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New Year? Or The Next Era?

Every day is New Year’s Day for elite sports organizations. This year’s resolutions are bigger than ever, though.


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Every day is New Year’s Day for elite sports organizations. This year’s resolutions are bigger than ever, though. 

Self-improvement typically tops most people’s New Year’s resolutions, but in the fiercely competitive world of elite sports, every day has to be January 1. And while this has always been true, we are entering a new year in which the stakes are higher than ever, and sports organizations are acutely aware that they need to perform very differently – on and off the field. Financial sustainability. Outperforming budgets. Consistent game performance. Future-proofed processes. Organizational efficiency. Innovation. These are at the heart of every conversation we are having. Staying stagnant and sticking to old ways, even for the traditional champions, is no longer an option

In 2021, we expect the single biggest shift in the industry to be the adoption of modern business practices that have transformed other industries: highly integrated organizations – with a shared view of success – that collaborate using data to inform their strategic direction, make impactful real-time decisions, and continuously (relentlessly) find ways to improve.

There are three key trends are driving this shift:

Going Farther and Faster, Together

Reducing complexity and improving outcomes through an aligned, synchronous performance model with every department working towards a common set of goals for individual players or the team as a whole. Everyone rows in the same direction.

The Talent Development Factory

Delivering a sustainable talent pipeline that progresses talent in alignment with a club’s philosophy and maximizes the potential of each player through a systemized approach to long term development at every level.

Adapting at the Speed of Sport

Enhancing consistency through more accurate planning AND greater real-time adaptability to optimize the performance of the team and each individual.

These trends represent a significant shift away from how teams have historically operated. As you will see below, it requires a mix of organizational, operational and technological shifts to support these changes, but the results are transformational. If you’re interested in how teams are approaching these, read on.

This post covers all three at a high level, and we’ll drill into each in subsequent posts as well as share results from the teams who are on this transformative journey.

#1 Going Farther and Faster, Together

Teams have come to the conclusion that while every department is responsible for performance, no one department can achieve it on their own. And it’s about more than working together – it’s about working in synchrony.

Most teams are still wired for a traditional department-driven approach. Of course they are working hard, collaborating as they can, and contributing. But there’s so much more they could achieve. When people, information and communication are fractured, two things happen:

  1. Decisions are made asynchronously and without all of the relevant information and perspectives that create the complete picture of what is happening. This limits the impact of those decisions.
  2. Decisions are made too slowly, and the opportunity to make a real impact when it matters most is lost.

In 2021, teams are aggressively pursuing pathways for this through

  • organizational and cultural changes to better work in synchrony; and
  • operational change and technological change to provide meaningful insights, empower collaboration, streamline communication and automate their processes.

Adam Beard from the Chicago Cubs recently wrote a great article on this topic.  Together these two pathways ensure that everyone in the organization can harness the right collection of information at the right time to take action on the areas that matter most. Together these build a culture of openness, trust, and a deep desire to refine processes, programs, and methodologies.

#2 The Talent Development Factory

The second area teams are focusing on is talent and the rising need to create a consistent pipeline of talent and optimize the fit and potential of that pipeline. In a revenue-compressed world where teams are increasingly taking on debt, those that win the talent development game will come out ahead.

In the absence of refined approaches to talent development, organizations aren’t maximizing their investment. Time, money, talent and opportunities are all lost.  Careers are cut short through unfulfilled potential and/or injury.

To combat this, in 2021, teams are seeking to systemize their talent pipeline by:

  1. “Reverse engineering success” by quantifying what elite performance looks like and how to get there at every level of development;
  2. Refining programs and processes to systematize and tailor their development plans at every level to drive increased development and progression;
  3. Using real-time data to optimize health, skill development and performance for each  individual to maximize the potential of each athlete, at every level; and,
  4. Implementing a consistent, scalable approach for individualized goal setting, development plans and ongoing management and reviews.

By digitizing the entire athlete experience from the earliest developmental stage to the latest, teams can quantify what drives the core aspects of desired performance and constantly improve their programming and development processes. The most innovative teams see the opportunity to leverage analytics for everything from better talent economics to more informed retain-release decisions.  The team itself becomes a talent development factory. Watch for aggressive action on this in 2021.

#3 Adapting at the Speed of Sport

While the second trend focuses on the long-term, the third trend is focused on the need for more insight and adaptability in real-time to keep players and the team on track to perform at the next game, and every game. It’s no wonder this is bubbling to the top – the amount of complexity that needs to be accounted for and optimized at nearly light-speed is astounding: travel, complexity of schedule, selection, injuries, recovery, fitness, strength, performance levels, nutrition and more.

In 2021, teams are implementing systems that put more structure in place, and at the same time support adaptability. They want to use data for collaborative, evidence-based planning that sets the team and each individual on the best path, combined with the ability to use data to inform measured adjustments to constantly keep the team and each athlete driving towards perfect performance.

Much of the focus of the last decade has been on gathering more data, with some teams looking back to identify patterns and trends. Industry and teams have largely lacked the ability to harness past data to inform the future.  But now, technology and data science techniques exist to link data to the performance, health, and development outcomes a team wants to achieve.

2021 will be the year of the control center, with teams establishing cross-departmental visibility to key information and answers to critical questions:

  • What are our goals and what’s the plan to get there?
  • Is the team and each individual on track?
  • Who’s ready, who’s not?
  • Who’s at risk, who’s not?
  • Why, and what is happening?

Practitioners can collaborate to adjust individual and team performance today and tomorrow, directly supporting the people who pull on a jersey every week, from rotation to recovery and everything in between.

People. Process. Technology.

As the teams embarking on the journey to modern business practices will tell you, there is no silver bullet, and this doesn’t happen overnight.  But with the right partnerships, people, process and technology, any organization can start on the journey, get quick wins across front office, back office, coaches, performance and medical, and travel faster down the road of sustainability, consistency, and operational excellence. We look forward to sharing more about these journeys –  successes and lessons learned – in the coming weeks and months. It’s a journey we are all on together.

I welcome your feedback in the comments below, on Twitter, or at

Stephen is the Founder and CEO of Kitman Labs.



  • Coaching & Development
  • Human Performance
  • Performance Optimization
  • Sports Data Analytics
  • Sports Science

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