The Power Of Subjective Data In Sports Science. Part 1

The power of monitoring athlete wellbeing and understanding motivation and mindset for performance.

By Scott Caulfield

Head of Strength and Conditioning at Lumin Sports

Director of Strength and Conditioning at Norwich University


The field of sports science has traditionally relied heavily on objective data for athlete evaluation - think physiological measurements like VO2max and Wingate tests, biomechanical analyses such as sport kinematics and mathematics, performance metrics and movement screens.

These objective tests and data sets are indeed valuable, but don’t reveal some of the most important components of an athlete profile. This is where subjective data comes to the fore and can contextualize raw numbers with human nature. 

Subjective data refers to anecdotal information based on an individual's perceptions, experiences, and emotions. It can provide valuable insights into an athlete's overall wellbeing, motivation, and performance.


In part one of this series, I’ll explain why subjective data is essential to:


-       Monitoring athlete wellbeing

-       Understanding motivation and mindset


In part two of this series, I’ll expand on the power of subjective data and its impact on:


-       Personalizing training and programs

-       Enhancing injury prevention and rehabilitation

-       Capturing athlete experiences and perspectives


Monitoring athlete wellbeing


Subjective data from self-reported motivation, soreness, mood, stress, and sleep surveys can help coaches assess an athlete's overall wellbeing and recovery status. Using a platform like Lumin Sports which allows athletes to complete daily check-ins on their mobile, coaches can track trends over time and detect early warning signs of overtraining, injury risk, or other health issues. Coaches can use this information to adjust training loads during practice or in the weight room, optimize recovery strategies pre and post-events and attempt to prevent performance declines.


As I work in a small staff, Division 3 setting, having the ability to efficiently look at self-reported data, rather than having to personally check-in with every athlete, allows me the option to modify planned training programs on the run and reduce injury risk for all my athletes. For example, in conjunction with Lumin Sports, I use the strength and conditioning app Volt Athletics. Timely subjective data from Lumin Sports means I have the information required to easily adjust an individual’s Volt workout if their presenting with high stress and exhaustion. This can be done in the gym, in real time and I can be sure the athlete’s injury risk is reduced significantly.


Many S&C professionals are familiar with my friend Dr. Bryan Mann's JSCR paper from 2016; Effect of Physical and Academic Stress on Illness and Injury in Division 1 College Football Players. For those unfamiliar, to summarize, Dr. Mann et al. found that injury potential was twice as high during periods of high academic stress. Essentially, they're more likely to get hurt during a test week than in training camp, which should tell us that paying greater attention to player feedback at these times of the year (midterms, finals, pre-holiday break week) can be of great benefit to our athletes and athletic program. For me, it's not just about adjusting training loads if athletes are highly stressed or tired, but it's giving athletes the knowledge and then the strategies to improve how they feel as well as their performance. Giving athletes the means to see this data and encouragement to reflect on what tools and interventions they have in "their toolbox" to turn a bad day around is a massive part of our program's athlete education.


Understanding motivation and mindset


Subjective data can provide insights into an athlete's motivation, attitude, and psychological factors that may impact performance. Self-report measures, such as readiness and wellness questionnaires, can help identify an athlete's intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, confidence level, stressors, and coping strategies. I have found this helpful in my role as a S&C coach as it allows me an extra ‘check-in’ or touch point with an athlete who reports a motivation or stress level that seems out of the norm. When this happens, I can pull them aside and have a quick conversation, and often it's been an easy way to connect with them where I may not have if I hadn’t seen the data. This information can assist strength and sports coaches in tailoring training programs, setting goals, and utilizing sports psychology to optimize athletes' mental readiness for competition.


Looking ahead to Part 2


Now that we’ve covered off on the importance of subjective data on athlete motivation, mindset, and wellbeing, I’ll refer you to the second part of this series for an in-depth look at how subjective data influences training programs,  enhances injury prevention & rehabilitation, and capturing athlete experiences and perspectives.





Mann, J. B., Bryant, K. R., Johnstone, B., Ivey, P. A., & Sayers, S. P. (2016). Effect of physical and academic stress on illness and injury in Division 1 college football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(1), 20-25.