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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)

 

Citadel soccer player Logan Dix's eyes popped with surprise when she reviewed the data from the Bulldogs' first match of the season.

"I learned a lot," said the sophomore forward. "I learned that I ran way more than I ever thought during a match. I ran eight miles during the game, and you don't feel like you are running that much."

Citadel coach Ciaran Traquair raised about $5,000 with the help of The Citadel Soccer Association to invest in a player-monitoring system this season. The high-tech vests from PlayerTek use a GPS system to track how far players run, their top speed, impacts, distance traveled at top speed, player workload and energy output.

It's part of a new wave of technology that can help coaches and trainers monitor their players, both for health and competitive reasons. Ideally, the data can help prevent tragedies like the recent one in Maryland, where a football player died after a conditioning session.

At South Carolina, football coach Will Muschamp and his staff have been using a system similar to The Citadel's, built by the same company, Catapult. At Virginia, football players can swallow a vitamin-sized tablet that contains a digestible sensor. Through a Bluetooth connection, the sensor can provide real-time data on a player's core temperature and other vital information. And at Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney keeps close tabs on his players' sleep patterns via high-tech monitoring.

"They tell you the story about what's best for the player," Muschamp said of the data provided. "And to me, that's the most important thing."

The systems attempt to provide data in a usable format, through heat maps and dashboards for each player. But all of the numbers can be overwhelming at first, said The Citadel's head soccer coach Ciaran Traquair.

"It was like reading Chinese at first," he said. "So it's a lot of trial and error. But I've been looking the last few years at the programs that do use them in Division I soccer and for athletes' wellness in general.

"Florida State, for example, can periodize its schedule for 12 months based on the data they collect. They do it at a more advanced level than we do, but I felt like we needed to dip our toes in, especially with the environment our kids are in at The Citadel."

Muschamp and his coaches at USC use the information to optimize practice for each player. He uses star receiver and kick returner Deebo Samuel as an example.

"He played at an extremely high level the second part of our first year here," Muschamp said of Samuel. "So (trainer) Clint Haggard and myself go back and look at those numbers: On a Tuesday practice, what was he averaging (in distance run)? On a Wednesday practice, what was he averaging?

"With all of those numbers combined, that's producing him to be the best version of him he can be, so let's hit those numbers."

So, when coordinator of analytics Patrick Shine, monitoring the numbers from inside the training room, sees that Samuel has hit his number - say, 3,000 yards - he's done for the day, no matter where the Gamecocks are in practice.

"It's something, from an old-school approach, where you've got to adjust your views," Muschamp said. "But it's the bottom line. You go back and look at guys when they are being very productive, those numbers are showing up and they are real."

In Division I women's soccer, teams usually play on Fridays and Sundays. The Citadel's Traquair hopes the data can help the Bulldogs peak at the right time.

"We need to be able to plan their week to a T," he said. "Based on how they are feeling, where their heart rates are at, how many miles they are covering. Are we working too hard on a Tuesday or not hard enough?

"I hope there are not too many surprises, but even little things can change your approach. If the data show they are at or near their peak, we have to adapt our session.

"And that's just one day. Think about over the course of 15 weeks, we can really channel what we need to keep these kids healthy and at their peak performance when they need it the most."

David Cloninger contributed to this report.

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