Athlete wellness is a topic which has gained real traction in recent years as coaches and clubs count the costs of poor performances due to external factors impacting their athletes. Being able to monitor athlete wellness is a cost effective, valid and practical way for coaches to evaluate the external loads which athletes are being put under. Athletes are typically very good perceivers of their own wellness and when this perception of athlete wellness reduces it becomes a very strong indicator of burnout, an indication of reduced motivation or reduction in their want to engage in training, and overall sporting performance. We tend to notice that in football players, wellbeing scores can reduce between 35-40% post-match, compared to their wellbeing prior to a match. Then from this point it increases between 17-26% in the subsequent 2 day period until 4 days post match when this wellbeing recovery continues at a smaller rate of 7-14%.
The simplest and easiest way for practitioners to gauge perception of athletes wellness is to use questionnaires, or in a PlayerData case ‘Surveys’, which use Likert scales (scales which go from 1-10 and have an accompanying text associated with the number) to assess sleep quality, muscle soreness, stress, menstrual cycle tracking and ratings of perceived exertion specific to sessions (sRPE) as well as other indicators of how the athlete perceives aspects of their performance and wellness. In professional male football players reductions in these scores typically preceded reductions in performance relating to reduced training time, total distance covered and player load. Coming out of pre-season it’s imperative to monitor athlete wellness, as typically this tends to be the period where athletes are most susceptible to reductions due to the higher training load and volume placed on them during this period. This can lead to a greater risk of injury in the immediate weeks following pre-season and a higher risk of burnout. Not a great combination moving into your first competitive games! To help you avoid this, we’re going to take a closer look at each of these categories and in particular how monitoring them can lead to improved athlete wellness and improved performance.
When looking to implement training sessions, it’s often believed that it doesn’t matter how the athlete is feeling or how their mood may impact their performance, however studies have shown that athletes who report negative moods prior to training will have a lower total distance, high speed running and subsequently fail to perform at adequate levels. In fact, higher levels of high speed distance are great predictors of negative mood scores the next day, which, if performed at the right time, allows coaches to adjust training sessions to allow for adequate recovery for all athletes in the squad, creating a more optimised and individual training programme helping keep athletes free of injuries and illness.
One of the best ways we can assess athlete wellness and readiness to train is by looking at an athlete's perception of muscle soreness and fatigue. Studies have shown that athletes who report higher levels of muscle soreness are more likely to become injured following strenuous exercise and sessions. A number of training variables can help predict athlete muscle soreness, with the most notable being total distance, high speed running distance and accelerations and decelerations. These movements are high intensity and rely on a lot of energy and conditioning to be able to replicate, particularly with accelerations and decelerations, which require a high eccentric muscle effort to slow down and in many cases change direction.
When looking at how quality of sleep can impact athlete wellness and overall performance, you only have to focus on two simple measures; total distance and high speed running distance. If athletes have less than adequate sleep following training, their total distance and high speed running distance will be affected at the following training session, preventing coaches from increasing player workload and progressing the team's performance. For predictors of poor sleep, you only have to look at changes of direction on metrics such as accelerations and decelerations, with footballers these can be great predictors of poor sleep following a training session. However, when we look at other sports such as rugby, total accelerations and decelerations in a session are not associated with poorer sleep quantity during pre-season training.
The recommended sleep duration from the National Sleep Foundation for adults is 7 to 8 hours and although several studies have previously reported that a good sleep pattern will result in an improved physical performance in athletes, in several cases many athletes have insufficient sleep quality and/or quantity. This can be due to several factors, including a busy athlete schedule as well as their lack of knowledge around the role sleep plays in their performance capabilities. Both athletic performance, such as speed and endurance, as well as neurocognitive function, such as attention and memory, are impacted by sleep quality, making it essential to monitor how well players are sleeping to ensure that athlete wellness is maintained. We’ll be deep diving more into sleep over the coming weeks in this wellness series, where we’ll explore the difference between sleep quality and sleep quantity.
Monitoring athletes' mental wellbeing is incredibly important as this can be negatively impacted by players underperforming due to burnout or pressure put on themselves. It also gives a coach insight into the mental state of their player giving them opportunity to provide additional support. Mental wellbeing can be defined as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’. Monitoring athletes' mental wellbeing and doing regular check-ins with players can allow athletes to communicate how they are feeling and receive the support they need. Coaches can work with players to create a plan to help better understand and support an athlete that may be struggling to keep good mental wellbeing.
An athlete's mental wellbeing can be classed as mental fatigue and this is often seen in sessions which require a lot of focus and contain a lot of information, such as heavy tactical shape sessions. Mental fatigue can have some potentially serious implications on athlete performance and this can include a decrease in motivation and a lack of tolerance to exercise. The key signs that a player is mentally fatigued will be shown in their GPS stats; players will cover less distance than they usually would and will make less high intensity actions, which negatively impacts the progression of the game. Interestingly, despite the lack of distance covered, players tend to improve the quality of the actions they performed as well as the efficiency of these actions, meaning that whilst their physical output was reduced their tactical execution was increased. A great way to gain an insight into the mental wellbeing of your players is to ask questions and explore how their motivation changes across weeks to help identify where they feel the most stress. Doing this within the PlayerData app helps build a foundation for conversations with players about what is impacting their stress in both training and around matchdays to help them understand where their pressure points are and how you as a coach can help them alleviate some of this stress.
Using session RPE is a great tool for monitoring athlete wellness and internal training load. Internal training load is defined as the physiological stress imposed on the body during training or competition. To calculate a sPRE, a scale from 1 (light) to 10 (very intense) is used and athletes are asked to rate how hard they found the session. This should be carried out 30 minutes post session. This is so that players' perceived efforts reflect the entire session. Once the RPE has been noted coaches can use this to calculate players internal training load by multiplying the RPE score with the duration of the session (minutes). For example, an RPE of 8 and an hour session (8 x 60 = 480). By monitoring athletes training load throughout the week, coaches will be able to identify if players are at risk of burnout or an injury and can plan ahead to ensure that they have accurate recovery time, both mentally and physically.
By using this scale coaches and staff are able to identify any dips, and the reasons for this, in athletes’ external load (this is the work completed by an athlete, measured independently of his or her internal characteristics) and is monitored using GPS. Once coaches have created a track of players training loads over the week, they can use this information to monitor and track any expected dips in performance. For example, a session that was an hour and a half long and where RPE was rated 10, an athlete will have a high training load. This will result in them being fatigued the following day and so coaches should plan for a lighter session with lower external output requirements to help balance athlete wellness.
Overall, reductions in athlete wellness can be identified by reduced external metrics scores in total distance, high intensity running distance, accelerations and decelerations. Athletes who present these reductions in wellness often pace themselves in later training sessions or unconsciously alter how they move to prevent further stress, which can lead to injury. This has important consequences for coaches as this inhibits a player’s ability to perform high intensity actions, leading to under preparation for competition and increasing their likelihood of injury. By having an effective monitoring system in place, using a mix of wellness surveys and questionnaires, coaches are able to build up an effective database in conjunction with collected GPS data to identify any dips in players’ performance and also plan ahead to identify any players that may be at risk of injury or burnout. Having this information can allow coaches to be proactive in their planning for athlete wellness as a top priority.
Having hopefully demonstrated how crucial monitoring athlete wellness is, we’d encourage you to explore the survey section within the PlayerData mobile app - don’t worry if you get stuck, as we’ve provided a short and effective wellness survey opposite as a guide.
Our next blog will focus on all things sleep, where we’ll aim to bridge the gap between understanding sleep quality and sleep quantity, as we continue to focus on what keeps performance at high levels and how to maintain high athlete wellness scores.
If you have any further questions regarding athlete wellness, feel free to reach out to our PlayerData sport scientists by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your success is our success, that’s why all PlayerData customers can also access our sport science support to help create surveys that can have a positive impact on your team’s performance and athlete wellness.
Written by Kieran McManus & Hannah Paton