When I watch the incredible Cosmic Eye video (below), I think of a particularly desirable skillset of a support staff member: the ability to vary one’s perspective. Practitioners need the ability to zoom out to view “the universe”, to zoom in to “the quarks”, as well as every level in between.
Our universe requires the practitioner to consider the annual team sport schedule, the 4-year Olympic cycle, or the youth athlete’s overall pathway to senior sport. The quarks represent the exact needs of an individual athlete on a given day or moment, in terms of physical preparation, medical, nutrition and/or psychology and wellbeing standpoint, for example. None of this exists in a vacuum however, and should be considered from many different vantage points.
As such, we often need to think more dynamically about the level of detail we are using. This thought process requires self-awareness and reflection. Am I considering the bigger picture? Am I too deep in the “weeds”? Alternatively, am I missing vital detail? These levels interact together and it is rare that a task would not benefit from considering both the big picture, as well as intimate detail. Our perspective should not be from a fixed position, but one that constantly uses the zoom button.
Let’s Talk Performance!
When season or phase planning getting the “big rocks” in place, such as when to train/practice and when to schedule rest days, is paramount. Yet, the planning process can be undermined if sufficient attention is then not paid to the details of each day’s schedule.
We need the ability to zoom in and intimately understand the demands of the exercises we prescribe, such as the muscle activation and joint-level characteristics. Yet, we should not lose sight of the overall plan and how these exercises can be combined into an efficient and effective training programme for our athletes. We even need to be able to step back far enough to debate the merits of periodisation theory itself!
If analysing force plate data, we need to determine the precise methodology to use, such as the threshold used to identify force onset and how to combine both peak and mean force calculations to obtain the most appropriate picture of asymmetry. However, we also need to understand the bigger picture to plan data collection, and specifically the time-course for recovery in our sport, in order to schedule the testing in the most appropriate windows.
If planning on-field training load, we should consider the overall competition schedule and training periodisation, whilst also zooming into specific drill volumes and intensities for specific position groups and individuals. This is an iterative process when planning and monitoring training loads, continuously zooming in and out to different viewpoints.
What would be your perspective if an individual surpassed a training load "target" or "limit"? It could potentially be viewed as a 'training load error'. However, in such a situation, it can be beneficial to zoom out to a wider viewpoint. How far from game day is the session? Has the individual coped with this load before? How are they coping with/responding to the load? What other measures and metrics of load should we consider?
Ultimately, human are more resilient than we often give our athletes credit for. It is likely that their performance and/or injury risk may not be as drastically affected by this one training load perspective on a single day as we might think in the heat of the moment. Indeed, training load is a single risk factor within a complex, multivariate picture in both performance and injury. Yet, as purveyors of data, sometimes we are in danger of getting too zoomed in on numbers in isolation.
As purveyors of data, sometimes we are in danger of getting too zoomed in on numbers in isolation.
Being adaptable with your zoom setting is also required when consuming or authoring in academia. Can you set the scene in the introduction, identifying the gap in the literature that your study fills, and then explain how your findings fit within the bigger picture in the discussion? Simultaneously, can you pay attention to the minutia of the methodology and results, coherently communicating such detail to the reader?
Viewing from a Different Angle
Our perspective skillset is not just about zooming in and out, but also changing and developing the angle of our perspective. The perspective from which we view the world is influenced by our experiences and our biases. Yet, it is easy to forget this and view our individual perspective as Reality.
In the fantastic book, Think Again, Adam Grant urges the reader to put a greater emphasis on perspective seeking than perspective taking. This book is all about being actively open-minded and searching for why we might be wrong. Some of the many methods suggested for doing so include;
building a “challenge network” of people we trust, who are themselves curious and doubtful, point out our blind sports, and encourage us to think again
spending more time listening, which can, in part, be achieved by asking more open-ended questions
recognising the complexity in topics and striving to have more nuanced, and less polarised, conversations.
So if we revisit the training load example of an athlete surpassing a limit due to extra work undertaken with a coach. Not only can we zoom further out to consider the bigger picture, but perhaps we can change our angle to consider other stakeholder perspectives. For instance:
The Technical Coach’s Perspective: “This athlete will really benefit technically and tactically from this extra work. They made that mistake last week and I want to help them learn from it. This drill is designed especially for this individual to coach them in that very situation.”
The Athlete’s Perspective: “I really need to work on this after that mistake last week. I’m glad the coach is giving me extra attention to help me with this. This will definitely help my game.”
That is not to say that your perspective is not valid. Perhaps the drill could have been better planned for that athlete's overall needs. By starting from a place of empathy, we recognise other people's perspectives, which can help to build trust and communication. Not only do we encourage ourselves to rethink but, according to Grant, this form of collaboration can lead to "interpersonal rethinking". In turn, next time this may become a more cooperative effort, with multiple perspectives considered.
“The difference between a mountain and a molehill is your perspective.” – Al Neuharth
Considering one's viewpoint, both in terms of the zoom setting and the angle through which we interpret reality, enables practitioners to work along a continuum of perspectives. This dynamic approach is critical to developing collaboration and operating in the complex world of sports performance.