WHY YOU DON’T WANT THE MLB’S ‘BEST’ SPORTS SCIENCE PROGRAM
Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson while with a Tier 1 special operations commander. I used the word ’best’ once too often for his liking. The commander abruptly explained to me that they didn’t want the ‘best candidate’, they wanted the ‘right’ candidate. This is a critical lesson when it comes to sports science and winning.
Within any sport, you will often hear that a team has “the best” strength and conditioning program, or “the best” medical team, “the best” sports science program. While these programs may well be doing great new things, it’s a misnomer to say that a team is the best unless the team wins.
“We want the right Sports Science Program,
Not the best Sports Science Program”
As the commander was informing me, winning teams don’t have the best of any of these specialties but rather the ‘right’ ones. And if we are going to proclaim someone to have the best this or that, surely, it’s the one that is part of the club who wins the championship at the end of the season? After all, that’s all that counts.
Many teams can claim to have the best sports science program, but if they lose, does it matter? This is one of many misguided perspectives in sports, not just baseball.
In this article I’ll explain what the ‘right’ sports science model looks like.
What exactly is Sports Science?
There’s lots of confusion in sport, but there is certainly more confusion about sports science than anything else. Having overseen the first full time sports science in team sport in the world I know first-hand how the industry has developed over the years.
I’d love to say it’s been plain sailing, but one of the reasons I’ve been fortunate is that I’ve arguably learned from more mistakes than anyone else – this is why I refer to it as Performance Science.
Firstly – lets clarify what exactly sports science is and is not. Most teams who implement sports science programs, at best, copy ideas from sport and academia. Good teams adopt the best messages from experts in other domains too, such as military, research organizations, but the really smart organizations know what to look for from each. It’s not who you learn from it’s what and how you learn from them.
“Learn Principles, not techniques, from the appropriate domain”
For example, it’s best to learn about skill acquisition and skill development from highly skilled sports such as archery or soccer, but learning strength and conditioning is best from sports like rugby.
The second aspect of exploiting knowledge from other domains is how you learn – some teams simply copy techniques, but the best teams learn the principles. Principles transfer, but techniques don’t always transfer from sport to sport. Knowing the principles allows you to adopt and adapt for baseball.
Knowing what to learn from who and translating the principles allow the best teams manage players, CBA restrictions and roster management successfully.
A good sports science program is focused on the players and possibly the performance staff, but a truly effective program is holistic improving the effectiveness of the coaching staff, complete roster, development programs and senior management efficiency.
Why a Sports Science Program Works
When you look across the horizon of sports and really investigate the best programs there are two things you’ll notice. The first is that they have a holistic program – information (not just data) is shared across all departments.
“Adopt a holistic program that starts with person health & welfare”
Secondly the player health and welfare is prioritized to maximize player health and lengthen their career.
Proper use of monitoring and tracking can allow the organization maximize performance, but only if the technologies and protocols are based on science and practical for that culture and organization.
Surprisingly, these are the two biggest challenges that professional teams face.
Many teams don’t have a solid scientific basis for certain technologies or they are over sold on the actual benefits of some technologies – which is sadly very common in pro sport.
The second biggest challenge is knowing how to adopt the technology for the environment. This can be a combination of factors such as understanding the player mentality, getting buy-in and ensuring the technology and monitoring is as uninvasive as possible.
How does Sports Science Work?
Having established why sports science can work and how it works, the final question is “What options do you have to establish your own program?” While there are a number of ways organizations can build very successful programs, there are two broad approaches – but both come with cautions.
Slowing building a sports science program with a young sports scientist, interns and expert consultants can work very well. It’s success can be sustainable and help develop the inhouse talent also. It avoids the higher costs of expert knowledge and additional salaries from the start. Yes, results are not immediate but the advantage is that it’s gradual. An evolution, not a revolution. Another advantage of this approach is that it suits developing or rebuilding organizations. The slower growing team with a young sports scientist or intern program ‘grows’ with the organization.
“Decide on an Evolution or Revolution”
The more aggressive approach is to hire expertise and address the problem directly. This does come with costs and expense, but it can lead to a more immediate result. Hiring expertise helps the team get a start on the opposition.
Your first steps …
Before you begin building a sports science program, be clear to have the focus squarely on building the ‘right’ sports science program.
- Learn from all domains, not just baseball or academia.
- Establish good habits of learning the principles from the other domains not only the techniques so you apply them to your sport and your environment.
- Understand that sports science is for everybody, coaches, front office and staff not just players.
- Develop a holistic program that extends far beyond simply the physical elements.
- Balance short term improvements with long term player career extension.
- The priority should always begin with person health and welfare.
- Finally, with all the factors considered, finance and expertise – decide on the pathway, evolution or revolution?