Data: Dangerous of Invaluable?

I write this post in the midst of June test week at our facility.  This week is like Christmas for me (I’m a geek when it comes to data, I’ll admit it) and it comes three times a year!  Like the holidays, it can be amazing but it can also be quite dangerous…let me explain.

Data is all the craze here this week as our entire membership is testing their swing speed, ball speed, body motion, power, strength, flexibility and overall movement.  It is in my opinion one of the most important weeks we have as it allows us to check our systems of training to assure progress, check in on movements with our members to make sure nothing has popped up and provides an element of accountability for the golfers to see if they have been putting in the work and improved.

When it comes to getting data for anything, it is easier than ever.  If we use golf and fitness as examples, you can get over 20 data points on every single swing from Trackman or Flightscope. You can pull up 3D renderings of your swing, squat or any other movement you desire from 3D motion capture systems such as Kvest.  You can see every single millisecond of your golf swing or squat and where exactly at different points your weight shift was via Boditrak or other force plate systems.  For golf in particular, the list goes on and on.

In the fitness and sport performance world we can record data on your vertical, your bar speed via velocity based training, calculate wattage output, see how fast you can run or how far you can throw an implement…cool but what does it mean? How does it affect training and ultimately performance?

All of this information is great; what is done with it is the scary and dangerous part.  There are plenty of professionals out there who have this information, yet finding the few who effectively use it as a benefit for their client instead of another thought to cloud their mind is more difficult than you would think.

I can count on my hand the number of athletes I work with who understand all the numbers and what they mean for their performance.  The number who then know how to use the technology and what numbers to focus on is even smaller.  If, however, I think about the number of parents and professionals who “know” what the numbers mean and “coach” these athletes based off of them then this is when I get scared.

So many times, data becomes the focus of planning, training and everything else.  The simple and most important element of feedback, actual sport performance, is lost in the shuffle.  Just as public schools teach to the test, coaches, parents and professionals begin to teach, coach and treat to the data without consideration for the bigger picture of overall performance.

An example I saw recently was a high school kid who was shooting low to mid 70’s in competition and finishing well.  His father, told by his coach, was getting on the kid on our Flightscope because his angle of attack was 1 degree too steep…that’s all they worked on for an hour and the kid shot 85 his next competitive round.  Who cares if he is 1 degree steep for the sake of matching “tour average”.  It is dumb and ignorant in my opinion.  Good job, though, you just took your kid from getting Division 1 looks to Division 3’s no longer be interested in him…but he is hitting the right angle of attack, right?

Take the numbers for what they are, a part of the bigger equation and picture.  Factor them in and don’t make changes solely based off them.

Perhaps the greatest explanation of this phenomenon that I see every day in our facility was by Dave Phillips of TPI when he said, “Technology and data have nothing wrong with it.  It is the interpretation of the data and technology that can be wrong and hurt people.”

This is why one of the most important member educationals we do at our facility is what do the numbers mean on the different tests and machines and how can they use them to improve themselves.  This talk usually starts out by showing them that the list of numbers that are important to their goal is usually much shorter than the list of numbers that don’t matter…they are just extra information with little meaning or importance to them.

In the therapy world the focus is research based, research based, research based.  Some of the studies, if you actually read them and not just the abstract, are TERRIBLY designed and the numbers and results are meaningless!  If you went just off the numbers, though, it looks great.

My point is that numbers and research and tour norms are just a piece to the puzzle and not all numbers or norms are created equally.  A lot of number and information are great and have served as game changes to me personally.  However, you need to make sure that the numbers or information you are attempting to measure yourself or another are first of all legitimate, and then decide if they are applicable in the setting you are attempting to apply them.

Read the research full through or read about it from someone who you trust who can tell you if it is BS or the real thing.  When looking at data; is the system measuring it accurate and what is the degree of error? Some cheap swing speed machines have a degree of error +/- 5mph.  So a reading of 100mph could actually be 90 or 110!  How can you use that data at all??

Know what is giving you the data and assure that system is legitimate.  Know what type of research was done to give you the information and was it legitimate.  And even if both of those check out, how does that information fit into the bigger picture?

Allow data to be invaluable in your life by being intelligent about what it means and how you use it.  Don’t get bit by the data bug; it bites hard, the teeth marks sting and it doesn’t go away easy.



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