As LiDAR technology gradually penetrates the Premier League, along with other major sports organizations not known for their warm embrace of new paradigms, coaches are faced with a challenge: convincing stakeholders like performance managers, sports scientists and trainers of its value. Anytime new tech is introduced to a space, some resistance to its adoption is sure to follow – and nowhere is that more true than in the traditions-clinging realm of sports.
For professional coaches, talent management isn’t only about deploying players on the field and juggling personalities and egos in the locker room. It’s about developing trust, opening channels of communication and earning the buy-in of athletes who are accustomed to habit and repetition. Coaching at the highest levels is a collaboration, and introducing new methods or technologies requires coaxing players to step outside of the comfort of convention.
In the case of LiDAR, that starts with developing a new language, one that conveys to key stakeholders what the metrics produced by the tech actually mean. It’s more difficult than it may sound. Decades into baseball’s advanced statistics revolution, for instance, convincing the typical MLB batter to bunt rather than take his cuts in a quantifiably favorable situation still can be like pulling teeth. Some translation of the metrics is often necessary. Connecting a player to the practical applications of any new methodology or technology fosters an understanding of its value and a sense of ownership over its use.
From the standpoint of a coach, the approach to that process should look pretty familiar: get your best players on board first. Winning over a small group of veterans and stars – the players at the tip of the spear – effectively turns them into team influencers. Why try to recruit an entire roster of set-in-their-ways athletes from outside the lines when you can recruit several respected leaders to help sell an idea to those who will be competing with them (and sharing in the execution of this new concept) shoulder to shoulder?
Players must know and trust the steward of this technology, which means the coach needs to be a bridge-builder between not only the players and the tech but also the players and whoever is responsible for the tech rollout and data interpretation. Consider: When a venture capitalist invests, it’s often as much an investment in the visionaries and developers behind technology as it is in the tech itself. Players are no different: They want to know, particularly in a case such as that of LiDAR, that the people behind a technology designed to evaluate their performance have a keen understanding of every decision, every challenge overcome on the field – and that they are accurately reflected in the data captured by the tech.
Professional athletes aren’t inflexible. But after following a well-established path to reach the pinnacle of their sport, they frequently need evidence that proves veering from it will pay dividends. Players won’t care how much it cost or whether it’s been peer-reviewed. In order to get the most out of LiDAR, or any new tech, a coach needs to demonstrate how it will help both individuals and the team optimize performance.