Professional Hockey Coach Erkka Westerlund Starts Co-operation With Firstbeat

Erkka Westerlund

Erkka Westerlund, a well-known, highly regarded Finnish hockey coach, recently announced a new cooperative project with Firstbeat. He will continue to work with top athletes in a slightly different role, but will also expand his attention and expertise towards helping individuals cope with the challenges of everyday working life.

As head coach of the Finnish national team, Westerlund guided the team to Olympics success, earning the silver medal at the Torino 2006 Olympics and the bronze medal at Vancouver 2010. Before announcing his new venture, he spent two years as the head coach of Jokerit, a Helsinki based professional hockey team currently competing in the KHL.

“As a hockey coach, I always encouraged players to focus on their personal well-being as part of becoming self-oriented team players, Westerlund explains. “And as I see it, the same objectives apply in working life and professional sports alike. For the past three years, I have used the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment to systematically monitor player recovery which is a critical aspect of achieving top performance. Firstbeat’s innovation gives us an opportunity to apply those same techniques to create better working lives.”

“It is pretty unusual for a world-class hockey coach to roll up his sleeves and start working towards better well-being in everyday Finnish working life,” remarks Firstbeat VP Juho Tuppurainen about the new partnership. “As part of our collaboration efforts, Erkka will coach individuals using feedback from our heart rate variability measurements and analysis. The success of this type of data driven coaching program is remarkable for its ability to create real, lasting changes in behavior.”

Over 150,000 people worldwide have already enjoyed the benefits of participating in the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment that will be central to Westerlund’s project. The program has also been incorporated into high profile corporate wellness programs like KPMG and VR group, Finland’s state owned railway company.

This occurs against the backdrop of Firstbeat Sports continued expansion across the landscape of  professional sports, now being used hundreds of professional teams including more than a third of NHL teams and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, known for their technological and analytic savvy.

While professional athletes and corporate executives have different fitness levels, the requirements to achieve success are mostly the same. Recovery plays a major factor in their ability to improve performance. Simply put, today’s choices impact future performance capabilities. Adding to the challenge of coaching is the fact that reactions to stressors vary from person to person. As result, a premium is placed on individual assessment.

According to Westerlund:

“We have been systematically monitoring athlete development and progress for decades. What we learned is that successful recovery is a key determinant of exercise effectiveness. The same principle applies to working life. Unfortunately, all too often, recovery monitoring is overlooked in both elite sports and daily life. The ability to recovery varies significantly between individuals which is why employees and athletes need to focus on their personal habits to understand what works best for them.

Firstbeat offers a lot of information not just about physical strength, but also mental strength. And improving self-awareness is a critical first step towards better personal well-being management. For that, I think Firstbeat is the best tool in the world.”

One specific advantage of the Firstbeat assessment method is its duration. A typical assessment includes three days (72hrs) of round-the-clock monitoring data to ensure a complete picture of daily life. When this data is evaluated in conjunction with supplemental information provided by the participant in their electronic journal, a wellness coach, like Westerlund, can uncover specific areas for improvement and document the real reasons contributing to common issues like poor fitness. These new understandings and insights are then used to help the participant discover better choices in the areas that will have the greatest impact.

Like many others, Westerlund has found success using the insights provided by Firstbeat analytics as the basis for motivating lasting behavioral change.

“I believe this is the future,” explains Westerlund. “Change is a consistent presence in the workplace today and employees frequently find themselves struggling to adapt. Constant attention to personal development is needed, just like in professional sports. In this sense, lessons from sports have much broader application across different areas of society. In fact, it is becoming more and more common for companies to employ a wellness specialist to support better well-being in the workplace.”

“The international success that Firstbeat has found with these innovations is remarkable, and it is great to be part of this project going forward,” Westerlund concludes.

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