University of California, Berkeley: Gymnastics & Beach Volleyball

User Story

Cheryl Cox is currently the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Beach Volleyball and Women’s Gymnastics at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley. A job that leads her to study how the human body works during exercise, and how sport and physical activity promote health and performance from cellular to whole body perspectives as a sports scientist.

“Be patient when you get new technology [in sport],” Cheryl evangelizes, “it takes time for athletes to buy into, and truly understand and value this information.” One aspect of sports science that has Cherly excited is wearable technology; however, she also recognizes that user buy-in is paramount and believes that players must learn to operate it on their own.

Catapult Sports has been a big part of Cheryl’s success and she believes that the key is for the player to be fully invested in the product.

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Coach education

Through the scientific study of sport, Catapult has developed a greater understanding of how the human body reacts to exercise, training, injury recovery (and prevention) and many other stimuli.

Cheryl acknowledges that some coaches — without this experience — may not understand or appreciate the benefits of this technology so she prioritizes the role of educating coaches and helping them see the value.

Even though these devices have the ability to make an athlete the best version of themselves, they can only change the player if the coaches use these devices to their full potential. “I’m just going to the coaches with guidelines saying this is where we can help manage this workload,” Cheryl explains, “but it is up to you as a coach to figure out how you are actually going to do that.”

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Competitive advantage through technology

Given her passion for sports data analysis and wearable technology, Cheryl says, “Anything and everything you want to track you can do it, so it can be overwhelming to navigate the system and figure out what metrics are important.”

The metrics available to athletes, coaches and sports scientists are still today not fully understood, but Cheryl is seeing a discernible value to help athletes prevent and shorten injuries, which is a competitive advantage.

Digging deeper into the numbers is one of Cheryl’s interests, only a handful of metrics that she can easily manipulate and adjust so she can support players in ways never known before.

One of the top features of these devices, according to Cheryl, is that rather than having standardized requirements based on traditional thinking about a sport, they gear the data based on individual athletes and their individual athletic abilities.

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The first, but certainly not the last

Cheryl Cox became the first female Strength and Conditioning Football Coach at the University of California, Berkeley because she elevates her players to the best they can be.

By setting goals and proving through data analysis there is value, she is helping to change the culture and mindset of the teams she’s consulting, a mindset she believes leads to champions. 

“I am going to push you to be the best version of yourself, Cheryl states, “and sometimes that can be uncomfortable and you are not going to be happy with what I say. But, that is okay.”

Sports analytics explains how and why the data is valuable and what the data means. And for Cheryl it goes beyond the numbers as she promotes a new wave of thinking about gender-based analysis. She believes information can help us make decisions and create strategies, but there are also valuable considerations relating to gender.

Cheryl believes players want to have a personal relationship with their coaches; players find it comforting if they are able to talk to their coach. Sometimes, for example, it can be hard for a player to relate to a coach of a different gender and that is one reason why Cheryl believes women need to have more representation in sports.

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The future of women’s sports and technology

Women’s sports are on the rise in an ever-changing sports landscape, according to a Nielsen report. The increase in positive TV and streaming ratings and reviews of women’s sports leagues around the world are intriguing prospects for this new age of sports.

As such, for female athletes, their coaches and organizations, building predictive learning models using wearable devices have come from an overnight shift in old-fashioned thinking about ways to create a competitive advantage.

It’s not whether Cheryl Cox’s approach will yield positive results in women’s sports, but rather how far it will come in the coming years to reduce the gender gap that has existed for generations….

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Image credit: @CalWGym; @CalBeachVB