From the time most children can walk and talk today, they have a technological device of some type in their hands. By the time they finish elementary school, children can code, decode, transmit and transcend on those devices into places many adults do not even understand. In the near future, athletes’ Digital Twins will help to predict and prevent injury to them. Therefore, most athletes and players get excited about using and learning about how technology can help them perform better.
In sports, effective use of statistics, analytics and metrics are viewed by coaches, trainers and business organizations as essential to peak development and achievement. Most assuredly, technology has it place, but the tolerance for and acceptance of it will vary depending on the time, place and manner of its application.
Team members are three-part development projects – person, athlete and player. Experienced coaches must recognize that while they do not always need technology to develop the athlete or player, as a result of players being raised with technology, they probably need technology to connect with the person. Visual technology may even be the best modality to help an athlete learn.
But, at times, are coaches and trainers over-reliant on technology to the point where technology actually impedes progress and performance?
First, in my opinion, a coach should be more concerned with mastering the teaching of what they know before adding to what they know, e.g., technology.
Second, let’s begin with the common issue of a pitcher not having his best stuff or command on a given day. In practice and training, the player and coaches would dive into the metrics and analyze video and data to try several remedies for the issues. On the mound, during a game, that is not possible so what is the pitcher to do? Have the pitchers been trained to think for themselves? Have the pitchers been trained to feel when their grip needs adjustment or to feel when their body is not in sync and what to do about it when technology is not available? How much time was spent on the lost “art of pitching”? Is there any doubt Greg Maddux would be as effective in today’s game as he was in his day? Sadly, most young pitchers could not tell you why. Can the pitchers emotionally cope with adversity when things do not go as planned when the technology is not there to rescue them?
At the most basic level, many young players do not know how to use their upper bodies in sync with their lower bodies even while walking because they are always holding a device. This fact underscores the necessity for athletic development not just player development.
Technology gives output data which is heavily biased by the data input into it. Bad mechanics = bad output data. A coach needs to know how to change the player’s training program to refine and retool the process from which the outcome data is derived. The change required may not be accomplished by a sport skill drill, but rather by improving the athlete's body and athleticism. Even the sport drill change may be as basic as changing a grip or posture. The first step is to take the bat, ball and glove out of the player's hands – visually and sometimes literally - a coach must be able to do a ground up analysis of posture, balance, footwork, angles (in body and in movement) rhythm and timing.
Next, there is the critical mental component to athletic and team performance. This impacts a player’s ability to handle adversity during competition and the ability of a team to develop strong chemistry.
N.Y. Times Best-Selling Author and acclaimed research professor, Brené Brown, states in her book, Dare to Lead, "When they complete our Daring Leadership program as a part of their onboarding, almost every millennial who works with us has told me some version of, I never learned about emotions or how to talk so openly about failure, and I have never seen it modeled. When you're used to using technology for everything, these hard face-to-face conversations are awkward and so intense."
This research points to the unfortunate fact that an overuse and reliance on technology has caused many youth today to be socially inept. They need to be educated about communication etiquette, verbal and non-verbal, how to read social and personal cues well and how to be better listeners. Many are slow to understand group dynamics. Many are also emotionally fragile, e.g., they are over-dependent on predictability and do not adjust well to change. The extremes of video games and internet videos cause many youth to become numb to normal human emotion.
As a result, coaches must recognize that randomization is essential in all parts and types of training, including training in all types of weather. Second, coaches must let players play. Coaches should not rescue them by pulling them from a game immediately after they make a mistake and they should let them work through their mistakes to develop a proper Growth Mindset. Otherwise, the players will always operate out of fear and be tentative – more importantly, they will not develop trust in themselves and will have low self-esteem. Coaches should observe how the players work through their mistakes and then should calmly and respectfully mentor them about how to respond to adversity.
Most importantly, coaches must remember we coach people not sports. It is the quality of the person not the player that is the most significant outcome. Coaches and trainers must proactively program life skill education and development into every practice and training session.
Prioritize mentoring the person first and carefully and strategically use technology when developing the athlete and player. When coaches use this process, they will mentor champions, Champions for Life.
Adam Sarancik is the author of an Amazon Top 100 Best Seller, Coaching Champions for Life - The Process of Mentoring the Person, Athlete and Player and its companion book, Takeaway Quotes for Coaching Champions for Life. Adam's newest acclaimed book is, A Ground Ball to Shortstop - How and Why Coaches See Their Game Differently Than Anyone Else.