By Nick Pantages
Injury prevention is a vital part of sports today. With all the devastating injuries that occur in high level professional and collegiate sports, it is apparent how career-changing injuries can be.
The best way to prevent these injuries is to be proactive. That proactivity is exactly what the Springfield College Strength and Conditioning department is taking care of. With the implementation of GPS tracking, and a new system called Vert, the strength and conditioning department is doing their part to try to prevent injury.
GPS tracking is primarily used in long distance sports like soccer, field hockey, and football. It works through a receptor capturing satellite signals, and these receptors can capture the speed and distance traveled of a chosen student-athlete.
The Vert technology system, specific to vertical sports such as volleyball and basketball, measures jump height and the number of jumps to try to measure the level of impact each jump has on an athlete. The measure of this impact can be used to try to weed out certain drills or actions that leaves the athlete exposed to injury.
This was described by the Associate Director of Strength and Conditioning, Dr. Mary Kate Feit.
“The goal of all those technologies is to monitor the workload on the athletes…the goal is to be able to decrease injuries within our athletes.”
The collection of this data is then used to try to prevent injuries on a sport to sport basis. Specifically, by combining the data with the input of coaches and the athletic training staff, it can be used to optimize stress put on athletes in practice.
“The coaches are incredibly eager to learn about this physiological load on their athletes,” Feit said. “We’re able to mark specific drills so that we can actually go back and see which drills cause which types of loads.”
The specificity this brings is so valuable to injury prevention and the health of the athletes. If one certain drill is causing an excess of unnecessary stress on the body, the coaches, with help from the data that the strength and conditioning department provides them, can make tweaks to practice plans, benefitting the health and conditioning of the athletes.
One problem Feit has encountered was the lack of knowledge from the student-athletes about the data.
“Something we need to get better at is providing the information to the student-athletes so they can see it more often, and then providing recommendations based off what we’re seeing,” she said.
By involving the student-athletes in this, their data can become even more individualized, to not just by sport, but by player. If one thing is extremely strenuous on an individual athlete, then specific changes may be suggested to just that athlete on how to take care of their body.
Despite all this proactivity to prevent them, injuries are a part of sports, and they will always happen. The technology and data is now integral in the return to play process for athletes.
“We can help monitor that they’re gradually increasing their play so that we can work really closely with athletic trainers to take them from being off the field and injured to back in the field or on the court playing 100%,” Feit said.
The process of returning to play is always a tricky one, with many players and programs relying on how they feel to return to play. But once data is integrated into the picture, it helps make the process more concrete, with the ability to slowly raise the stress put on the body until it is back to what it should be or what it was before the injury.
Something that would be not as obvious that Feit really emphasized as very important to her was the collaboration between departments this project brought.
“What I like most about it is it brings our strength and conditioning coaches into the room with the coaches to talk about practice splitting. It brings us into the problem with athletic trainers to talk about return to play.”
To have a successful program you need all the help you can get, and these extra voices that are concerned about the well being of the student-athletes at Springfield College are always helpful.
Another example of this was the graduate assistants in the strength and conditioning department, who Feit credits with taking on a lot of work, and being instrumental in the success of the project.
“[The graduate students] have really taken on this extra job of looking at data in addition to their role doing the strength and conditioning for the teams… a lot of grad students are using it for their thesis or independent study,” she said.
So what is the next step? Feit and her team pointed out preseason as a time where a lot of injuries happen. Feit’s goal is to use the data they collected to try to adjust and limit physical stress during this time to avoid some of the early injuries.
With an eye towards the future, data that is similar to this is important. The downside of high level athletics is the physical stress it puts on your body. The implementation and growth of the GPS and Vert tracking systems will promote improvement in the health of the athletes, and always will have a place in athletics to keep everyone as close to full strength as possible.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics