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  • Jo Clubb

Juggling Value & Burden in Data Collection

The alarm goes off. Before getting up I have to use some sort of heart rate device in bed. Apparently if I get up or eat or drink anything it could affect the results. So I stay in bed attach it to myself and try to lie still for three minutes. I can hear the kids downstairs crying but have to try and ignore that and not worry that I’m not helping or that it’s affecting my heart rate!

I drop the kids at school and then do a radio interview on my drive into the training facility. I walk in the door, carrying my gear and have to stop to fill in the wellness app. I haven’t actually had much chance to think about how sore I’m feeling or how I slept! I guess I am actually pretty tired now that I think about it

I collect my pee in a pot and leave it on the side. I really feel for the person who has to test our pee every morning! For a while we were spitting into tubes to give them our saliva but we don’t seem to do that anymore.

I head to the gym for my S&C session. I have to do some jumps so they can see how tired I am. There’s a screen with live feedback as I do the jumps, which is great on good days but not so much today… it’s telling me I’m in the red – not great! But the smart band I’m wearing is telling me I’m well recovered! So which is right – the heart rate test, the watch, the jump test, or how I actually feel??

I put all my gear on and then spot my heart rate belt hanging in my locker. Argh, I’m going to have to take these layers off again to get it on properly! I know you’re thinking it would be automatic by now but some days the belt is not here so it’s not always part of my routine. Plus, every team seems to ask us to wear different things!

Afterwards I’m chased by someone to give my number for how hard I found the session. I didn’t deliberate miss it, I don’t mean to make them chase me. I was just distracted afterwards – I made a few mistakes during the session and have a meeting with the coach this afternoon, so I was thinking about that and just wanting to get to my locker. And anyway, they never tell us what difference us giving that number makes!

I head to the meal room – my favourite part of the day! Except, I’m meant to be keeping a food diary at the moment – damn, what did I have for breakfast again? I think I’m meant to be meeting with them about my nutrition plan this afternoon. I do want to go through it with them, it’s just I have this meeting with the coach and I can’t really think past that. Afterwards I’ll have to ring my agent and discuss it with them, they’re in contract negotiations at the moment so that feels like a cloud hanging over me too…


That is perhaps a somewhat facetious outlook of the athlete’s experience (maybe I’ll stick to the non-fiction writing!) However, it attempts to highlight the realities of data collection for the subjects – our athletes. It also illustrates just some of the other pressures and demands athletes have placed on them in addition to sports performance monitoring, including; family, friends, coaches, agents, media/PR, community, and fans to name a few. As we have previously discussed, it is essential sports practitioners consider other people’s perspectives and perhaps none more so important than the perspective of the athlete.

Data collection is of course, part of an athlete’s responsibility nowadays. However, that does not mean that we can place an unlimited or unnecessary burden on them. When considering a potential data collection process, it is important to deliberate on both the value the information will provide and the burden it will place on the athlete.

The Value Burden Matrix

The figure below shows my ‘Value Burden Matrix’. This framework enables practitioners to consider both dimensions of data collection together. Clearly, the ideal option is a process that provides high value and low burden. Alternatively, those that provides low value for a high burden on the athlete should be avoided. Those with a high value but a high burden require thorough contemplation as to whether the “juice is worth the squeeze”.

Matrix chart of value against burden with colour-coded areas
Figure 1. Value Burden Matrix

This is a simplified approach to a process that necessitates deeper context. The magnitude of burden or value associated with a particular technology or process is not fixed. It is determined by how we decide to collect, analyse, interpret, and disseminate the associated information. For example, a wellness questionnaire with 64 questions clearly has a much greater burden than one with 5! That said, we must also respect the validity and evidence-base behind different approaches.

Nor is the value we extract from a particular approach fixed, and we should constantly strive to obtain greater worth. Using regular jump testing can be valuable in quantifying fatigue, as demonstrated by much of Matt Jordan’s work, including this case study of ACL rehabilitation with an alpine ski racer. However, such value relies on consistent data collection, reliable protocols, detailed analysis, and distribution of the information to key stakeholders in a meaningful and actionable format. This may be a more difficult process in a team sport environment with anywhere from 15 to 120 athletes in the programme. Conducted in the right manner for the environment it can no doubt add value, but again the burden placed on the athletes requires consideration.

Considering Staff Burden

Thus far, we have discussed burden purely in terms of that placed on the athletes. However, it is also important to consider the time burden a particular process will place on the staff. When considering introducing a new process, the department should plan the collection, analysis, and dissemination of the data, and consequently review if their staff have the time and knowledge resources to execute this to the required standard.

As always, “it depends” … it depends on how you decide to collect the data within the constraints of your specific environment. Fatigue monitoring via jump testing is a pertinent example in this case as well. For example;

Do the staff have the time to collect the data in a valid and reliable manner? Do the staff have the time to analyse, interpret and disseminate information from the jump testing? Is this information actionable? Does it lead to meaningful changes for the athletes and their fitness-fatigue status?

If a tool can be valuable, without placing excessive burden on the athletes, any burden on the staff should not discount its use. Yet, it is important that the staff burden is managed so as not to minimise their performance in other parts of their role. Considering the data collection, analysis, and dissemination processes should be viewed in light of staff skillsets and data management capacities. It may be that investment in data science skills or information management systems is required in order to obtain the potential value of a tool. As such, iterative planning and reviews of both your staff capabilities and data collection processes are essential.

Do you understand the burden you place on your athletes and the value you provide to your key stakeholders from every data collection process in your programme? How are you maximising value obtained from a process while minimising the burden placed on the athlete (without diminishing validity, reliability, and value)?

Global Performance Insights audits your current processes to construct a data and technology management strategy that optimises the value of performance data collection for your organisation. Get in touch to learn more.