The joys of longitudinal data collection with elite athletes. Caoimhe Tiernan

My research is investigating markers of fatigue and recovery in elite team sport. As part of this research, I have worked with the Munster Rugby Academy and currently I am working with Limerick FC, collecting longitudinal (seasonal) data. Below are some of my personal reflections as well as the benefits, challenges and tips when collecting data longitudinally with elite athletes.

Benefits of working with elite athletes:

  • Regular consistent training, always training as a squad
  • Do not play other sports, which means data is not affected by ‘other’ training they are doing.
  • Very applied research (real on the field data)
  • Instant feedback to coaches and players; this can help the coach to make informed decisions on the training status and whether training needs altering to optimise their training goal.
  • Practical experience of working with a team
  • Gives you something else to focus on and means you are not sitting at a desk all day.
  • Learning about new technologies that are being used in the field
  • Having to learn how to build interactive databases and apps.

The challenges:

  • Uncontrollable loss of players: injuries, transferring to another team (transfer window).
  • The players often want to do the bare minimum, even if it is just 10-minutes of data collection before training.
  • Time consuming- having to be at all training sessions for a whole season (43-weeks).
  • Continuous, even on the days when the players are not training, having to chase players that have not put information into the app.
  • Team losing – reduces moral and motivation to train but if you and coaching staff have a good rapport the players, this will help to raise moral again as needed.
  • There will always one or two players that try to get away with not completing information / data collection.


  • Get a signed contract with the board, management and supervisory team so everyone knows how the data collection will be completed, nature of, time requirements, expectations and benefits. This ensures all parties have clarity of role.
  • Build a rapport with players, coaches and management- probably one of the most important aspects.
  • Note everything that happens, so you do not miss any players or data. It also means you can go back and check why something may have happened / outliers.
  • Have a daily checklist of names and tasks that must be completed (e.g. markers, gym RPE, pitch RPE, CMJs); this will make sure all the information is inputted and no one is missed. A lot goes on in the mornings and it is easy to miss a tasks.
  • Educate coaches, managers and players as to why you are doing the research and the benefits to the team. This is an ongoing task; it should be completed at the beginning of the season but also interspersed throughout the season for reinforcement.
  • Be interested in the players performance, injuries or illnesses, it helps with rapport and gets players talking to you about injuries they might not have mentioned.
  • Always have a back-up plan, identify teams or coaches that you could potentially use if any issues arise. As we all know, testing never runs smoothly.
  • Attending all training sessions, helps ensure data is collected correctly and means you have the ability to fix problems on the spot (i.e. app malfunction). Additionally, helps with rapport and means players cannot try to get away with not doing their monitoring markers.
  • Aim for applied research is to have minimal disruption to players’ typical training schedule. Therefore, testing should be, where possible, as easy, fast, non-invasive and minimal stress for the players.

Finally, networking, being professional in my duties and working hard helped me a lot in terms of getting both teams on board. I volunteered for a year and half with the Munster Rugby Academy before I started any data collection.

My last bit of advice is every so often, bake brownies for the players, everyone loves brownies!!

Caoimhe Tiernan is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Her current research interests include fatigue, recovery in high performance sport to optimising training and reducing risk of injury and illness.   You can contact Caoimhe via email at or viewCaoimhe Caoimhe’s research profile on Researchgate.

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