the_same_as_that_of_2020_What_has_evolved_and_what_needs_to_evolve