ODU uses high-tech GPS device as training tool [Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) :: ]
(Daily Press (Newport News, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--NORFOLK -- Ryan Martin, Old Dominion's Director of Sports Performance, is a serious and relentlessly curious advocate for athletes' health and well being.
When an uncommon spate of pulls and tears sidelined ODU football players a couple of years ago, it made perfect sense that he would come across a cutting-edge device from a company Down Under.
The upshot is that ODU now has satellite technology as another tool in its athletic training box. The Monarchs have a dozen GPS tracking units from Australia-based Catapult Sports, with 12 more scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks.
"The value is for us to be able to understand what the athletes experience on the field," Martin said. "It's one thing to design something on paper, but this tells us what they're actually experiencing."
The Monarchs begin their season 3:30 p.m. Saturday versus Hampton with fewer players sidelined than head coach Bobby Wilder can recall.
Wilder said that soft-tissue injuries -- muscle pulls and tears -- during preseason were down significantly. He attributes that, at least in part, to the data compiled from the GPS devices, which led to coaches altering players' daily practice schedules based on their workloads on previous days.
"The big thing is the coaches upstairs have really bought into it," Martin said earlier this week in the first-floor weight room at the L.R. Hill Complex. "They understand what we're trying to accomplish with it and the benefit of it. If that wasn't the case, the tool itself wouldn't be very valuable. You can have all the tools you want, but if you can't implement them and understand the benefit, what good is it?
"As a staff, they really understand that as a whole. They've done a good job of taking that information we provide them from Catapult and applying it."
Catapult's tracking devices and service are just catching on here in the U.S. They're widely used by Australian Rules Football and rugby teams and by premier soccer teams overseas.
ODU is one of a growing number of college football teams that have signed on, among them Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Oregon and Notre Dame. Fourteen NFL teams use the devices, including the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills.
LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt said in an article on CBSSports.com last spring that GPS tracking "is to strength and conditioning what the barbell was 40 or 50 years ago."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fischer said in that same article that his team had 88 percent fewer soft-tissue injuries last season when the Seminoles won the national championship.
The setup resembles a sports bra, with a small pouch between the shoulder blades that holds the GPS device, which fits easily in the palm of your hand. Designated players wear it for the entire practice, to track their movement and workload.
The devices track approximately 300 data points, but Martin said that ODU's training staff has narrowed it to a handful of figures, lest they get buried in a sea of information.
ODU tracks players' total distance covered, maximum velocity, segments between 13 1/2 and 15 1/2 miles per hour, and above 15 1/2 mph. They also track instances of high acceleration and deceleration.
"If a kid has a day where he has a high number of accelerations and decelerations, that's a concern," Wilder said, adding that many injuries occur when a player comes to a sudden stop.
Martin receives daily spreadsheets and passes on the info to Wilder and the coaches. A player with a high workload one day usually gets a break the next day, cutting down on days of accumulated stress.
"Preventing injuries, that doesn't happen," Martin said. "All we're trying to do is reduce the chance. You can't prevent anything from happening. We're just trying to reduce that potential and go from there with it."
ODU paid $21,600 for the two dozen GPS trackers and the accompanying service, the Virginian-Pilot reported after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Martin believes it's money well spent, especially as the training staff compiles a multi-year database that provides perspective on players and positions.
"At the end of the day, my job is to keep players on the field," Martin said. "We're going to explore every option we can to make sure the players at Old Dominion are healthy."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.
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