Sports Science: Too much technology is bunk; coaches should rely more on instinct

By Clint Youlden

I’m all for technology when it comes to sport, but I do see an alarming trend towards over-analysis. Isn’t the whole idea of sport to compete against others on an even playing field? Shouldn’t it be the cast that coaching and winning instinct make the difference between victory and loss? I’m wondering if by micro-chipping the ball, we are going too far from the human element of the game.

Those of you who have read my articles on this site would realise I’m a common sense sports science man. Even I don’t understand why teams put so much emphasis and money into GPS tracking for their players. Having worked with several AFL players who have frequently used this technology and have admitted to getting virtually nothing out of it, it seems to be missing the mark in player development. All emphasis is on telling the player how fast they are running, how long they are running and what their heart rate is, but when it really comes down to it, who cares? Tell me how to get better, coach!

I don’t need a $10,000 GPS machine to tell me Gary Ablett runs faster than me, that Lenny Hayes has better multiple efforts, or that Buddy Franklin’s heart rate was two beats lower than mine for a three-quarter average (which doesn’t mean anything). I’m playing against these guys, they are beating me, I can tell from right here, I don’t need you or your laptop to tell me they are beating me.

What I need you to tell me is how I can fix it. And don’t give me that blank stare and point to your graph; tell me exactly what I need to do to improve. I’m already giving 100 per cent and it’s obviously not good enough so I need you, coach, to show me how to physically get better. My legs aren’t strong enough; I’m getting hit off the ball; why can’t I kick as far as I should be able to; I’m running out of gas too quickly; these other guys can do it, why can’t I? I can’t learn any of that from heart rate data. Tell me something I can use, for Christ’s sake. I’m getting killed out here!

Players don’t need GPS data for anything really. To show an athlete that he is not working as hard as another player is a limited criticism; they’re competing as hard as they can. Most coaches would argue “it tells me how much volume of running they’ve done in order to adjust training” How about just asking him and watching him move around during the week to see if he’s tired? You’re a professional coach who has great experience and qualifications training elite athletes, aren’t you? Surely you can tell if a player is tired without consulting your laptop? It’s a lot cheaper and faster than pointless hours of data logging?

Maybe I’m a traditionalist when it comes to sporting combat (that coming from a sports scientist). I do understand there is a place for technology in sport, but where do we draw the line? Are we taking the onus off the players and the coaches and placing it in the hands of the boffins? Football is about combat and strategy and, to me, putting a chip in the ball seems wrong. I agree that teams should use all the resources that are available to them to try to win, but the rules of the game shouldn’t change to make it easier to coach it.

All this focus on technology seems to be a great way to keep fans and members excited about how smart or hard their team is working to get better, diverting attention from poor results and putting fans at ease by showing them the team is going forward with high-tech equipment and facilities. The real focus and money should be on physical player development and people to produce it, not on technology to tell players what they already know.

About Clint Youlden

Clint Youlden is a High Performance Sports Scientist that specializes in the biomechanics/coaching and training of speed and is also the inventor (and patent holder) of a training method that simultaneously increases all aspects of athletic performance. He deals with skill acquisition, training, nutrition, supplementation, and recovery of athletes. You can contact him on 0402 498 798 or at [email protected]


  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Great article Clint- I couldn’t agree more.

  2. The use of technology is just a way of improving what’s been done previously in other ways. I remember doing player logging manually back in the 70s as part of a sports science degree. We filmed players and then analysed their running patterns. Even with this information, VFL coaches were reluctant to change their coaching from traditional ways eg pre-season training consisted of lots of long slow running when the data showed that players in a match did plenty of short sprints mixed in with medium length endurance efforts. We even used telemetric heart rate recorders during training to measure how hard players were working. So its not really new – just different, but I agree there is probably plenty of data collected these days that is not very useful.

  3. Clint Youlden says

    I agree totally Mark, its much the same as the old video analysis but a lot more accurate and faster and like you said, coaches were reluctant to change their training anyway… and still are!

    My problem is a focus on all this technology and it absorbing all the funds and the players still have strength, posture, stability and speed issues that should have been addressed in under 18’s.

    Seems like there are more people fixing computer programs than there are developing players!

  4. Football is not science, but science can help football.

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