By Dr. Paulie “Gloves” Gavoni & Nick Green, PhD Student, BCBA
Professional combat athletes, while widely respected in and out of the sports field, too often find themselves capitalizing on the absolute bare minimum of training equipment and technology. If you walk into a training facility of most of the major sports, you’d likely be impressed by the sport (and position) specific equipment and measures available to the athletes. With the exception of a few of the elite gyms around the globe, most mixed martial arts (MMA) gyms typically only have mats on the floor (and wall if the athlete is “lucky”), a few bags hanging off the wall, and a bench with a small assortment of dumbbells. If professional combat sports were music, it might be considered the Blues of the sports world given the stark contrast between the training practices and resources of other sport disciplines. The good news is that there is a behavioral science available to combat sports (well, any sport actually). In fact, the science of human behavior might be considered the Blues of psychology or performance fields given the economy and often simplistic nature of the practices. Understanding some basic concepts will allow any athlete and coach, regardless of the availability of equipment, to improve performance beyond an athlete’s current state.
The science of human behavior has been around for more than a century. While commonly thought of as a set of principles used exclusively to support persons with disabilities, the technology of applied behavior analysis (ABA) is used across many industries including business, health, economics, education and sports. Simply put, sport is behavior, and the technology of ABA can (and should!) be used to improve athletic performance. As a science, ABA relies on data to improve the behavior we are focusing on. In our case, we want data to be used to for fight preparation, improving fight tactics during training sessions and, of course, the day of the fight. Incidentally, data for many in the fight game may seem like an uncomfortable term reserved for folks working in the world of computers and software. But it doesn’t have to be a 4-letter word! When used to help fighters improve performance, it becomes indispensable. Data exists in many forms. For example, data can be text or numbers written on paper, facts amassed in somebody’s mind, or (as commonly perceived) bits and bytes stored in a computer. As we discuss the use of data in future articles, we will focus primarily on the simplest forms of data collection.
Data in the wide world of sports has become a standard practice in many disciplines. In fact, teams and athletes are now able to capture large chunks of data through a variety of sophisticated technologies to capture common measurements like body composition to uncommon measurements like eye gaze. Though these processes may be time consuming and even costly (they do not have to be), the return on investment is often measured in large fight purses. While combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) typically utilize common sources of data, there is a huge opportunity for growth with little to know financial investment.
In MMA, evaluating a variety of sources of data can allow teams to monitor and adjust a fighter’s training regiment as needed. There are often two sources of data that we use in training: leading indicators and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are the data that match up with our day-to-day activities like body weight, miles ran, and rounds sparred. Lagging indicators are the data
that we collect “after the fact” or are more historical in nature, data like W-L record, decision type (KO, submission), and success against fight style.
As noted in the article on psychology and weight cutting, as the MMA continues to evolve, the availability of a variety of data sources provides fighters and camps the ability to efficiently and effectively shape a fighter’s performance. With fight purses and endorsements growing exponentially (Forbes reported Rhonda Rousey earned $6.5 million in fight purses and endorsements), fighters and training camps can increase their odds of an even higher purses by capitalizing on existing data sources and utilizing some simple processes standard to ABA. While this article was intended to get you thinking about data, in our next article we will illustrate some simple strategies for collecting and using data to assess, plan, and accelerate performance so that coaches and fighters might effectively improve outcomes in the cage which will likely lead to larger pay days!