Updated: May 14, 2020
How professional sports teams are affected in their ability to support training regimes for their athletes in the face of COVID-19.
It was apparent in early March, that the COVID-19 virus was going to hit the world of professional sports hard and quick. The first narratives around the on-going NBA season quickly dissolved into suspended games and stories of infected athletes. What has effectively become the “Great Pause” became a crisis for professional team owners, team managers, and their trainers.
WHAT WE DECIDED TO DO As a company building products to help athletes maximize performance and reduce injury, we sought to understand specifically how COVID-19 was affecting the health and fitness professionals that work with top-tier athletes.
By acting quickly in mid-March to send out a broad survey to dozens of staff at sports teams around the world, we managed to gather insights into just how their livelihoods were being affected.
Specifically, the survey’s focus was to understand the impact of COVID-19 on staff’s ability to monitor and interact with their athletes in the face of quarantining and social distancing. Respondents represented over 20 different sports, from top teams & organizations, including the NBA, Major League Soccer, Division 1 NCAA teams, Serie A Italian Football, Olympic Sports federations, the Italian Tennis Federation and the English Premier League.
Teams were not prepared for the disruption to athlete training
WHAT BECAME IMMEDIATELY CLEAR While the monetary losses of a paused season have certainly been an issue, for the support staff at these organizations, it became clear that the most valuable assets of high-level teams — the athletes themselves — are at risk.
Generally speaking, teams were not prepared for the disruption to athlete training and the support needed to oversee hundreds of professional athletes forced into “shelter-in” situations. Many athletes were left without access to a professional-level training facility and certainly without in-person oversight of a team trainer.
PRIMARY CONCERNS OF ELITE SPORTS STAFF Across 19 different questions, we measured the impact to support staff looking at everything from concerns they had to tools they were using to stay in contact with their athletes.
Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the ability of staff to interact with their athletes.
Over 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they have less awareness of what their athletes are doing on a day-to-day basis. The biggest worries for staff are their ability to ensure their athletes stay in the proper shape (87%) and their ability to treat their athletes’ existing conditions (81%). COMMUNICATION TRENDS To help mitigate these concerns, staff are getting creative in terms of how they interact. Over 86% are utilizing text messages to stay in touch with their athletes, nearly 70% are doing some form of video chatting and only 2% aren’t doing anything. While over 1/3 are using some form of wearable device with their athletes today, there are few products that are delivering secure, remote monitoring of exercise protocols and success metrics. When asked about what kind of data & solutions staff would like to be able to use, the most commonly requested were Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement, GPS tracking, Rehabilitation/Rehab tools, and Movement/Motion analysis tools.
Additionally, sports staff are clearly asking for some form of video recording of their athletes so they can assess their movement and fitness. Without the established systems that elite sports staff are used to having on-site, this area presents a clear opportunity for innovation.
HOW TEAMS RESPONDED So far, organizations have provided varying levels of guidance to staff. Some have been specific, instructing staff to use “home workouts + fitness programs via email with contact through WhatsApp”, while others have been vague, with guidelines like “Stay in contact with athletes remotely” or “Continue as best as possible”.
What was particularly surprising though was that over 53% of respondents shared that they did not receive any guidance on how to remain in contact with their athletes. This highlights a clear opportunity for organizations to step up and provide staff with clear, specific guidance on how to handle this situation.
MORE REMOTE MONITORING METHODS NEEDED One of the most meaningful data points to come out of the survey was how open staff, and likely athletes, are to using remote tools. While it was no surprise that training staff would be open to additional tools, what did surprise us is how dramatic that reported interest was! Nearly 70% of respondents stated they are now more open to remote monitoring tools than in the past and over 60% of respondents felt that athletes are more open to remote monitoring tools than in the past. Even when the impact of COVID-19 lessens, staff overwhelmingly agree (82%) that remote measurement will still be important.
Now, more than ever, elite sports staff need tools to better keep track of their athletes and ensure they stay healthy, fit and connected.
CONCLUSION It’s a challenging time for everyone involved in sports, and the training staff are no different: they are used to seeing athletes regularly, getting their hands on them and helping them to be their best. During this period of “social distancing”, in-person contact is impossible and thus, presents an opportunity for simple, yet effective solutions to aid staff in their mission to fine-tune their athletes.
Periods of rapid change often are fertile grounds for innovation and we believe that new products will come to market to solve these problems. We look forward to showcasing what we at formsense are building to aid sports staff around the world. Providing objective feedback about what an athlete is doing presents a clear white space in the fitness wearable and sports technology market. The ability to report repetitions of exercises and give staff visibility into HOW the athlete is moving while doing these exercises is both differentiated and highly relevant given today’s pandemic crisis.
This research was conducted by formsense, a San Diego-based startup making smart apparel that delivers real-time, remotely monitored biomechanical insights. Today, we’re focused on our mission to maximize performance, accelerate recovery, and reduce injuries for professional sports teams and their athletes. Tomorrow, formsense technology will be available to the millions whose daily lives are affected by problems with their form — with applications in physical therapy, at-home fitness, and amateur sports. Visit us at formsense.com to request a demo of our technology.