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A Sports Performance Management Framework

Why we need a sports performance management framework

Over the last few years the nature of the coach/athlete relationship has come up a few times in my interactions. But it was always confusing; 
  • when speaking to folks from Olympic programmes they had an array of specialists and coaches, a head coach or team manager and they all worked with a squad of athletes that ultimately made a team (e.g. pursuit) and got to compete for a gold medal in 4 years time.
  • when speaking to amateur athletes they had a coach who interacted using systems like Today's Plan but pretty much handled every aspect of their preparation for racing, maybe peaking for a season blockbuster.
  • when speaking to cycling coaches they might focus on athlete interaction and use of power meters at the detriment of other specialisms that might be valuable to their clients (possibly because they don't make money from that).
  • when speaking to weekend warriors they might coach themselves, have become really knowledgeable about working with power meters but were ignorant about what a coach should (and should not do).
So whenever different aspects of performance management were discussed, we would talk to each other from totally different viewpoints. Implicitly assuming that we were describing a shared context for developing athletic performance.

I would reflect that users of tools like GoldenCheetah had different personas; they all wanted different features because they all did things differently.

Actually, they all use different subsets of a wider range of tools. They all use different techniques from a wide range. They all follow different processes or have different workflows, or perform as subset of roles. But ultimately, there is a broader framework that they all fit into, but when I tried to find one, from NFL or Rugby, or Athletics or even Cycling, I came up short.

So I thought it might be fun to develop one and formalise some of the different perspectives. To help us talk to each from different contexts, but also to provide a framework for developing process models and ultimately use-cases and features in GoldenCheetah.

What is a framework

A framework provides a structure for classifying and ordering concepts. They help ensure rigour, because they are complete.
  • There are no concepts that fall outside the framework
  • The classification scheme allows only one place for a concept to reside
  • There is no implicit sequencing or relationships, it is just a classification scheme.
Two very famous frameworks in IT and business include Zachman and TOGAF. These focus on delivering IT architectures and products that deliver business results. Not a million miles from delivering sports teams and athletes that deliver competition results.

Sports Performance Management Framework


The most important aspect is that each row in the framework represents a unique perspective. The most natural scheme seemed to be the roles related to sports performance; our product is a high performance athlete or team.

Considering both team sports like rugby, football and NFL as well as individual sports like athletics and hybrids like cycling which are both team and individual sports I consolidated into the following perspectives;
  • Manager - ultimately accountable for outcomes, managing and securing funding and making key decisions about personnel acquisitions and removal; maps to; Director of Rugby, NFL General Manager, Olympic Performance Director or Cycling Team Manager. Provides SCOPE and CONTEXT.
  • Coach - works directly with athletes and sports specialists and decides sporting strategies and tactics often during an event, delivering the half-time team talk to adapt and motivate; maps to; Head Coach in Rugby and NFL, Director Sportif for Cycling. Provides MOTIVATION and DEVELOPMENT.
  • Specialists - works directly with athletes, may report to the coach or manager, or in some instances, directly with the athlete. Typically they are expert practitioners or academics, they focus on things like physiology, strength and conditioning, psychology and so on. Quite often a coach will also have a specialisation; in NFL the head coach might be a defensive specialist, a semi-pro cycling coach might be a specialist in aerodynamics and bike fit. Focus on ASSESSMENT and INTERVENTION.
  • Squad - essentially a group of athletes, but specifically brought together to provide depth (replacements for injuries, coverage for different competitions) and allow internal competition. Common in almost all team sports from Cycling track and pro-tour teams to the NFL. Provides TALENT DEPTH and INTERNAL COMPETITION.
  • Team - only relevant to team sports, this is the product that competes externally. On match day will have an optimal TALENT BLEND and take part in EXTERNAL COMPETITION.
  • Athlete - the individual athlete, that may be part of a team or squad, or is the main product. They execute training and most importantly execute in competition "Real performance is technical excellence, at speed, under pressure with fatigue." They EXECUTE and focus on self WELL-BEING.
Each of these roles have unique perspectives which are reflected in the cells in their row.

Some organizations have roles that encompass more than one of these perspectives; this is about how they distribute accountability and to a certain degree the budget they have to pay for lots of staff.

I did consider adding owners, team captains/leadership and support staff into the framework but decided against it since they are either too focused on commercial aspects (so not directly related to sports performance) or are just a special variant of the athlete. Maybe I got it wrong. Happy to change this ! 

Colloquially known as The 6 W's, these are the fundamental questions we can ask. There is nothing particularly special about them other than they are compatible with the principles of a framework; they are complete and they do not overlap.

I was tempted to list them and explain them one by one, but somehow I think everyone capable of reading this blog already knows. So I didn't. Sorry.

The contents of each cell are unique to the perspective and interrogative. I have place a few in there that seemed obvious to me, it is almost certainly not complete (and is not intended to be).

The framework is to be used; to provide a structure for things you already do, and prompt you to consider why some of the cells might be empty for your organisation.

I think the contents are the interesting bit! So ... if you think there are some key artefacts used in sports performance management drop them in the comments below. And if you find a similar framework from elsewhere do add it in the comments too !


PS: If you want the source material for this, and some process models that will appear in a follow up post, they are available here on google slides.

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