How Remote Working Tools Can Become Regularly Applicable to the Sports World

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the enterprise workforce has transitioned to a remote work approach, with employees utilizing virtual working tools and file delivery applications to get their work done from anywhere. What started as a short-term fix has now evolved into a permanent work from anywhere solutions, following the leads of technology companies like Twitter, Facebook, Zillow, Square, Coinbase, Verizon, Dropbox, and MANY others.

With software-type companies, the concept of a virtual working infrastructure makes sense; applications and services are often accessed at an individual level from anywhere — whether utilizing a mobile application like Venmo to pay anyone or communicating to a colleague via Slack. Many of these software companies do not need to own anything tangible to functionfrom 2015: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”

Since that quote above was published in 2015, these unicorn companies have evolved to create content/own inventory, but they can all prosper just fine with or without owning anything tangible. Because use cases for these software services are applied from wearable or portable devices (typically a smartphone or laptop), those who develop and maintain these applications (like software or data engineers) often do not need to physically sit alongside their bosses or team members to perform well at their jobs.

Sports Require Physical Presence & Skilled Mind-Movement Coordinations

In contrast, physical sports involves players (or a group of players) competing against each other at a designated location at a defined moment in time. Within the confines of the playing field, everyone remains physically present during the course of a match with no cell phones in pockets or electronics legally allowed in action (unless you’re involved with sign-stealing scandals like the 2017 Houston Astros or the 2007 New England Patriots, both of which rocked the sporting world for compromising the integrity of the game).

Even with electronics used, though, the speed and focus of these physical activities require tremendous mind-movement coordinations to effectively perform well in a task. Coaches can tell batters all they want about Clayton Kershaw throwing a breaking ball on the next pitch but actually executing on that (even knowing when the pitch is coming) requires elite skill. Ditto with tackling physical freaks like Derrick Henry or stopping LeBron James on a drive to the basket or defending Cristiano Ronaldo on the attack. A base level of physical fitness and a mental understanding of the game is needed just to have a chance at executing any of these daunting tasks.

Because of the emphasis of developing proper physical and mental skills to effectively perform a given activity, athletes must individually train their minds and bodies for action. The question remains: do players need to be physically present with their organizations at all times to develop and perform at their highest levels? In other words, can remote work be applied to sports?

Maximizing Time is Greatest Resource

To start, we need to differentiate the issues facing professionals against everyone else. Professionals earn a living from these physical activities, so any type of workflow adjustments must validate with achieving their highest performance levels. Otherwise, they risk losing their livelihoods and careers.

For the overwhelming majority of student-athletes who do not earn a living from playing sports, though, time is an incredibly valuable resource, arguably the most significant currency available to them. Within the amateur sports world, the amount of time spent within the same group of people for long periods of time is quite alarming.

The NCAA published a study in 2016 claiming that athletes spent 60 hours per week in-season on their sporting activities, leaving them with little time to do anything else. To combat this, the NCAA implemented a 20-hour rule, limiting organized athletic participation to 20 hours per week and 4 hours per day. However, student-athletes have questioned the validity of this rule, noting how the excessive academic and athletic rigors have placed an overwhelming burden on them.

Here, remote training can significantly help maximize the value of time: for both professionals and amateurs, the amount of time actually competing in organized games is so incrementally small:

  • Most football teams at all levels play between 10 and 20 60-minute organized games within a 4–5 month window in an average calendar year (out of which, only 18 minutes of football action typically takes place)
  • The most advanced basketball teams play approximately 100 48-minute games over the course of a calendar year
  • The most advanced baseball teams play approximately 180 9-inning baseball games over the course of a calendar year
  • The most advanced soccer teams play between 40–50 90-minute soccer games over the course of a calendar year

The list goes on and on. Most games only take a few hours to complete, and most teams only compete for less than half of the days in a given year. The rest of the time is up for grabs and to get athletes trained, rested, and recovered to clear their heads and optimize performance for the next game. Do they need to physically be around their organization to make this happen?

Personal Wellness A Pre-Requisite for Maximized Performance

We all have the same 24 hours in a day; everyone strives to maximize how they spend their time and energy every day. Time and energy spent inside a professional setting lessens time and energy spent on academics, family, rest, and leisure. All components are vital for a sustained and prosperous life; they also directly impact overall wellness, which directly affects optimal performance levels for both professional and non-professional athletes.

Take a look at the 2020 NBA bubble in Orlando between July and October 2020: the players had literally EVERYTHING at their disposals — unlimited food, wine, entertainment, access to health and training facilities, and so much more. Yet, most NBA organizational members repeatedly complained of mental health struggles, which may have contributed to a subpar performance from players like Paul George, who had a disastrous bubble experience suffering from anxiety and depression.

When the most sophisticated athletes struggle with isolation despite having access to everything they want, the less acclaimed athletes face that much greater of a challenge. Players at any level need to remain mentally sharp and present for them to train, develop, and perform well in physical competitions. Too much time in one setting around the same group of people at all times can mentally wear down people, which the pandemic has brought to a substantial portion of the youth and young adult population, many of whom have suffered from serious mental health issues. A mind not fully present and healthy has a direct impact on the ability of athletes to compete, no matter how skilled or talented they are.

Remote training and recovery can significantly help here.

Personalized Regimens Lead to Sustained Success

Unlike with electronics, athletes need to remain physically coordinated with their organizations and teammates to perform at their highest levels. Yet, they equally must train their own individual minds and bodies independent of their organizations to maximize their capabilities to perform.

Take a look at legendary quarterback Tom Brady, who has an extremely regimented and personalized health and wellness routine, which emphasizes recovery and rest (on his own terms, independent of the organization) to remain at the top of his game. He also utilizes technology by playing action-based video games to enhance his brain processing speed.

Or look at Bryson DeChambeau — arguably the most dominant golfer in the past couple of years — who uses his own personalized scientific method for both mental and physical training (and developing his golf swing) that has given him a mental edge over the rest of the tour. DeChambeau rarely plays practice golf rounds, rather using the driving range and the technology to develop his mind, body, and skillsets.

Everyone’s body types and mental training have a unique differentiator to them. Personalizing the training so people can train without external pressures can really maximize potential and sustain the level of mental and physical fitness levels for athletes.

Team Coordination Requires Individual Focus and Understanding

On a team-wide level, players must remain coordinated and synchronized to outmaneuver their opponents — like Tom Brady throwing passes to Rob Gronkowski or Dwyane Wade and LeBron James connecting on alley-oops or MLB players executing on double plays. This requires anticipation and understanding of the teammates and opponents, and a lack of team synchronization often leads to organizational dysfunction, where a talented collection of individuals on the same roster fail to properly play off of each other.

Practice makes perfect, and players and coaches must absolutely get together to get on the same page before executing the plays in competition.

However, every game is unique, based on team strategies and conditions of the match — such as weather, noise, injuries, or officiating that can disrupt any game plan, which happens extremely frequently.

Depending on a player’s position, remote tools should offer the time and space for athletes to individually prepare for the opponent ahead, without the need of others around, so they can deeply understand the different variables and situations at play prior to the match, which would better prepare them for adapting to various situations.

Ultimately, remote work has a strong place in the sports world at all levels. It has the opportunity to save costs, better utilize time, and provide personalized mental and physical training for athletes to complete at their own time. With proper remote learning techniques, athletes can remain more present and better utilize time spent with their teammates and organizations, which in turn would improve their performance in game situations at all levels. How do you think remote work can be applied to sports?