In the previous part of the Managing the high performance teams article, I have explained basics of the Scrum framework, as well as the basic meeting types that help increase transparency and set the stage right. In this part I will cover the tools I found useful when managing training plans, schedules, teams, tasks, documents and more.
I always used to make annual plans in Excel, so I have decided to create a template I could easily use and modify. This resulted in a product called Annual Planner for Sports that offers much more in terms of planning and scheduling.
The only problem I had with it, as with any other Excel document, is the collaboration with multiple people. When I am the only guy responsible for plan, then there is nothing wrong with having my Excel copy on my local computer.
Unfortunately, or luckily, in High Performance Teams, there are multiple coaches that need to be consulted for the optimal schedule (and its changes). Besides, if we follow the ideas of the Agile Periodization, then we are constantly updating the plan in iterative manner, and these updates need to be the result of the Sprint meetings (see the previous part). This demands that the plan should be accessible by multiple coaches at the same time. This way, there is only one “version of the document” (trust me, when you deal with multiple people sending copies over email you will end up being confused with what is the latest or the right version of the document). Some of these can be sorted using Dropbox or any other Cloud service, but you are unable to edit the document at the same time.
So, what is the solution? Hopefully you are already aware that both Google and Microsoft have their free spreadsheet software available on the Cloud. I have already adapted the Annual Planner for Google Sheets, that you can use instantly. The main advantage of this version is that multiple coaches can work on the process of creating the annual plan, all at the same time. In addition, they can also monitor changes, add comments, and do so much more. To get a glimpse of its simplicity, flexibility and power, please take a look at the short video below.
You can access the Annual Planner for Google Sheets HERE. There are probably better tools for annual planning, but Annual Planner for Google Sheets has the best cost-to-benefit ratio and it is extremely flexible. Besides it is FREE for Complementary Training members.
When it comes to planning in general, we tend to label coaches who have everything pre-planned at the beginning of the pre-season as “having a control” or being “good planners”. On the contrary, those who leave a lot of “empty cells” in the plan, we tend to call “slackers” or “bad planners”. Well, at least I used to believe in that. But not any more. I think that those coaches who have everything pre-planned suffer from ludic fallacy (to use Nassim Taleb terminology) and are doomed for failure. By using the Agile Periodization framework, planning should be done in iterations: first, write down everything that is the most stable (like game schedules, travel, vacations, holidays, exams, terms, etc), then create very loose “release plans” and then plan in detail from Sprint to Sprint. Having every week pre-filled at the start of the preparatory period is a great way to impress your under-grad professor of training theory, but it is generally a waste of time and energy in the real, complex world of training. For this reason, it is important to have a “live” document that can be edited and modified all the time by a lot of coaches (also leaving comments, marking issues, and so forth – everything that is already available in Google Sheets). Therefore Annual Planner for Google Sheets represents the best initial option that you can start using right away.
Managing Schedule (Workouts, Meetings, Attendance)
Once we have the annual plan document, we need to get into more nitty-gritty details of the schedule. In High Performance teams we almost never have homogenous and stable groups of athletes (see Functional Groups). Furthermore, different coaches might be responsible for different groups of athletes (e.g. rehab group, offense, defense, younger athletes). For this reason, and similar to the issues with the annual plan, we need a very flexible tool that allows multiple coaches to schedule events for different groups of athletes.
At one club I used to work (won’t name) we had training schedule being sent to us in .ics format. Then you apply that to your calendaring app of choice. The only problem was that this was “fixed” and any potential changes in the schedule needed to be emailed in a format “Please note that training session on Monday, 25.09.2017 will not start on 10:00 but on 10:30”. And then you manually change that event to the correct time. High Performance Team. But there is better way.
My first option would be Google Calendar. First option, but not the best one. Google Calendar allows you to create a calendar and other users (coaches and athletes) can subscribe to it and have all the events updated as you change them. This works very well if you have homogenous team (everyone doing everything), but you don’t. Some players might be needed for the rehab training, some might be needed for the reserves training and so forth. Yeah, you can write the instructions in the event, or invite athletes to those events, but that is very tedious and time consuming.
For this very reason (among others, as you will soon see), we have developed AthleteSR. It is very flexible calendar (and a monitoring/survey system) that allows you great freedom in scheduling training (or any other event, like meetings, video reviews, etc). Athletes can easily subscribe to a calendar and get their own schedule on their iPhones, Macs, Google Calendars and so forth.
Figure 4. AthleteSR allows you very flexible schedule building
Another useful feature of AthleteSR is the tag system, that allows you to find and filter certain session types (for example you might be interested in showing all rehab sessions performed by John Doe in February).
There are other tools that can be used in, let’s say, scheduling for recreational teams (“Who is coming to a soccer practice on Friday?”) that helps you figure out attendance, or that are part of much larger (and more expensive) athlete management software (such as Smartabase), but none with the simplicity of AthleteSR. I have to do a shameless plug here and announce that we plan to create annual planning module in AthleteSR which will make planning and scheduling tasks a breeze.
Another use of AthleteSR is sending videos to athletes for the review. For example, you want everyone to watch a video review you uploaded to Youtube or Vimeo. You can send a link via email of course, but with AthleteSR you can create an event and embed the video in, send a reminder to watch and attach a survey where they need to send feedback.
Ok, enough of self pimping.
Collecting and Storing Data
We are drowning in data these days. So much that we might have lost the plot with all this sport science mumbo jumbos (check the great book by Fergus Connolly trying to sort the things out). I believe that the future will bring back the simplicity and heuristics (or in other words “art of coaching”), rather than trying to find optimization model that spits out perfect training loads when fed by huge amount of monitoring data. But still, some data is useful – we need to combine (in my opinion) heuristic approach (very simple rules of thumb) with models and intuition to get the best solution.
The data usually collected are subjective indicators (e.g. wellness, sRPE), GPS metrics, testing data, anthropometry and some other fancy sciency stuff like sleep monitoring, blood monitoring and so forth, as well as imaging (CT/MRI scans for example) and video files (videos of movement screening or certain game/training performance). All these are useful to have when doing Sprint Review meetings (see the previous part) if nothing more. Some believe you can adjust the daily load based on wellness monitoring and jump mat performance, but I think that is utter B.S. since it could be more noise (and lies) than signal. It is not usable on day-to-day basis, but very usable on medium-term duration such as one or two Sprints. So rather than jumping to twitches in the data and adjust the training in the last second, we want to collect more data and check the patterns, and then adjust more on medium duration phases (such as Sprints). For example, if we notice “worrying” trends for a given athlete during the Sprint Review, we might propose changes in training (after performing something that Lean proponents call The Root Cause Analysis), which represents elements of ‘experimentation’ (PDCA cycle). This is much more realistic way to individualize, compared to pipe-dream of scanning your brain/heart in the morning and then modifying training sessions for that day. Especially in team sports.
Anyway, this data needs to be saved somewhere. Both Annual Planner for Sports and Annual Planner for Google Sheets have very basic modules that allow training load and testing/monitoring data to be saved and analyzed. For some small teams this might be more than enough (also check the simplest way to start monitoring your team before investing in expensive and time consuming methods), but High Performance teams need much more robust and flexible database. In my opinion the best such system on the market is Smartabase. It allows scheduling, collection, storing, analysis and visualization – it is very powerful, but not affordable for most organizations.
The major point here is that “Excel is not a database”. For storing and collecting data you definitely need a better solution. Ideally, you want all your data to be centralized at a single location, but to be honest I started questioning this recently. Here is why.
Data is usually collected with specialized software and hardware that you are already paying for. And most of them nowadays (luckily) have Cloud storage for the data. Which means, you can access them anywhere and anytime with appropriate APIs or links. For example, your GPS data is stored on the Cloud, jump mat testing (or GymAware) is stored on the Cloud, hamstring testing is stored on the Cloud, wellness monitoring is stored on the Cloud. Why would you need another database stored on the Cloud with all of this anyway? What is needed is the software that can “read” (or sync) these data sources and create reports or dashboards (more on this later on). So one of the major requirements of the software nowadays, besides Cloud storage, is ability to export data easily (or provide a live sync link). Let’s forget about exporting data to .CSV and storing on the Dropbox account. Contemporary software needs to have a direct link that allows live sync and extraction of the data. There are numerous data protocols such as simple HTML table, JSON, OData and so forth. So storing the data might be a problem of the past, especially if software and hardware vendors start providing Cloud storage and sync options.
As mentioned above, there are numerous sources of data that you can collect. You can start very simply, by collecting attendance (and frequency/time) for certain types of workloads (e.g. strength, set pieces, defense, recovery) by using a module in Annual Planner for Google Sheets (check the video HERE). Next step would be to collect sRPE and Wellness. Luckily, AthleteSR can do that for you. AthleteSR allows you to design any type of survey that athletes can fill out and you can get the data exported and sync’ed to your analysis software of choice (see the above rant about Cloud storage and multiple sources of data).
Figure 5. AthleteSR allows any type of subjective data collection (e.g. wellness, sRPE)
To conclude this section – each software/hardware should come with a Cloud storage for the data that allows easy sync and export. This way you don’t need to worry about centralized data storage.
Managing (Designing) Workouts
By managing workouts, I mostly refer to designing (and analyzing) of individual sessions. Soccer coaches might use various software for designing the drills and later analysis (for example, how much practice time they spent on set pieces; which can be quite useful in Sprint Review). I must admit that there are thousands of apps that help you design sessions. Once these sessions are designed, if the coaches want to share the file with athletes, they can upload them to the event in AthleteSR. This way, regardless of the apps used, (and coaches in the same team might prefer different apps anyhow) everybody is on the same page. AthleteSR can limit number of days athletes can see the schedule in the future (i.e. they can only see the next 7 days of training). This is useful for coaches who do not want to share everything with athletes (see my Machiavellian counter-comment on transparency in the previous part).
Having drills databases and a session monitoring tool that helps in calculating time spent on certain activities might be very helpful in Sprint Review. For example, we might discuss failure of a certain player to fulfill tactical tasks in defensive corner. Review of the previous Sprints can show that this athlete had missed crucial sessions when this was practiced. But to do this you do not need fancy and expensive software – Annual Planner for Google Sheets may suffice and this might be all that is needed (and/or affordable) for certain teams.
When it comes to physical preparation side of things, I have developed Strength Card Builder that helps me prescribe strength training workouts for teams. It is a flexible Excel template that can print out workouts for the full team in just a few clicks. I have tried a few professional S&C software, but most of them are aimed to personal trainers working with distant clients who need to push the workouts to clients’ smart phones. Some of them are geared to teams and with teams I would either prefer a paper (as in with Strength Card Builder), or a centralized hub with a touch screen where athletes can see the workout and enter weights as they finish the sets. Definitely, no phones in the gym.
Having said this, there is nothing wrong in going with the paper, although it is tricky to collect what is being done (in terms of done volume, tonnage, etc). Therefore, having a software that helps with planning and pushes the workout to a centralized ‘kiosk’ (touch screen) would be very helpful. As mentioned, few apps allow this “team data entry”, but I am still not satisfied with the solutions for the pro teams. This being said, we are planning to make Strength Card Builder even more flexible by creating a web app that allows all of the above mentioned. Watch this space.
In 2016 I made a video on managing teams using Kanban boards: Managing (High) Performance Teams using Scrumban boards. I’ve used Eylean software which is great, unfortunately only available as a desktop PC application.