What is a key performance indicator (KPI)?
Image taken from Jonathan Chng (Unsplash)
A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that shows how effectively an athlete’s specific objectives are being met. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs from now on) are useful to evaluate the success of the objectives set for each athlete. Every athlete has different needs and areas in which they need to improve. The use of KPIs is a “shopping list” that will tell the coach and athlete what they should be looking at most to help them improve the fundamentals of their sport.
The first step in analyzing athletes’ KPIs is to establish them based on their sport and position. A tennis player will have different KPIs than a baseball hitter. In turn, the baseball hitter will have different KPIs than the pitcher. In each sport we will have to differentiate between positions, as a basketball point guard has different tasks and functions than a center. If the established KPIs are accurate and improve with training, we can confidently say that the athlete is also improving.
We must analyze the KPIs of athletes with the SMART method
By establishing KPIs we are putting the focus on the most important factors on which we must improve, because they are the most important aspects that make us better at our sport. In this way, we will be able to design a program that will improve those skills and our performance. When setting a KPI, or choosing one from the literature, we will use the SMART method. This methodology is fundamental when it comes to analyzing athlete KPIs accurately and effectively. SMART stands for:
- Specific: Each sport and each position need specific objectives based on its functions.
- Measurable: If something cannot be measured, we will not know if it has been achieved or not.
- Attainable (achievable): the goal to be achieved should challenge the athlete, but not be out of reach.
- Relevant: Each KPI must be important for the performance and achieving success in sport.
- Time: We must determine a time frame with a start date or time and a deadline or time.
Taking into account each of the previous sections of the SMART method, we must set out in a template some goals and objectives to monitor and analyze the KPIs of the athletes. These KPIs should be as relevant as possible to performance, being fully linked to individual and collective success (if it is a team sport). Later on we will look at KPIs for different sports, but to put us in the picture, a KPI in football could be the percentage of passes that have ended in shots on goal, or the errors in the transition from defense to attack.
How to analyze the main KPIs of your athletes
Image taken from Chris Chow (Unsplash)
Benchmarks and metrics to analyze the KPIs of own and rival athletes
When creating a KPI we must ensure that it will allow us to compare current performance with future performance. To do this, benchmarks and metrics are established based on data and key aspects of the athlete’s performance. This data will be evaluated through continuous monitoring to identify what we need to improve or what is important to enhance. The KPI comes from the field of finance, and this is where two of the important concepts arise when measuring the effectiveness of a strategy that we have carried out. In finance, we can measure whether we have lost money, or whether we have earned more or less.
In performance we will need to find athlete and sport specific benchmarks. These benchmarks are the crucial areas for the development of athlete and team performance. In turn, these benchmarks must be measurable with a metric, which is a term that refers to aspects such as “how many times” or “when something has been produced”.
How are KPIs set for each athlete and sport?
Coaches and sports analysts must understand the basics of the physiology and biomechanics of sport, as well as the demands of the discipline itself. It is not possible to set generic KPIs for all athletes and sports, but it does begin to set any KPI with a series of questions to identify those demands of each individual and sport.
What energy system does my marathon athlete use? What if he/she is a 100m runner? Training will be focused on improving that energy substrate pathway. In the marathon runner we will focus on improving his maximum aerobic speed, while in the 100m sprint runner we will try to make the phosphocreatine deposits last as many seconds as possible.
Is it a sport with breaks between rounds of combat? How long does each break last? How quickly does my boxer recover in those minutes? A KPI will be that recovery between rounds, and the goal will be to improve your recovery systems in that time frame. If you recover better, you will come out with more energy for the next round, and that can determine success in combat.
How many jumps are there per game? changes of direction? how many accelerations and how many meters? are there struggles and fights between opponents? In this way we can ask questions and obtain answers that will lead us to create fundamental KPIs for sporting success. In many amateur teams, some aspects are trained that have no real transfer to performance. In football, for example, accelerations of 50 meters are not done, except on rare occasions. It will not make sense to work on that quality.
Analyzing the KPIs of athletes in purely physical sports is the “easy” task
Image taken from Seth Kane (Unsplash)
There are purely physical sports such as powerlifting, swimming or marathon running. In these disciplines, it is much easier to establish and analyze KPIs than in other sports such as basketball or football where many more factors come into play, both from the team itself and from the opponents. When a sport is purely physical, it is enough to analyze the demands of the sport and establish the KPIs that will improve our sporting performance.
In a 100m sprint the KPIs will be the linear acceleration in the 10m, 20m and 40m, as well as the top speed achieved and the ability to sustain it until the end of the race. This will be determined by the force with which we push the blocks at the start, the force in the first strides after the start, the stride length, etc. The energy system used is that of phosphocreatine, so that is the one we will have to improve with training.
Just as a 100-meter sprint has its KPIs, a powerlifter and many other athletes in purely physical sports also have theirs. To know how to analyze the main KPIs of your athletes in this area, you will have to establish them with the SMART method and evaluate them frequently. If a KPI improves, so should the performance.
Once KPIs have been established, training must be needed to improve them.
Once we have seen what key demands our sport has and have captured them in a template of KPIs, we need to work to improve them. The 100-meter sprinter has a horizontal strength component, while a volleyball finisher needs more vertical strength to jump. The runner may benefit more from exercises such as the hip thrust that simulate that forward displacement, while the volleyball spiker will make greater gains in his task with squats.
Each KPI must have an associated method to improve it. That is why it is so important to know precisely what KPIs our discipline has and to work specifically on them. One of the main KPIs in any sport is to place our athlete within a strength-velocity profile. A powerlifter needs maximum strength, regardless of the speed at which he moves. However, a boxer needs to apply maximum velocity to each punch in the minimum possible time. Their strength-velocity profiles are totally different and must be trained accordingly.
To create that strength-velocity profile of each athlete and improve their strength based on it, there are speed measurement devices such as Vitruve. With this technology we will measure the speed at which different percentages of our maximum weight move, for example 40% of 1RM, 55% of 1RM, 70% of 1RM and 85% of 1RM. The Vitruve application itself creates a line according to those weights and velocities moved and automatically designs the strength-velocity profile. Based on that, we will approach the training with high load work moving at a low speed, or with low load work moving at higher velocities.
This is the most important part of the KPIs at the physical level, especially if a sport depends exclusively or largely on physical condition. From there, in sports with a greater technical and tactical load, other KPIs in those fields will have to be added so that the athlete, in addition to improving his physical performance, will also do so at a technical and tactical level. In this way, when the time comes to analyze the athletes’ KPIs, we will be able to check if they have improved in each of the physical, technical and tactical areas.
Analyzing the athlete KPIs in team sports starts to make the task more difficult
Image extracted from Chuttersnap (Unsplash)
When the sport involves technical and tactical aspects, establishing KPIs and analyzing them becomes a more complex task. In these cases, it is necessary to add to the purely physical KPIs of each athlete, the KPIs at technical and tactical level. A tennis player who plays solo, like other sports such as badminton, or any other sport you can think of that involves technique and tactics, but on an individual level, will have specific KPIs for those technical and tactical aspects.
If the sport is collective, all the factors that come into play in the association between players and the movements on the field must also be added. Although each sport has its own KPIs, the key factors will always be established first at the physical level of each athlete, then at the technical level of each athlete and thirdly the tactical aspects as a whole.
A football player playing in a defensive back position has four KPIs that affect his individual and collective success: his acceleration ability which can be measured with a 10m sprint; his ability to change direction which can be measured with a 5-10-5 test; his relative strength for the tackle pulls which is measured with a pull-down test; and his vertical force production which is measured with a velocity measuring device such as Vitruve’s.
On a technical level, although there are differences depending on the defensive position, several KPIs of that soccer player will be: successful tackles versus missed tackles; ball interceptions; or the number of times he has managed to prevent the offensive attacker from receiving a ball from the quarterback. And on another level would be all the tactical aspects of the team that would be endless to cite. In fact, in sports such as football, there are entire playbooks of plays to be learned, which are then analyzed for their effectiveness.
We must analyze the KPIs of rival athletes to prepare for our competition
In elite team sports there is the figure of the analyst who not only works to analyze the KPIs of his team’s athletes, but also studies his next opponent by analyzing decision-making patterns, movements and formations of the opponent, etc. The KPIs analyzed differ from one team to another, but always with a common goal: to discover where and how an opponent can give us problems and how much damage he can do to us.
Analysts will pay attention to a configured list of KPIs depending on the opponent to block their game and to be able to get the most out of their team. To analyze the KPIs of their own and opponents’ athletes they use the available technology that allows them to focus their attention on the data linked to those KPIs, for example, by reviewing video clips of specific plays or moments. In football, one of the sports with a large scientific literature of established KPIs, it is possible to analyze which players usually receive the goal kick and what they do with the ball afterwards (this is a KPI) or to determine which are the areas through which the opponent attacks the most.
Practical application to establish and analyze the main KPIs of your athletes
Image taken from Janosh Diggelmann (Unsplash)
The first step is to identify what are the keys of performance in your sport, physically, technically and tactically. To do this, you can rely on the information that already exists, especially in the most popular sports such as football, basketball, among many others. Depending on your sport and the level at which you compete, you can set different KPIs, as complex sports such as football require qualified personnel and a lot of time to analyze the KPIs of athletes or football players. Access to cutting-edge technology makes it possible to know in real time the passes, the velocity of movement of each player, the distance between players and between the defensive and offensive lines, etc.
However, there are KPIs that are easier to set and measure, such as the physical ones. In this sense, there are various very useful and low-cost technologies with which we can measure some KPIs such as force-velocity. A velocity measurement device such as Vitruve’s gives us data in each training session that will let us know if an athlete has improved his performance in a movement, and if it is a KPI, this improvement should be applied to the competition.
Everything that is measurable should be measured, but without covering more data than we can control. The smaller the team, the fewer the number of KPIs and focus on the most important key performance indicators. The larger the team, the more extensive and complex the number of KPIs will be because between staff and technology we will be able to analyze the athletes’ KPIs more thoroughly.
What we should always keep in mind is, whatever the KPIs are, identify the key performance indicators in our sport, design a template of those KPIs with the SMART method and focus our training efforts on improving those key performance indicators, because those will be the ones that will determine sporting success.
KPIs of various sports collected in the scientific literature
Image taken from Gabin Vallet (Unsplash)
All the information in this article has been extracted from scientific journals considered to be of the highest quality such as Plos One, Journal of Sports Sciences, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and many others. Instead of citing the sources throughout the text as we usually do, we have preferred to group them all together in this section where they are classified according to sport.
If your sport is among the following, you can go to the linked studies to discern which are the key performance indicators according to the scientific literature, and thus be able to analyze the KPIs of the different athletes. If your discipline is not on the list, you can search for your sport followed by the term “key performance indicator”, and go through the thread. Of course, you should always adapt it to your athletes and your situation, so the most specific will be to adapt the information obtained to you and your athletes. Top quality research is published in English. If you need to translate them, just right-click and select the “translate to Spanish” option.
Top-quality research to analyze Rugby athletes’ KPIs
Relationships between physical qualities and key performance indicators during match-play in senior international rugby union players (Cunningham et al., 2018)
Implementation of path analysis and piecewise structural equation modelling to improve the interpretation of key performance indicators in team sports: An example in professional rugby union (Novak, Impellizzeri, Garvey, & Fransen, 2021)
Top quality research to analyze athletes’ KPIs in basketball
Modelling the Relationship between Match Outcome and Match Performances during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup: A Quantile Regression Analysis (Zhang et al., 2020)
Identifying Basketball Performance Indicators in Regular Season and Playoff Games (García, Ibáñez, De Santos, Leite, & Sampaio, 2013)
Team Performance Indicators Explain Outcome during Women’s Basketball Matches at the Olympic Games (Leicht, Gomez, & Woods, 2017)
Top-quality research to analyze athlete’ KPIs in baseball
Lower Extremity Biomechanics Predicts Major League Baseball Player Performance (Teske, Beck, Bullock, Nicholson, & Waterman, 2021)
Individual factors associated with baseball pitching performance: scoping review (Mercier, Tremblay, Daneau, & Descarreaux, 2020)
Top-quality research to analyze athletes’ KPIs in football (soccer)
Assessment of Physical, Technical, and Tactical Analysis in the Australian Football League: A Systematic Review (Vella, Clarke, Kempton, Ryan, & Coutts, 2022)
Importance of Strength and Power on Key Performance Indicators in Elite Youth Soccer (Wing, Turner, & Bishop, 2020)
Attacking Key Performance Indicators in Soccer: Current Practice and Perceptions from the Elite to Youth Academy Level (Herold, Kempe, Bauer, & Meyer, 2021)
Key performance indicators at FIFA Women’s World Cup in different playing surfaces (Garcia-Unanue et al., 2020)
Analysis of the Association between Running Performance and Game Performance Indicators in Professional Soccer Players (Modric, Versic, Sekulic, & Liposek, 2019)
Aerobic fitness and game performance indicators in professional football players; playing position specifics and associations (Modric, Versic, & Sekulic, 2020)
Top-quality research to analyze athlete KPIs in football
Position-Specific Physical Workload Intensities in American Collegiate Football Training (Mamon et al., 2022)
Whole-Body Reactive Agility Metrics to Identify Football Players With a Core and Lower Extremity Injury Risk (Bruce & Wilkerson, 2021)
Updated Review of the Applied Physiology of American College Football: Physical Demands, Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition, and Injury Characteristics of America’s Favorite Game (Fullagar, McCunn, & Murray, 2017)
Top quality research to analyze the KPIs of hockey athletes
Putting Muscle Into Sports Analytics: Strength, Conditioning, and Ice Hockey Performance (Kniffin, Howley, & Bardreau, 2017)
Peak Running Intensities in Field Hockey – A Positional Analysis (Dewar & Clarke, 2021)
Field hockey from the performance analyst’s perspective: A systematic review (Lord, Pyne, Welvaert, & Mara, 2022b)
Capture, analyze, visualize: An exemplar of performance analysis in practice in field hockey (Lord, Pyne, Welvaert, & Mara, 2022a)
Top quality research to analyze the KPIs of athletes in boxing
Amateur boxing: physical and physiological attributes (Chaabène et al., 2015)
Acute physiological, endocrine, biochemical and performance responses associated with amateur boxing: A systematic review with meta-analysis (Finlay, Greig, Page, & Bridge, 2022)
Top quality research to analyze the KPIs of athletes in other sports:
Tennis: Set-to-set Performance Variation in Tennis Grand Slams: Play with Consistency and Risks (Cui, Liu, Gómez, Liu, & Gonçalves, 2020)
Remo: Physical performance indicators in traditional rowing championships (Penichet-Tomás, Pueo, & Jiménez-Olmedo, 2019)
Regattas de vela: Key performance indicators in Tour de France sailing (Philippe, Paillard, Dubois, Maurelli, & Prioux, 2021)
Judo: Improving on Half-Lightweight Male Judokas’ High Performance by the Application of the Analytic Network Process (Uriarte Marcos, Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Alfaro-Saiz, Carballeira, & Uriarte Marcos, 2021)
The list could go on almost endlessly. In this section we have presented some examples of top-quality research in some sports, in case it can serve you as an example and guide on which to start working with KPIs, or improve the templates you already have.
Joaquin Vico Plaza
- Bruce, S. L., & Wilkerson, G. B. (2021). Whole-Body Reactive Agility Metrics to Identify Football Players With a Core and Lower Extremity Injury Risk. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 3, 733567. https://doi.org/10.3389/FSPOR.2021.733567/FULL
- Chaabène, H., Tabben, M., Mkaouer, B., Franchini, E., Negra, Y., Hammami, M., … Hachana, Y. (2015). Amateur Boxing: Physical and Physiological Attributes. Sports Medicine, 45(3), 337–352. https://doi.org/10.1007/S40279-014-0274-7/TABLES/7
- Cui, Y., Liu, H., Gómez, M. Á., Liu, H., & Gonçalves, B. (2020). Set-to-set Performance Variation in Tennis Grand Slams: Play with Consistency and Risks. Journal of Human Kinetics, 73(1), 153. https://doi.org/10.2478/HUKIN-2019-0140
- Cunningham, D. J., Shearer, D. A., Drawer, S., Pollard, B., Cook, C. J., Bennett, M., … Kilduff, L. P. (2018). Relationships between physical qualities and key performance indicators during match-play in senior international rugby union players. PLoS ONE, 13(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0202811
- Dewar, H., & Clarke, J. (2021). Peak Running Intensities in Field Hockey – A Positional Analysis. Journal of Human Kinetics, 79(1), 135. https://doi.org/10.2478/HUKIN-2021-0067
- Finlay, M. J., Greig, M., Page, R. M., & Bridge, C. A. (2022). Acute physiological, endocrine, biochemical and performance responses associated with amateur boxing: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Https://Doi.Org/10.1080/17461391.2022.2063072. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2022.2063072
- Fullagar, H. H. K., McCunn, R., & Murray, A. (2017). Updated review of the applied physiology of American college football: Physical demands, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and injury characteristics of america’s favorite game. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(10), 1396–1403. https://doi.org/10.1123/IJSPP.2016-0783
- Garcia-Unanue, J., Fernandez-Luna, A., Burillo, P., Gallardo, L., Sanchez-Sanchez, J., Manzano-Carrasco, S., & Felipe, J. L. (2020). Key performance indicators at FIFA Women’s World Cup in different playing surfaces. PloS One, 15(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0241385
- García, J., Ibáñez, S. J., De Santos, R. M., Leite, N., & Sampaio, J. (2013). Identifying Basketball Performance Indicators in Regular Season and Playoff Games. Journal of Human Kinetics, 36(1), 161. https://doi.org/10.2478/HUKIN-2013-0016
- Herold, M., Kempe, M., Bauer, P., & Meyer, T. (2021). Attacking Key Performance Indicators in Soccer: Current Practice and Perceptions from the Elite to Youth Academy Level. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 20(1), 158–169. https://doi.org/10.52082/JSSM.2021.158
- Kniffin, K. M., Howley, T., & Bardreau, C. (2017). Putting muscle into sports analytics: Strength, conditioning, and ice hockey performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(12), 3253–3259. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002211
- Leicht, A. S., Gomez, M. A., & Woods, C. T. (2017). Team Performance Indicators Explain Outcome during Women’s Basketball Matches at the Olympic Games. Sports, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/SPORTS5040096
- Lord, F., Pyne, D. B., Welvaert, M., & Mara, J. K. (2022a). Capture, analyse, visualise: An exemplar of performance analysis in practice in field hockey. PLOS ONE, 17(5), e0268171. https://doi.org/10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0268171
- Lord, F., Pyne, D. B., Welvaert, M., & Mara, J. K. (2022b). Field hockey from the performance analyst’s perspective: A systematic review. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 17(1), 220–232. https://doi.org/10.1177/17479541211008903
- Mamon, M. A., Olthof, S. B. H., Burns, G. T., Lepley, A. S., Kozloff, K. M., & Zernicke, R. F. (2022). Position-Specific Physical Workload Intensities in American Collegiate Football Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 36(2), 420–426. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000004174
- Mercier, M. A., Tremblay, M., Daneau, C., & Descarreaux, M. (2020). Individual factors associated with baseball pitching performance: scoping review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1), e000704. https://doi.org/10.1136/BMJSEM-2019-000704
- Modric, T., Versic, S., & Sekulic, D. (2020). Aerobic fitness and game performance indicators in professional football players; playing position specifics and associations. Heliyon, 6(11). https://doi.org/10.1016/J.HELIYON.2020.E05427
- Modric, T., Versic, S., Sekulic, D., & Liposek, S. (2019). Analysis of the Association between Running Performance and Game Performance Indicators in Professional Soccer Players. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(20). https://doi.org/10.3390/IJERPH16204032
- Novak, A. R., Impellizzeri, F. M., Garvey, C., & Fransen, J. (2021). Implementation of path analysis and piecewise structural equation modelling to improve the interpretation of key performance indicators in team sports: An example in professional rugby union. Journal of Sports Sciences, 39(22), 2509–2516. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2021.1943169
- Penichet-Tomás, A., Pueo, B., & Jiménez-Olmedo, J. M. (2019). Physical performance indicators in traditional rowing championships. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 59(5), 767–773. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08524-9
- Philippe, K., Paillard, T., Dubois, R., Maurelli, O., & Prioux, J. (2021). Key performance indicators in Tour de France sailing. Journal of Sports Sciences, 39(8), 944–954. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2020.1851925
- Teske, L. G., Beck, E. C., Bullock, G. S., Nicholson, K. F., & Waterman, B. R. (2021). Lower Extremity Biomechanics Predicts Major League Baseball Player Performance. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1177/23259671211015237
- Uriarte Marcos, S., Rodríguez-Rodríguez, R., Alfaro-Saiz, J. J., Carballeira, E., & Uriarte Marcos, M. (2021). Improving on Half-Lightweight Male Judokas’ High Performance by the Application of the Analytic Network Process. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 621454. https://doi.org/10.3389/FPSYG.2021.621454/FULL
- Vella, A., Clarke, A. C., Kempton, T., Ryan, S., & Coutts, A. J. (2022). Assessment of Physical, Technical, and Tactical Analysis in the Australian Football League: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine – Open, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/S40798-022-00518-8
- Wing, C. E., Turner, A. N., & Bishop, C. J. (2020). Importance of Strength and Power on Key Performance Indicators in Elite Youth Soccer. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(7), 2006–2014. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002446
- Zhang, S., Gomez, M. Á., Yi, Q., Dong, R., Leicht, A., & Lorenzo, A. (2020). Modelling the Relationship between Match Outcome and Match Performances during the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup: A Quantile Regression Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2020, Vol. 17, Page 5722, 17(16), 5722. https://doi.org/10.3390/IJERPH17165722