Athlete self-report measures
Is there evidence to jump/stay on the bandwagon?
An Athlete self-report measure (ASRM) is any measure where an athlete self-reports their subjective physical, psychological, and/or social wellbeing. The measure may take the form of a questionnaire, diary, or log, and may be completed on paper or using technology. Metrifit is an example of an ASRM.
The market for ASRM has grown rapidly in recent years, with use by influential professional teams and sporting organisations spurring a rapid ‘me too’ response amongst competitors and aspiring lower-level settings. After all, an ASRM is a relatively low cost and low risk investment which may reduce the risk of injury, illness, and overtraining. However, as is often the case in sport, practice is ahead of the research. So what is the evidence to-date for ASRM?
What do ASRM measure?
Athlete monitoring may be divided into three categories:
1. External load (e.g., time, distance, weight, repetitions)
2. Internal load (e.g., heart rate, RPE)
3. Training response (i.e., positive or negative adaptation)
ASRM intend to measure the training response. The training response is influenced by not only training load, but also individual characteristics (e.g., age, fitness), and the cumulative effect of stressors outside of training (e.g., work, relationships).
How well do ASRM measure the training response?
A recent systematic review (conducted by our research group) has provided strong evidence that changes in subjective wellbeing reflect the training response. A decrease in subjective wellbeing suggests the athlete is exposed to increased stress from an acute increase in training load, or the cumulative effect of training over the course of a training phase. An increase in subjective wellbeing suggests the athlete is recovering in response to a reduction in training load.
By comparison, various objective measures (biochemical, physiological, performance) were shown to not be useful for monitoring the training response as they are highly variable from one test to another, and between individuals. Based on this evidence, we could see a shift away from frequent biochemical, physiological, and performance tests, as more emphasis is placed on ASRM to monitor the athlete training response.
What ASRM is best?
Whilst the findings from the systematic review were restricted to established psychometric questionnaires (e.g., Profile on Mood States (POMS), Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for athletes (RESTQ-Sport)), the same response to training has been shown in simpler measures more commonly used in practice (e.g., Gastin et al. 2013; Noon et al. 2015). Therefore, the particular ASRM may not be important.
As previously mentioned, the training response is complex and individual. Subjective wellbeing consistently declines with increased training stress, yet for one athlete, their response to this stress may first manifest as mood disturbance, whilst another athlete may first report increased fatigue. Therefore, a broad set of questions which touch on various physical, psychological, and social signs and symptoms may be most effective.
What is considered a ‘meaningful’ change in subjective wellbeing?
Here is where the research is yet to catch up with practice. Currently, practitioners use their experience to set arbitrary thresholds such as a particular score, or the number of points or standard deviations from the athlete’s or group’s mean. It is important to keep in mind that an ASRM is a tool for alert rather than diagnosis. Therefore, it may be preferable to set low thresholds which may capture ‘false positives’, as opposed to setting high thresholds that may fail to detect crucial early warning signs. A ‘meaningful’ change should simply trigger the practitioner to seek further information. Only once the unusual or unexpected ASRM response is placed in context (as provided by the athlete, other practitioners working with the athlete, and perhaps objective measures) should a decision be made on what action, if any, is appropriate.
Why not just talk to athletes in the first place?
There are several benefits of ASRM use which typical conversation can’t achieve:
- Record keeping When looking back to identify what went wrong (or right), ASRM provide a record which may be less affected by recall bias than asking an athlete to recall how they were feeling long after a training session or event is over
- Gaining extra information from athletes Some athletes may be more comfortable disclosing information on an ASRM instead of in-person. An ASRM covers several aspects of athlete wellbeing, whereas a conversation may only address one or two
- Directing conversations ASRM responses direct practitioners to talk to a specific athlete, and to address specific topics of concern. This efficiency is particularly useful for practitioners overseeing the preparation of a large number of athletes
- Increasing communication between athletes and practitioners All practitioners can be easily kept in the loop via ASRM data, and conversations are prompted as needed
- More coordinated athlete management As a result of the point above
- Increased athlete autonomy Athletes become more aware of their wellbeing, and the importance of their behaviours on their preparation.
- Increased confidence As a result of the above points, athletes and practitioners are more confident in their preparation.
Click here to read more of our work, outlining the role of ASRM in athletic preparation.
How can I get athletes to use an ASRM?
- Educate athletes and coaches on the evidence supporting ASRM use. A good starting point may be to share this post with them! Education is critical for athlete and coach buy-in. This, in turn, is essential for successful implementation of an ASRM over time
- Implement a measure that is user-friendly. An ASRM should be short and simple, and let the athlete see their progress over time</>
- Create a positive social environment for ASRM use. An athlete should know that the information they provide is important, and will be used to help them
Click here to read more of our work, detailing the various factors to consider in order to effectively implement an ASRM in different sport contexts.
What is next for ASRM?
The use of ASRM is an emerging area of research and practice. There is still improvement to be made in regards to refining the measure to achieve good quality data. Once this is achieved, the field will be better placed to work out how best to analyse, interpret, and use the data to inform practice. Incorporating ASRM data with measures of external and internal load is also an area to be advanced in the future.
Anna Saw has recently completed her PhD on athlete self-report measures in athletic preparation. She acknowledges the contribution of Health and Sport Technologies in generously providing Metrifit to participants in two of her studies. Follow Anna on Twitter: @annaesaw
Metrifit is an athlete monitoring system that gathers subjective and objective information from both coaches and athletes in a simple but effective manner with intelligent visualization helping coaches and athletes to act on that data. Why not have a look at our Ready to Perform product and gain insight on the physical and mental state of your athletes through our daily wellbeing questionnaire? To find out more visit our Metrifit Product Overview page or get in touch for a free demo.
Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie
NISUS Fitness, S&C Coach Clare Senior Hurling, Horse Sport Ireland and Limerick Senior Hurling
"When COVID altered college athletics as we knew it, Metrifit came to the rescue. This intuitive athlete monitoring, health and well-being system provides the athlete, coach, and sports medicine staff a way to monitor and balance the physical, emotional, health and well-being of our athlete’s. Metrifit provided that calm in the middle of the perfect storm for our entire athletic department for the future. Thank you to the entire Metrifit family for assisting our department with a seamless process."
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