As we all know, technology is omnipresent in today's sports world, so it should come as no surprise that science is playing an increasingly bigger role each year in enhancing athlete performance and improving health and safety.

That was the core of the presentation from featured speaker Paul Robbins, director of elite performance for STATS LLC, at last month's US Lacrosse Sports Medicine Symposium in Baltimore. Robbins is one of the nation’s foremost authorities in the use of wearable technology for data tracking.  

What is wearable technology? It’s the use of small sensors placed in sleeves, lightweight body patches and shoe inserts to gather information relative to an athlete’s performance. Robbins can coordinate the information captured via sensors with high-speed cameras installed at venues to track the movement of every athlete. How fast is he running, how high is she jumping, how quickly does he react?

Robbins works with numerous professional sports organizations, including the NBA and NFL, to collect and analyze performance metrics in practices and games. He looks for trends within games and over the course of a season, and then uses this data to develop and enhance training for each athlete by creating and tailoring drills and workouts based on research. Ultimately, the goal is to maximize the efficiency of each player.

"There are no limitations to what we are looking for in this data," Robbins said. "We want to measure power, distance, speed, reaction time, balance, positioning. The key is to understand what is most important to you and then be certain that the device we are using can give you that information."

While he has not worked extensively in the lacrosse world, Robbins does significant analysis of soccer players and sees a strong similarity in the physiological demands placed on the athletes of the two sports. GPS tracking is one of the tools that can be used to collect player movement patterns on the field.

“We want to be able to identify inefficient movements,” Robbins said.

Developing customized training plans based on an athlete's individual metrics not only aids productivity, but also reduces injury risks. As we reported in this story in Lacrosse Magazine in December, US Lacrosse is funding research projects that seek to use technology to learn more about lacrosse kinematics.

Robbins noted that one of the most important elements of his work is to more precisely measure fatigue levels of athletes. In many cases, fatigue is a primary contributor to injuries. Having enough data to predict and even prevent overuse injuries is Robbins’ ultimate hope.

"Are my athletes getting tired or are they getting out-of-shape at the end of the season," Robbins said. "That's the biggest question I get from the NBA and the NFL as well."

Robbins said that the metrics he uses with professional basketball players leaves no doubt that performance declines over the course of the season.

"In the NBA, we have an intensity metric, measuring how intensely players are moving, both acceleration and deceleration, as well as covering distance per minute," Robbins said. "And those numbers drop throughout the season."

One of the challenges that Robbins faces is in getting the full picture on an athlete. He is usually limited in his data collection to just practice or game time. Having baseline measurements on an athlete in the offseason, for example, can be a helpful tool for comparison to an in-season snapshot.

“It would be helpful to know what is going on the rest of the day. How did they sleep? What did they eat? How did the travel affect them? These are all issues to monitor,” Robbins said.

While most of his work is done with elite-level athletes, Robbins indicated that there are potential uses for his metrics with younger players.

“We should be just as interested in looking at the workload levels for younger athletes as we are with professionals,” Robbins said. “We want to understand if kids are doing too much. We don’t want to burn them out.”

2016 Research Report

A summary of the findings from US Lacrosse sponsored research can be accessed online in the 2016 Research Report, published by US Lacrosse’s Center for Sport Science.

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