Friday, March 30, 2012

Measuring Management

Precision, accuracy, repeatability. Just a few of the terms we sometimes casually toss about with regard to the qualities or features necessary to manage our measurements. I think it is safe to say that we have become a society obsessed with numbers. Data. Trends. Indices. Charts. Ratios. All generated by ones and zeros. For our purposes these indicate speed, power, distance, force, time or mass. Or some combination of them. As interested as I am in all this, the one component that endlessly fascinates me is found nowhere on this list. Precisely because it is so hard to measure. As summed by this timeless example, as inquiry: Why is it that the strongest, fastest, biggest and most talented don't always win?

Or, in the case of those who prescribe to the "winning isn't everything" approach, what other factors are, or should be, involved? And how, then, do we measure and manage them? I raise this question because I have a hunch that the measured and the not-measured are connected and the latter in very real terms can have a significant effect on the former. Somewhat like measuring day to determine the length of night. That what we find the hardest to measure can dramatically impact what we can measure easily.

Pushing past the surface measurements of sports performance is where all this is going. Framing the measurement to bring positive and constructive change is the goal. We want to get faster, how? We want to get stronger, how? We want to go longer, how? We want to see progress, rate improvement and chart increases. All good. All worthy of our time and energy and a noble, just cause. We can bring heart rate monitors, VO2 analyzers, lactate threshold testing devices, ergometers, power meters, cadence sensors, odometers, stopwatches, RPE, and a myriad of testing devices to the lab and still not collect all the right data. Or interrupt it correctly. Or use it most efficiently. Why?

Because we are not electric motors. Or robots or machines. Your engine was not made on an assembly line in Detroit, or Yokohama, Mexico City or Oslo. Because the missing component in the overall measurement of your unique performance potential is, to date, impossible to measure with any scientific degree of accuracy. In its most basic form, here is the question: How big a role in sports performance does your physiological equilibrium play? Or, does an athlete's Happiness Quotient affect performance? Or, what is mental toughness worth over 140 miles of Ironman racing?

Everything? Nothing? Some? Irrelevant? Absurd? Bingo?

Remember that this is coming from a Type A long course triathlete whose sole motivation for twenty years has been to compete at the World Championship level, yet whose guiding zen mantra along that route has also been, "I'd rather be happy than fast".

As a result of all this measuring and managing, testing and training, working and resting, at long last it appeasers that one can have both.

My charts indicate.

Here is a wonderfully intellectual measurement intro by Margret Wheatley.

The KPI index.

Take this Happiness Index test (I scored below the UK average, fyi)

Sports Science on the subject.

The Endorphin Rush explained.

Some great power results from The Triathlon Coach explained and analyzed.

What factors may influence test results?

The following factors may have an impact on the results of a test (test reliability):

  • The ambient temperature, noise level and humidity
  • The amount of sleep the athlete had prior to testing
  • The athlete's emotional state
  • Medication the athlete may be taking
  • The time of day
  • The athlete's caffeine intake
  • The time since the athlete's last meal
  • The test environment - surface (track, grass, road, gym)
  • The athlete's prior test knowledge/experience
  • Accuracy of measurements (times, distances etc.)
  • Is the athlete actually applying maximum effort in maximal tests
  • Inappropriate warm up
  • People present
  • The personality, knowledge and skill of the tester
  • Athlete's clothing/shoes
  • Surface on which the test is conducted
  • Environmental conditions - wind, rain, etc

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