10 Takeaways: Game Changer

Here are my top 10 points from Dr. Fergus Connolly’s book “Game Changer: The Art of Sports Science”:

1) Statistics have context.  Numbers, by themselves, could lead us down the wrong path.

  • “So when we try to rate football or soccer players by the number of tackles or passes they’ve made we’re focusing on the wrong thing: we must consider context, timing, and amplification of each tackle or pass.  These have effects far beyond the actual tackle or pass itself.”

2) Bill Belichick on the team.

  • Jim Schwartz once said of the Patriots and Bill BelichickL “Probably the biggest thing I learned from Bill is that there isn’t anything that is not important.  Anything that touches the team is important.  That philosophy of ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’? Yeah, that was never his philosophy.”

3) Put function above form

  • “The starting point for all performance is function and achievement of goals, not technique or style.”
  • Michael Johnson’s running form was focused on achievement of a goal, not primarily on technique.

4) Team-sport athletes are not assembly line workers, performing standardized, routine tasks.

  • “You can’t find and fix inefficiencies in a team the same way you would on a factory floor, yet all too often, that’s the way organizations have tried to improve, by channeling Henry Ford and trying to break down player performance to the minutest stats-monitored retail.”
  • Athletes are “complex organisms interacting with each other on multiple physical, emotional, and motivational levels.”

5) Environment (culture and practice created by coaches, athletes, and their organizations) affects everything.  It should be positive and low-stress.

  • Wins and losses are impacted by the environment, “but also the learning, adaptation, and health of the individual and the team as a whole.  As such, players must be exposed only to positive and helpfully formative experiences during team preparation.”
  • “The environment needs to be as low-stress as possible so that athletes are not experiencing additional stress on top of the imposed stressors from training and competition, which they’re already having to deal with and adapt to.”

6) Long-term success relies on athlete health.

  • “If there is one central point underpinning sustainable success, it’s that athlete health is the most important factor in achieving maximal and sustained performance, for both the individual and the team.”
  • “There’s no point in trying to assess and develop the four coactives (technical, tactical, physical, and psychological) without first ensuring that there’s a solid foundation of overall health and well-being.”

7) You cannot separate the brain and the body.

  • “If athletes are to perform at their best, they don’t just need the required strength, speed, power, and other physical qualities for their sport and position.  They must also be cognitively engaged, in a good place spiritually, balanced physiologically, and able to handle the pressure that the game brings.”
  • “How athletes feel emotionally when they’re participating in any learning experience will be just as important to their development as any physical adaptations that result from the stimulus.”  They must feel the experience will meaningfully improve their game play.

8) Athletes are not research subjects.  Scientific studies are useful but their application is limited.

  • “Academic studies are conducted in sanitized and controlled environments.  As such, their conditions are the exact opposite of the chaos that exists in the real world of sports.  So even though this or that study conducted by a fancy university yielded certain results that the sports scientists finds interesting and believes might be applicable, the true impact on the team might well be different.”

9) When establishing a culture, everything matters.  When it is established, minor things take care of themselves.

  • “If a few players disrespect assistant coaches, cut corners during team training, and cheat on rep counts in the weight room, these aren’t merely isolated discipline problems but also indicators that the players are not fully committed to the team and its principles.  Eventually, these same players will let you down during a crucial game.”
  • “The single greatest benefit is that in teams with strong cultures, minor things are self-managed by the culture and environment, so coaches need speak only when it’s important.”

10) The end dictates the means.  Focus on getting the win, not the process.

  • “If you spend any length of time working with sports teams, you’ll see how easy it is to get caught up in the means – how the team practices, what exercises the players do in the weight room, and so on.  But this is really a backward approach to preparation.  It is an extension of the same mistake the Philadelphia 76ers, under the misguidance of Sam Hinkie, made with the now debunked phrase “Trust the Process.”  Trusting the process is always secondary to getting the win.  Winning and the ability to make or find a way is very different from following a path for its own sake.”

To learn more about what actually goes in to a team’s success, you can purchase Connolly’s book here.


My strength and power have improved significantly.  My shot in hockey has improved in speed, quick release and over all responsiveness in puck control.  Lateral movement has increased in speed, and overall stability and core strength have improved.  I’ve loved it so far, I’m doing round two as of next week.

Zach C. - Hockey Player
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