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How to Communicate Data to Head Coaches, according to the Seattle Seahawks

3rd March 2022

Performance staff and video coordinators spend countless hours analysing athlete data and video footage, allowing them to gather the key insights their coaches need to improve team performance. But often what gets forgotten about or not given enough attention is the presentation and delivery of those insights to head coaches.

According to Director of Research and Development at Seattle Seahawks, Patrick Ward, this is an area of performance analysis in which most football staff can and should look to improve. Ward says, too often, he has seen so much hard work and important research tossed aside because the information presented was hard to understand, digest, and then integrate into training practice.

This challenge not only impacts football performance staff and video coordinators – in fact, anyone who has a manager and presents insights/information up their respective command chain can learn to improve their presentation skills. This process is described as managing up.

What is managing up?

Managing up involves understanding your boss’s requirements. Essentially, what can be done to make their job easier as well as your day-to-day job. In doing so, and with reference to football performance, head coaches can better understand your analysis insights and make quicker, more actionable decisions that improve the performance of your team.

To read more about managing up, click here to read Culture Amp’s blog.

Seattle Seahawks Insights

Ward’s current work centers on research and development in professional sports with an emphasis on data analysis in American football. Previously, Ward was a sports scientist within the Nike Sports Research Lab and he also founded Optimum Sports Performance, a strength and conditioning facility where he trains high school, collegiate, and professional athletes.

Ward explains five ways practitioners can improve their internal communication with head coaches/managing up skills:

1. Structure your communication

Ward suggested team personnel should present their insights and findings using the Data Problem Solving Cycle – more commonly known as the PPDAC cycle. The cycle provides a framework that enables individuals to effectively structure their communications, making it easier for head coaches to understand insights.

The cycle framework allows users to describe the problem, outline a plan of action, show related data and analysis, before reaching final conclusions and next steps.

2. Be objective, avoid opinions

Too often, subjective insights are shared but it is important to remember that “nobody is paying you for your opinion … so be objective, direct, and avoid jargon,” said Ward.

Applying and using data in your communications is a great way to avoid being subjective. Data can and should act as the conduit in which you deliver your performance/video insights to head coaches.

3. Be clear when conveying the message

There are a lot of insights and, therefore, improvements that can be made within a football team but for a head coach to digest those insights, in the limited time they have, can be difficult.

Ward said: “communicate the bottom line first … imagine you only have five minutes with your head coach, so you can decide what information you must deliver”. The insights you must deliver are typically those that have the greatest impact on the team achieving their performance goals.

4. Refrain from leaving data open to interpretation

With modern technologies, collecting data is not the problem. For example, Catapult Vector, our latest wearables technology, is able to capture 900 data points per second.

The challenge comes from sifting through this data. Ward shared a quote from information technology innovator and teacher, Stephen Few: “For data to be useful, it must inform, matter and deserve a response.”

So avoid over-presenting copious amounts of data, leaving it over to interpretation. Instead, ensure you deliver a smaller subset of data that is going to change team performances, training design, and/or head coach decision-making.

5. Learn your learner

Each head coach is slightly different and so, they all have unique ways in which they interpret and prefer insights to be delivered to them.

Analysts and performance staff should narrow in on the best way to communicate with their head coach. It took some time, but Ward and the Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll have managed to align on what the delivery expectation is and what presentation style Carroll finds it easier to understand and take action upon, explained Ward.

To learn your learner, have a conversation with your head coach to identify what they like to see within the reports delivered to them. This is often an iterative process, but through having candid conversations, the presentation of insights and data will better align with what a head coach engages with best.

More About Patrick Ward:
Ward’s research interests include training and competition analysis as they apply to athlete health, injury, and performance across a variety of sports. Patrick has a Ph.D. in Sports Science from Liverpool John Moores University and is a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS).

Source: Optimum Sports Performance