Those who show up early to watch Duke warm up before matches this season may have noticed something interesting. The players are wearing what look like sports bras during their game day preparations.
No, this is not a fashion statement. This is the next step in performance analytics.
The players are using wearable technology from Catapult, a company specializing in optimizing sports performance through monitoring athlete data. The technology measures things like sprint speed, distance traveled and overall energy output so that coaches can better monitor player performance.
“This is the third year we’ve used Catapult,” Blue Devil head coach John Kerr said. “And the last few years, we were just trying to figure it out. There’s so much data so we had to find the important data.”
The Catapult system compiles all the data it collects into a system called PlayerLoad, which measures the amount of work done by a player independent of distance. This helps the Duke coaching staff monitor how hard each player is working and track things like explosive movements and small and long speed running movements.
This allows them to manage players’ workloads to help avoid injuries so that players are not overexerted.
“[Catapult] has helped us analyze how hard we want to go in training,” Kerr said. “If one or two guys are really putting out too much effort, we’ll dial it down for them. We’ll actually excuse them for part of the practice, just to kind of tone it down.”
Tracking PlayerLoads also helps Kerr’s staff stay on top of player performance and effort during games. Typically, a PlayerLoad will spike during a game due to the increased intensity of movements and the added rush of competition. The Blue Devil coaches work to make sure that player outputs are staying consistent across matches so that Duke is putting its best product on the field.
“We use Catapult to make sure there are no issues with performance,” Kerr said. “For example, one particular week, a player is playing at this level of output and then the next week, levels drop significantly even though there is an ACC game which means higher intensity. That happened with one of our players and we had to have a discussion with him about it.”
With the Blue Devils undergoing a strenuous ACC schedule, ensuring maximum output and performance from the players is imperative.
Duke is looking to refocus for the second half of the season. The Blue Devils dropped three straight games after rising to No. 2 in the polls, before bouncing back with a huge 3-2 win against then-No. 14 North Carolina to win in Chapel Hill for the first time since 1999.
As Duke gears up for the heart of ACC play and aims to surpass last year’s third round exit in the NCAA Tournament, Kerr is looking for new ways to utilize Catapult’s data with his squad but is also aware of the limits of the technology.
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“Right now, we’re not sophisticated enough yet to do things like team selection with the data,” Kerr said.
The men’s soccer team is not alone at Duke in its use of Catapult. The men’s basketball squad has been using it for several years, heavily relying on its data to assist in Tre Jones’ recovery from an AC joint separation.
The women’s soccer team also started using Catapult this year and other teams are starting to phase it in to improve player performance.
The response from the players about wearing the technology has also been positive as they look for ways to up their game.
“Every day, they know they’re going to be wearing a bra and a little gadget in the back and heart rate monitor,” Kerr said. “They know it’s for the right reasons and they know it’s for their safety.”
The Blue Devils coaching staff plans on continuing to incorporate Catapult’s data into its practice methods and plans on working more with players to boost their understanding of the data and their performance on the pitch.
“We want to work with individual players on a more regular basis and try to keep them updated on their load,” Kerr said. “If we can inform them of where they’re at, they can maybe take it to another level. Maybe they’ll feel themselves going particularly hard during certain periods of training work in their minds and hopefully that correlates to the numbers we’re tracking.”
As the season progresses, the coaches will step up their monitoring to ensure players are rested and peaking when the postseason kicks off, as Duke looks to build on last year’s performances and challenge the traditional heavyweights for national supremacy.