The three major sports are in a special time convergence these days. The NFL is holding its annual combine where young prospects, in the words of a writer “are dressed in their underwear and pushed, pulled, poked, timed, jumped, measured in all sorts of ways and this includes a battery of psychological testing.” This is all done to see if scouts and teams can find that one or more special player who will transform their team into a Super Bowl contender.
MLB – Major League Baseball – has opened all training camps and all sorts of analysis have begun. The Oakland Athletics pioneered an evaluation system a decade or so ago (chronicled in “Money Ball”). It is fascinating that of the major sports baseball has no game clock. Once you have used up your 27 outs the game is over. So the A’s went looking for people who could get on base – any way possible including walks. Now there are a multitude of statistics kept that never used to be considered. Again, this is analysis to the enth degree.
Meanwhile the NBA has just had its All Star Game and the push is on to the playoffs for many teams. Trade deadlines are approaching and teams are positioning themselves. One of the things teams look at is how certain players respond in specific game situations. With video of every minute of every game available team executives can get down to the minutiae of a player’s abilities in a wide variety of situations.
In all three of these sports the data are there for review. The same holds true for our sport of swimming. Go on “Meet Mobile” and you can see extreme detail of the college conference meets being held now. The NCAA’s for all three Divisions are next up. Splits, reaction times, including relay takeoffs will be available to all of us. Then watch YouTube and you can check tempos and stroke counts. It is all there.
In swimming we look at stroke rates – tempos – and numbers of strokes taken in each lap of a race – distance per stroke. We look at times from “broken” swims in workouts and how they are tied to actual race times…and for some swimmers they are remarkably accurate race predictors while for others, not so much.
And college coaches look at potential recruits with an ever widening view while simultaneously narrowing their focus on specific traits. The analysis goes on and on.
The question is, at some point we may be best served to ask ourselves, “Ok, but what does it all mean?” We read a recent article in which NBA Houston Rockets Coach Kevin McHale was asked about all the analytic tools available and how important they were. He had this observation. “It’s just another tool in the toolbox, and very useful. But the toughest thing in this business is how much does a guy love to play? How much does he love to compete? How tough is he? How is he going to play when someone kicks his ass? What’s he going to do the next day?”
So as a coach or swimmer you might want to ask yourself the same questions. You can master all the technical tools but at the end of the day those questions posed by McHale mean an awful lot. And of course, as your career unfolds if you have the technical tools and can answer Coach McHale’s questions in the affirmative you may just find yourself at the top of the mountain…like Tom Brady and Madison Bumgarner recently did…like Stephen Curry hopes to do soon…like you maybe…