Sportlight Conversations: Dr. Paul Caldbeck
Dr. Paul Caldbeck, who has directed the performance optimization efforts of Premier League footballers, world-class boxers and elite junior tennis players, among others, now brings his expertise as a sports scientist to bear as an account director at Sportlight Technology. A recent conversation with Dr. Caldbeck spanned the topics of performance evaluation, sports technology, data and what the future holds for all of them:
How is technology enabling sports organizations to do things differently or better than they once did?
In the past 15, 20 years or so, a lot of what coaches and practitioners did was refine the artistry of understanding skill, movement, performance, physical status. They would rotate players within squads when they maybe felt a player needed a rest, but I think tech has allowed us to now quantify those types of measurements that really help in the decision-making process. The key with tech is it’s a tool – it’s not there to be the complete decision maker. It's there to support the decision maker, the head coach. Particularly in a sport like soccer, when you have a squad of players, the head coach is the man in charge, and the technology is provided to give them the tools to make better decisions.
You used the word artistry to describe performance evaluation.
Yeah, definitely. I think that's something you can never take away. Tech can take us a long way, but it's really there to help us. There is an artistry. There's a feeling and an experience factor and an understanding of how to apply data and information that technology sources can provide you, rather than necessarily completely direct you to make decisions. It’s there to supplement the artistry.
When I worked in Premier League football, we had a bit of an old-school head coach and we used to do a lot of particular things during our preseason and followed that for years on end. When we ran the numbers and the data with our tracking system, it kind of made sense from our angle, but we came at it on the back end. He intuitively knew this was a great way to approach the preseason, particularly in the early stages. We found that the numbers really did support his understanding, that feel and artistry.
The assumption might be that the old-school coach would resist the new tech, but it’s interesting to consider that these tools could resonate by essentially confirming what a coach already intuitively knows.
When you're dealing with coaches, there's obviously an ego element in that space. In my previous work, you had to understand the best way to address that: “We're not here to force decisions on you. We’re here to help, to guide.” Obviously, in a team sport, they have an idea of a style of play, the way they want to play. The data should supplement that, helping to provide clarity. So in the areas where we maybe have to guess or we’re standing at a wider angle, can we provide some quantitative measures to help you make those decisions?
How important is that quantifiable data in reaching coaches and scouts?
There are certain things that, to the naked eye, are difficult to see from a coaching perspective. I think Sportlight solutions really have a great way of tapping into a lot of insights, things like change of direction. It's really hard to quantify the entry speeds or velocities of athletes changing directions and how efficient they are. It can be really difficult to spot. There is obviously an element where it does confirm what coaches already know, and then it can maybe let the ego relax a little bit: “Not only can I rely on this, but I can utilize it to my benefit.”
What is the next innovation – the new frontier – that is set to make an impact in the movement-tracking space?
I think it’s trying to bring everything together, rather than siloed. We have the skill side, we have the physical side, we know these are the tactical, technical things they do. I think it's ultimately bringing it all together. In soccer, a fullback – the lateral defender – is often in a defensive action performing a recovery run. So they'll go and attack down at the other end of the field, and then it’s really important for them to make that recovery run to regain position to provide an organized defensive bank with their teammates to protect the goal. So it's trying to figure out and support the understanding of the physical demands of that recovery run. Obviously that involves a sprint, involves acceleration, there's lots of decision-making elements. What we're moving towards is this big, combined understanding of what an athlete does, rather than it being monitored in silos. It's trying to understand that everything we do in a sport has a physical element, a tactical element and a technical element, then bringing those together to see one piece rather than in silos.
And what can you talk about that’s ahead for Spotlight?
We’re excited about the future of LiDAR and what Sportlight will be able to bring to professional sports organizations in terms of movement tracking. The coming months will bring some critical advancement on our side, and what we’re able to accomplish in the years ahead could be the ultimate difference-maker for clubs across sports that track load management and other critical physical data.