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Tracking the ups and downs

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With more athletes now expected to keep track of their daily activities, two PhD students decided to look at how self-reporting systems can be improved.

10 Jul 2013

For Australia’s high performance athletes sport isn’t all trophies, ribbons or shiny gold medals. Behind every great performance are early morning alarm bells, intense training sessions and strict diets. It’s a hard slog.

But that’s not where it ends.

To identify whether an athlete is at risk of injury, illness or overtraining, more and more high performance athletes are being expected to record information about their wellbeing — including sleep patterns, food intake and mood. Coaches and support staff then use the information to pinpoint trends and modify training loads and practices.  

It’s yet another of those unglamorous, behind-the-scenes tasks, but is essential for those wanting an edge — a sentiment the AIS had in mind when it recently commissioned its own ‘athlete management system’.

But with these ‘self-reporting’ systems still in their early stages — and some athletes avoiding the task — the AIS has partnered with Deakin University to  find out what impact they are having and how they can be improved.    

The daily grind

For PhD students Anna Neumaier and Jacquie Tran, athlete ‘self-reporting’ has long been an area of interest. In order to maximise the knowledge being gathered, their supervisors encourage them to separate out their interests — an approach that saw Anna examine the psychological aspects of self-reporting and Jacquie develop a case study based on rowers.

It painted an interesting — and valuable — portrait of this emerging area.

For her research, Anna interviewed a range of athletes, coaches and sports science/sports medicine staff. This led to some valuable insights, particularly in how athletes can be encouraged to self-report on a daily basis.

‘I found there were several factors that impact the implementation of self-reporting,’ says Anna. ‘People I interviewed really want the system to embrace technology — so getting rid of paper and using portable devices such as smart phones to record information.’

‘They would also like to see user-friendly interfaces, more relevant questions that are specific to individual sports and quicker ways for staff to output data so it’s available for athletes and coaching staff to use.’

Knowledge is power

Jacquie looked at how self-reporting is being used in rowing, monitoring 19 athletes over a 12-month period to draw several conclusions, including the difficulty of collecting data and how to use it.

‘If we are to continue to progress our use of athlete monitoring tools then what we need to do is get better information and more of it,’ says Jacquie.

‘But not only that, we also need to better use the information. We need to tackle information quantity and quality, and embrace more frequent or intensive monitoring to gain more high quality data.’

For Anna and Jacquie, athlete self-reporting poses many challenges but both stress its importance as a way to improve athlete performance and wellbeing.

Anna and Jacquie’s findings will provide an important guide as the AIS moves forward with its own self-reporting system — including funding several sports to get onboard. While Jacquie admits that self-reporting poses many challenges, particularly in compliance, she urges sports to think outside the square to maximise the many benefits.

‘At this stage 100 per cent compliance is still a pipe dream,’ she concludes. ‘By making the best use of the data we do get and looking at it in new ways, we can find the most meaningful stories and reveal the subtle changes occurring within athletes.’  

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