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Data supports a multi-professional coaching team

20 October 2022

In order to succeed, top-level Finnish sports need an international-level training environment, multi-professional expertise and cutting-edge sports data. The men’s artistic gymnastics team has access to all of this at the Urhea facility of the National Olympic Training Center in Helsinki.

According to the national team’s head coach Timo Holopainen, the conditions at the Urhea campus are perfect for the artistic gymnastics training team.

“Before the Urhea campus was completed in 2021, we had to use several different training facilities, our experts were working at different locations and travel took a lot of time. Now, we have access to the same gym every day, and we can concentrate on training without any distractions.”

The excellent training conditions are complemented by an expert support network operating on the same premises.

“In 2020, I put together a multi-professional group of experts around the coaching team, including a sports nutrition specialist, a psychological coach, a physiotherapist, a doctor, a dual career specialist and a physical coaching expert. Now, they are all here, within easy reach.”

The team of experts meets on a monthly basis to discuss the status of the coaching team. The exchange of information is facilitated by the 360° Training app developed by Tietoevry, which the team has tested to monitor well-being data.

“The software works as a phone application, to which the device manufacturer’s sensor sends data related to the athletes’ well-being, such as pulse, sleep and recovery. The app also includes a survey, which enables the athletes to give updates on how they are feeling,” says Holopainen.

Using data to improve the quality of sleep

The application helps the team of experts keep up to date of the overall situation of the athletes, says sport psychologist Tatja Holm who is responsible for the team’s psychological coaching.

“The data helps us see the overall picture and focus on the issues, which are most relevant at the time.

When the athletes of the artistic gymnastics team completed the daily survey for an intensive 2-week period, the data highlighted sleep-related issues.

“We know that intensive training increases the need for sleep. The quality of sleep also affects things such as the ability to concentrate, which is important in all sports. When the survey revealed sleeping-related challenges, we discussed together with the athletes the importance of sleep from the viewpoint of top-level sports. We shared research information pertaining to sleep and discussed ways in which sleep can affect recovery, development and a person’s mental state.”

“The survey enabled us to discuss the issue which the team had struggled with, especially during sports camp situations. Stress can deprive an athlete of sleep, or impair the quality of sleep. Talking about the issue helped us identify methods to better manage the quality of sleep.”

Data reveals phenomena, trends and causality

For the coaching team’s sports nutrition specialist Laura Manner, one of the key benefits of the application is that it makes it possible to detect issues, which do not necessarily come up in daily life.

“Data monitoring makes it easier to spot trends that are related to recovery, muscular pain, sleep, coping and mood, because an athlete may become blind to their own situation in daily life. Despite the great team spirit and open atmosphere of the team, not all issues are brought up in face-to-face conversations. When the athlete is left alone with their phone, they have to think harder how they are going to respond to the survey.”

“At its best, data can help identify long-term trends and phenomena as well as discern cause and effect between nutrition and well-being, for example. Without the correct data, we may be looking for the reasons for the issue in the wrong places.”

As for Manner’s own speciality, sports nutrition, surveys are not a viable solution for monitoring progress because they do not produce reliable data.

“According to research, finding information about nourishment via surveys is extremely difficult and imprecise. Things we can monitor and which we know to be relevant include injuries, pain, sleep, symptoms of illnesses, energy levels and coping. If there are issues with several of these things, it is a clear indication that I need more information about the athlete’s diet via an electronic food diary, for example.”

360° Training supports the daily life of the athletes and coaches

According to Manner, the advantage of the 360° Training app is that it can display data simultaneously from different sources.

“For instance, when the survey data and the pulse data reside in the same system, the athlete and the coach do not need to waste time on logging into different data systems to collect data. The data sharing also helps the whole coaching team to decide what needs attention and fixing immediately and who are the right persons needed for the task. For the athlete, it is also often easier to deal with one person instead of seeing four different experts.”

For Manner, the advantages of the application also include being able to measure efficiency and scientific research.

“We are often asked how we can measure the efficiency of what we do. For example, it is hard to prove the impact of dietary guidelines on the athlete’s daily life and performance. But if the survey has revealed problems with coping, recovery or performance, and the situation has improved once the issues related to nutrition have been resolved, it is fairly safe to assume it was at least part of the problem.”

“We have only been using the application for a short time, but the data it has provided us with has been good material for scientific research. We need more scientific data related to sports because both the athletes and the operating environment are changing. We must find ways to generate fresh data and identify causality, for example, between injuries and sports.”

In Manner’s opinion, data monitoring should become a natural part of an athlete’s daily life.

“Completing the survey should not be a frustrating task for the athlete, especially if the benefit of it is unclear. The motivation for entering the information should come from the athlete themselves. One way to look at it is that data enables the different experts of the coaching team to provide the athlete with better assistance.”

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Teemu Ekola

Head of Big Data Solutions

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