Former Marquette lacrosse player Conor Gately regularly put in extra work to improve outside scheduled practices. It became custom for him to dodge and shoot on his own time.
By his senior season, when he had already become the first player in the school history to surpass 100 career points and was on the Tewaaraton watch list, Gately was doing too much, especially on game day.
Using PLAYERTEK by Catapult, a wearable GPS monitoring system said to be the first of its kind when it launched in 2006, coaches discovered Gately’s player load — defined as any body movement that contributes to a player’s total physical work — reached seven to eight miles each game day. He’d put in two miles before warm-ups, which led to fatigue by the third or fourth quarter.
“His player load numbers went through the roof,” said Golden Eagles coach Joe Amplo, who has utilized the technology the last three seasons. “I can’t say any of the extra work was a negative because it made him a good player. But on game day, when you added up all of his movements, it’s a heck of a lot more. … You don’t realize it.”
As a result, the Marquette coaching and sports performance staff reduced Gately’s individual warm-up time to become more energy efficient. They also adjusted practice plans and monitored injured players’ return-to-action timeline.
While Amplo said the technology hasn’t helped the Golden Eagles win or lose games, “It was time to explore it.”
“The data has been useful,” he said. “It changed the way we think about it in terms of how we train our guys.”
Marquette’s transformation reflects a growing trend of wearable technologies in lacrosse. Twelve Division I men’s and women’s programs, one professional team, the NLL’s Rochester Knighthawks, and one high school, St. Xavier (Ohio), are using PLAYERTEK. In a Dec. 15 blog, MLL’s New York Lizards identified wearable tech as the top workout trend of 2018.
“It’s obviously been great to track the yardage and the heart rate,” St. Xavier boys’ lacrosse coach Nate Sprong said. “In the past, it’s been an art to have a feel for whether your team is in shape or not and try to figure out how practices compares to games.”
Other wearables also have emerged in the market, including G-Vert, an intensity tracker that measures kinetic energy, jump analytics, power, stress percentage and appendage asymmetry. Many, including the FitBit, which tracks activity, diet and sleep, and Under Armour HOVR shoes, which has an embedded chip in the sole, link to mobile apps like MapMyRun.
According to Sam McCleery, vice president of Under Armour’s Open Innovation and Commercialization Lab, the history of wearable technology as it relates to an athlete’s desire to improve or achieve something significant, such as a marathon, has four phases.
First, athletes want to collect data. Second, they need accurate data. Third, the data collection needs to be seamless, meaning they don’t need to do anything other than put on a pair of shoes, for example. Lastly, they want meaningful recommendations from the data analysis to perform better or heal faster.
“What we’re seeing now is this convergence of wellness, health, sports [and] athletes in this digital sports hub,” McCleery said at the Lacrosse Industry Summit on Jan. 18.
Michael Gordon, St. Xavier’s head athletic trainer since 2005 and former ATC spotter for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, said he couldn’t find any studies on wearable technology in lacrosse. Nothing answered questions regarding positional differences in player loads or how to maximize performance for game day.
Therefore, he and fellow St. Xavier trainer Ken Rushford focused on lacrosse in their master’s thesis for the coaching education and athlete development program at Xavier University.
Gordon and Rushford discovered the in-game load for Sprong’s team varied from 3,000-6,000 yards (about 3.5 miles) depending on position and sometimes more than 10,000 yards (about 5.5 miles) in practice. Their findings showed high intensity in practices, which could require periodization to avoid burnout this spring.
“That kind of mileage surprised me,” Sprong said. “If they were on the track running four miles a day, they wouldn’t be happy with it.”
Gordon said it’s important to have the buy-in from coaches and players to listen to and accept feedback.
“If it’s just a tool for the sake of being a tool, and it’s not in the budget, then that’s a hard sell,” he said. “But if they can see the benefit and the ability to tailor practices to best suit their athletes, and have the people and facilities in place to do it, then I think it’s a slam dunk.”
Louisville women’s lacrosse has used the technology for the past four years. When Scott Teeter took over as coach before this season, he saw the data. When one Cardinal’s player load was “off the wall,” he was able to intervene before the analytics were too skewed and found out she was stressed with academics.
“It started in baseball with the ‘Moneyball’ name, the analytics approach,” Teeter said. “It’s just a correlation to how your body responds. If you can track it, you can get trends. There’s a science behind it. It’s not just the eye test that the girls are tired. We actually have data to prove it.”