Each and every year there are technology breakthroughs that help sport performance professionals increase their ability to have an impact on a game, a team or an individual’s performance. Following practice on Friday, Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Grasso stopped by to talk about how UConn football is utilizing Catapult, a system designed to help athletes and teams perform to their true potential.
Throughout the spring, players are wearing GPS units directly in their shoulder pads, as it collects a tremendous amount of data that helps the strength and conditioning staff make performance related decisions and even at times can help the sports medicine staff. The Huskies began using Catapult in the Fall, onboarding just in time for the start of the 2019 season, the week of August 23rd to be exact.
“We had it for our first game versus Wagner,” Grasso confirmed. “It’s been about a half of a year of raw data, which from a scientific perspective, is not terribly a lot, but it’s getting to a point where we can actually start to look at trends and notice some things that are starting to make our mark on what we would consider the UConn way.”
Having the data from the 2019 season is only helping the staff as a whole develop their players even further, particularly during the offseason and here in spring ball.
“There’s obviously a difference between practice speed and game speed,” Grasso said. “When it comes to the game and as we look back at those metrics, Catapult allows us to take a look at what an actual game demands. We can see if we are hitting those velocities in practice when we track these guys using the GPS units, which track a variety of things, anything from 500-550 different metrics.”
This includes velocity in terms of how fast a player is running, the amount of distance covered over a given period of time and even how many g-forces the player was exposed to on various hits over the course of a game or practice.
“What we are really looking to do is give the coaches feedback,” Grasso continued. “When it comes to our side of things [as a strength and conditioning staff], we are trying to develop what the players need from a physical preparation standpoint. It’s important for us to be able to understand what the game is actually asking of these players and then be able to somewhat mirror that throughout the offseason in a way that’s sensible and obviously makes sense to the athletes. At the end of the day we can actually say these guys will be prepared for what the game asks of them from a distance standpoint, explosive movement standpoint, from a velocity standpoint and from an overall load standpoint.”
And when it comes to load, there are two sides of that to monitor, yes the actual performance of the athlete, but also looking at ways to reduce injuries.
“It’s nice to say we know a kid is capable of hitting 23 mph, but Saturday’s should not be the first time throughout that week they should be hitting that,” Grasso stated. “We want to make sure the muscles, tendons, ligaments, everything is fully prepared to handle that load and handle that velocity on gameday. Maybe hitting a certain percentage of that velocity 2-to-3 times per week will help better prepare them from a performance standpoint, which makes sure that when they get there on a Saturday, that their body is actually ready for that.”
“What it really comes down to, we are physical preparation coaches and we are looking at ways to develop their physical qualities, strength, power and ability to repeat those efforts and express them throughout the course of a game,” he added. “It’s nice to rely on some of the great coaches that we have to be able to teach them some of those specific techniques and fundamentals that will actually allow them to express that ability for longer.”
Being able to have access to game data from last season was paramount to helping develop a plan for each player to address various needs based on their position.
“We are really fortunate to have been able to track games because if we couldn’t, what would we base our methods off of?” Grasso posed. “Right now, we are getting to a point where we can really identify to specific positions; say you’re a defensive back and you play, just to throw a number out there, 65-snaps. Given that, [we now know] the amount of distance in terms of yards you need to be prepared for, the amount of explosive movements you’ll need to be prepared for, the velocities you may need to be prepared for and we also tracked impacts. So we know they’ll be exposed to x amount of g-forces and how often will that happen throughout the course of a game. Some of those things you really can’t manipulate, but to be able to track them is incredibly helpful.”
Grasso talked about how most of their time during the offseason, particularly non-spring practice related workouts, they are in a very predictable environment; running sprints, drills and the like.
“Well in a game, that’s not really the case,” he said. “It’s more of a chaotic environment, unpredictable. We need to be able to teach them the rules as far as how to sprint properly, gain some of the speeds and velocities that we ideally can enhance. The goal is to get them to produce those speeds, or at least certain percentages of those speeds in different variations and situations that might arise during a game.”
And Catapult helps with just that. As mentioned, it’s not just to measure those performance related metrics.
“What I actually did at the end of the season was look at every single injury that we had,” Grasso said. “I looked at the day a specific injury took place and tried to give a global view, work backwards 3-to-4 weeks and depending on what the injury was; say it was an ankle injury, wanted to look at things like the overall distance that they covered, change of direction left, change of direction right, look at some impacts, some of the velocities and high-speed distances. For us, high-speed is set at 16-mph, so any distance they covered over 16-mph. So after I looked at that, what could we notice in terms of trends and patterns.”
“Bob Howard, our head of Sports Medicine is great with that stuff, was super-excited to just be able to look at some raw data, some patterns and habits that we noticed,” he said. “It’s sports, so injuries are going to happen, but it’s helpful that you can take a look back on them and say, well we saw a massive spike in his impacts here, this is a shoulder injury that he had, this was x amount higher than he was typically exposed to, maybe in the future we can go about it in a certain way from a return to play standpoint. For example, let’s give him 30-percent of what he would need to do from an impact standpoint one week, then 40-percent this week, those sort of things. It’s helpful, but sports are unpredicatcble, so there’s not much you can do sometimes, but being able to monitor what we do in practice is helpful.”
WORKING FOR STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COORDINATOR MATT KING
Grasso came to Storrs in the spring of 2018, after prior stints that included a summer internship in Tuscaloosa with Alabama. He was quickly promoted from an intern to a professional intern and then a full-time assistant. Matt King recently promoted him to his top assistant and after speaking with both King and Grasso, it’s clear why. There’s a mutual respect there and Grasso said he owes his career to the opportunities he’s been given.
“[Working for Coach King] it’s the best, it really is,” he said. “Obviously I love the guy. I think he’s done a great job from the standpoint of coming in and being able to take care of his people and give us all of the opportunities we need to excel, but he cares about his people, the people that will work for him and work with him. He’s going to make sure that he’s going to maximize the potential of each one of his assistants and everyone around him.”
“He’s a big logistics guy,” Grasso continued. “He’s going to take a look at all of the pieces and really try to put those pieces together to get it to a point where he can say I know this guys strengths and weaknesses and I’m going to put him in a position where he can succeed while also challenging him just enough to raise some of the weaknesses that he does have. Of course he’s super passionate, of course he’s super energetic, but what we do, as a profession, it’s much more than just bringing the so-called ‘juice,’ it’s being pretty methodical and calculated in terms of how you go about approaching the day-to-day operation.”
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