Dr. Matt Jordan is a Canadian Strength Coach and Sports Scientist. He was a coach at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi at the same time as ALTIS CEO Stuart McMillan. ALTIS is an elite training environment for athletes and a global leader of education in sport performance.
Jordan pointed out that there are some athletes who won’t need great coaching to be elite performers. The supremely talented athletes who were born ahead of everyone else would be great without the right training programme. But it’s important to remember that those athletes are so few and far between that most of us will know who they all are. The likes of Lebron James, Katie Ledecky, Usain Bolt and Serena Williams were elite athletes long before they started training with elite coaches.
The small handful of coaches who get to rest on their laurels working with the 1% of the 1% aren’t relevant to most of us. We’re more likely to encounter the other category of sports scientist that Jordan highlighted:
“I also have a hard time with strength coaches who browse the scientific literature, use scientific terminology and claim a cause-effect relationship between their programmes and performance, but never actually measure themselves. Essentially, they cherry-pick the scientific literature when it suits them, criticize science as being 10 years behind the times when it doesn’t, and never do anything to quantify the impact of their own approach.”
Strength coaches don’t have to publish studies but Jordan believes it’s reasonable to expect them to know what matters, measure what matters and show that they changed what matters. And he believes the solution is advancing past an undergraduate degree:
"This is why I’m a big advocate for pursuing a thesis-based Masters degree. While this process is certainly not fool proof, it does hold the individual to a much higher level of accountability when it comes to making claims about the effects of interventions. Through this process I think an individual learns how to perform the steps of investigation, evaluation and knowledge translation, which are key for a strength coach.”
Social media, especially twitter, has diluted down analysis so that coaches who are looking to make a name for themselves can oversimplify their results or their process to sell unquantified findings. Jordan points out that accountability for backing up findings is very low.
Presenting the result that you wanted to find rather than the result you actually found is a pitfall across many industries. When your career is built on analysing performance and finding the correct end result, it will destroy anything productive you try to do. Finding an objective result and knowing what is important to find are foundational qualities of good sports science. Jordan used a real world example to highlight the importance of sample size and specifics when testing your findings.
“I have seen strength coaches assess variables such as the 1RM power clean, 3RM front squat and a host of other strength measures that have next to ZERO correlation to performance in the sport. From this, they generate tables and standards for what someone needs to be able to do to be good at the sport. My response is: based on what??
Show me this is the case.
Generating a table saying this is what these athletes are capable of is meaningless. In small cohorts over shorter time periods, I will use simple correlation analysis. As my group gets bigger and I amass more data, I will begin to use multiple linear regressions to identify important strength and power variables. And then once I have got a ton of data, I will use techniques such as principle component analysis to identify important differentiators for performance. To me this is absolutely critical for success in any program.”
A key benefit of sports science is measuring an athlete’s readiness to train. It’s still important to ask your athletes how they feel before initiating a training session but there’s no longer a need to try and gauge body language and energy levels in-person.
“I use monitoring to back up what I see and feel, and often my monitoring identifies potential issues before even the athlete is aware of them. I also use this to guide my return to sport process after injury and illness…I have four years of data as [my elite alpine ski racers] progressed from a young group of ski racers to the top of the World Cup podium. I can identify things that worked, things that didn’t, and to identify phases of the year where things went well and where they didn’t.
I then use the numbers to gain insight. I find this incredibly useful.”
While understanding the limitations of a still-developing process, Jordan believes rigorous observation, evaluation and knowledge translation needs to be applied in day-to-day practice to create accurate sports science findings.
Portobello Institute is the only college in Ireland that offers a Level 9 MSc in Sports Performance Analysis. Dr. Susan Giblin leads a course that reflects the needs outlined by Dr. Jordan in the above article. If you aren't in position to move onto a Masters right now, Portobello also offers Sports Science qualifications and degrees at other levels.
For more information, you can contact sports department course advisor Johanna Shaw on 01-892-0024 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.