Looking ahead, doing a bit of "blue sky" thinking I think there are three different but complementary things that will shape the future for cycling and indeed all sports.
One important rider: I am going to frequently refer to "sport" rather than cycling because I believe the impact will be on many disciplines. However the impact will be much bigger on those disciplines involving a single athlete compared to team sports. That is not to say that team sports will be unaffected, just that the contribution of the basic physiological component that is the scope of this article is less. So "sport" actually means "the contribution of the physiological aspect to the overall" or something like that.
The first two of these changes are simply require taking existing best practice from another area and applying it to cycling. In both cases IT will be one of, but not the only, enabler.
The last is looking at the areas not covered by the first two and asking how they too can be included.
Here is an overview of the first of thes areas. The next two will follow very shortly.
This overview will consist of a summary of key points then a longer, delve into more detail.
Change 1. "Training" > "Sport Performance Management"
Corporate businesses were and still are being transformed by "Enterprise Management" systems from the 1980s onward.
These systems are a paradigm shift, from lots of slos working independent of each other to a unified whole with a "brain". This brain has a total perspective of all the areas of interest within a business and is capable of organising them so that they work in harmony to accomplish the corporation's aims.
Sports currently is still at the silo stage, lots of apps and data but disparate, not talking to each other.
This will change to one single "Sport Performance Management" model which will do for athletes and coaches what Enterprise Management systems did for business. It will provided a unified picture for athletes and coaches allowing them to largely ignore the detail and focus on the bigger picture.
In a nutshell they will change from being one man bands to conductors of an orchestra.
While the potential for such a model is large the likelihood of it happening soon is low. To an extent this is because it requires aspects of the next stage but it is even more dependent on the talent of an individual or company to put in place the integrated systems needed for it to happen.
However this is not, in practice, a big deal. For the present the main purpose of Sport Peformance Management is to provide clarity as a destination so that new developments from now on are built with it in mind from the outset, not as dead end silos.
I spent 30 years working in IT in one of the world's leading and most forward thinking companies. The early years of that time were simply spent on automation, bluntly getting computers to do the jobs of people because they were more reliable and cheaper. (In passing one reason my company was and still is so successful is that the most enthusiastic supporters of these projects where the people whose jobs were affected. They knew their future was secure, they would just be getting higher skilled, better paid and more interesting jobs as a result)
However the majority of my stint was spent on a far more exciting project, one that transformed all business from the 80s onward. It is still in train and has led to the most dramatic acceleration in the health and well being of humankind in our history, albeit as an unintended consquence. (For the evidence of this see Hans Rosling, Factfullness book).
The project had a number of titles but very broadly it could be classed as "Enterprise Management".
The concept is basic. Instead of seeing a business as a whole set of silos each doing their own thing you see it as a single integrated entity. Most importantly you give it a brain, one that is aware of everything that is of importance and is capable of coordinating its many facets so that they work in harmony to achieve whatever goals are appropriate to the organisation concerned.
The "Global Integrated Supply Chain" is well known manifestation of this project but there are many more. The world, at the corporate level, is totally different today from that I joined back in 1980.
The symbol of this change, beloved of many Powerpoints, was the layered pyramid. The number of layers and their titles differed but the emphasis and direction of travel was always the same, away from the silos in the bottom layer and up to the summit at the top.
This summit is the "brain", the holistic view that allows the vision sketched above.
Most sports are still in silos. In cycling we have "training","racing","nutrition","aerodynamics" , "strength","adaption"(my preferred term for "recovery") for starters plus many more. And each of these silos is composed of yet more silos.
Right now the "brain" is the coach if an athlete can afford one. But even the coach cannot have the 24/7 real time view that a fully implemented enterprise management system affords.
My belief is that cycling should, and eventually will, move towards its own equivalent of "enterprise management".
The working title for this is "Sports Performance Management". While jargon this encapsulates the important features of this move.
- Sport: Because it encompasses pretty much every sport that involves the generation and expenditure of energy by a human
- Performance: Because it is about everything, an integrated whole that contributes to the overall success however that is defined. The key thing is that everything is in scope and everything must be maximised to maximise performance.
- Management: The coach will not be redundant! But they will be working at an entirely different level, rarely if ever viewing indidual workouts but rather reviewing trends at a high level to check that their athlete is on track to maximise their performance to a schedule and having full access to the variables that may affect this progress so they can correct it if necessary.
It is no coincidence that "Performance Management" is also the first two letter or PMC, perhaps the defining image of the power bible "Training and Racing with a Power Meter."
The difference is one of scope. The PMC is just a static chart deals just with power data. Sport Performance Management is a dynamic process that encompasses everything. For this reason, though it would save time, I will never reduce Sport Performance Management to a meaningless TLA since I think that process is in any case used far too much, robs ideas of their meaning and dumbs down what should be intelligent conversation to a meaningless stream of capital letters.
The key difference from now is that the coach (or athlete themselves) needs to be a one man band, capable of performing on many instruments to play a tune. In future they will the conductor of an orchestra. Not only will that allow them to become experts but the result will sound much better too.
Will It Happen?
I sketched this first because it is a vision and I believe it is important to have this in mind before moving onto the next topic, which I believe will actually happen much sooner.
Though I am sure this vision will happen eventually my confidence that it will happen soon is low, at least in endurance sports.
I am sorry but I have to be blunt about the reason for my low confidence. It is lack of talent, not in athletes or coaches but those who create the toolsets that they use.
This is in no way a criticism of any individuals, some of whom have made great contributions. But they are experts and visions require a different mindset to accomplish.
And these minds are rare and, will end up in the most challenging and lucrative environments. So business snaps them up first. For sports the behemoths, like football or the NFL will do similar. Moreover in team sport at least these minds are usually focused on excellence not for all but just their team. Bill Belichick is one example today. Cyling, like all endurance sport is way down on the pecking list when it comes to getting people like him involved.
I was actually lucky enough to meet with and briefly work with one such mind,
co-founder of SAP which was the company that led the enterprise management revolution and whose products I spent many happy with developing and supporting, Hr Dr Plattner was probably the brightest individual I have ever met or am likely to meet in my life. (In passing the Dr is important. One reason for Germany's success is that the value their engineers as much if not more than any other profession. Wikipedia says his net worth is over $10billion. Any country where an engineer can earn $10billion is a country worth living in (and not just for the beer!))
I have two specific pieces of evidence for this view.
The first is a personal experience. I am a psychologist by training and believe that mindset is a critical contributor towards overall performance. Several years ago I pointed out on what was, at that time, a forum used be many if not most of the training software app developers that I could not record anything about my feelings in their products.
Such as how fatigued I felt beforehand, how hard I found the workout, how I felt after. This to me was just basic obvious information that I needed to see in, for example, alongside CTL, ATL and TSB. I expected everyone to say, "ofc sorry to miss that, it will be in the next patch" but noone seemed interested. A few have since added the information but the same is true of lots of other variables,e.g. My Leomo data.
The second supporting fact is the rise of Team Sky to hegemony in just a few years. They were able to do this simply by combining the basic methodology and metrics of "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" with the principles of manufacturing used by Henry Ford to make Model Ts. Cycling needs more Dave Brailsfords but ones focused on developing something for all rather than just one team.
Luckily the absence of tools to implement the Sport Performance Management vision is not a big issue. It's main purpose, for the moment, is just to be a vision, a final destination to keep in focus the many things that are far more likely to be happening soon and ensure that they are not, from the outset, seen as silos but as parts of a greater whole.