Article: Soccer program goes high tech to monitor performance

The next time a Mason varsity soccer player feels his heart racing before opening kickoff, he better be careful: his coaches are watching.


While the boys soccer coaches may not stare down a player to gain a feel for how nervous they are, Coach Paul Reedy and staff do have a new tool to check the physical condition of their players: heart rate monitors.


Reedy said the idea to purchase heart rate monitors came from goalkeeper coach Marc Johnson.


“(The idea came from) one of the assistants on our staff, Marc Johnson, he’s also the goalkeeper coach for the women at Xavier University.” Reedy said. “Xavier, in their women’s program, use more advanced heart rate monitors than what we have, but as he became used to using those at the college level, it was his idea to see if our soccer boosters would be willing to purchase them for our varsity players to wear.”


Mason’s boosters delivered. During every practice and every game, each player is now equipped with a heart rate monitor strapped around their chest that sends data straight to the coaching staff. The coaches can then look at the data to make conclusions about the fitness level and work rate of their players.


Junior Philip Springsteen said he was excited for the monitors because they would provide actual data to help the coaches make decisions to benefit the team.


“I was really excited because it eliminates a lot of the unknowns about soccer, especially the physical aspect.” Springsteen said. “So as opposed to sometimes the coaches would tell you to take it a little easier in practice if they noticed how many minutes you played, whereas now they give you a lot more quantitative data to see how high your heart rate’s going and for how long you’re going.”


Reedy said the monitors not only help the coaches ensure the players are giving their best effort, but that it also gives an indication of when they might be pushing the players too much.


“It gives us another tool to evaluate our players, and make sure that they’re working at a level they should be, because as we say, the monitors don’t lie,” Reedy said. “It also helps us realize when we may be going too hard and we have to tone it down, especially if we have a match the next day.”


Sophomore Collin Hawkins said that some of the players experienced difficulty with wearing the monitors during games, but that it was largely the fault of the players for not securing them properly.


“Some guys had to take them off because they were too loose, but that was more our fault because they didn’t tighten them the right way,” Hawkins said. “But we’ve never had a problem with them that it would hurt or they would become too irritated.”


Springsteen said the monitors were uncomfortable at first, but it was only a matter of getting used to playing with it underneath their jerseys.


“Especially in the very beginning, there was a lot of readjusting, tightening the straps, Springsteen said. “It was a little bit uncomfortable, but as we played with them more and got used to it, the discomfort starts to go away and you really don’t notice it as much in a game. There’s a physical aspect to soccer so people tug on your jersey, and occasionally they can get the heart rate monitors and pull it off. There’s a little bit of discomfort, but it’s not that bad.”


Reedy said that the addition of the monitors has made him more able to notice when certain players need a substitute.


“In one of the scrimmages, we have the tablet on the bench that shows every player’s heart rate, and Marc Johnson said to me, ‘these two players need to come out, based on the monitors.’” Reedy said. “And I could tell, looking at the one, I didn’t need the monitor. I could tell he was gassed. He was going to be coming out even if we didn’t have the monitors. But the other one, I didn’t realize because he wasn’t showing some of the typical signs of fatigue, but when we brought him out, we told him why, and he’s like, ‘yeah, I was exhausted.’ That was an ah-ha moment for me as a coach.”


Reedy said the players have begun to understand that the monitors do push them harder, but it’s for their own benefit.


“We’re just in the beginning of this process,” Reedy said. “I think there’s a lot of potential. I think the players are starting to understand that the machine doesn’t lie and that their work rate is being evaluated and if everybody has a high heart rate, and one player doesn’t, they understand the coaches are going to see that.”


Dr. M. Atiq Khalid, cardiologist with Middletown Cardiovascular Associates, said that although measuring heart rate does show physical effort, it is not the only way of measuring performance for athletes.


“Just the heart rate alone is one of the ways of looking at it,” Khalid said. “Basically what you’re looking at is how efficient your cardiovascular system is. And what your cardiovascular system does is it extracts the oxygen out of the inhaled air and then transmits it to your lungs, to your heart, to your muscle cells, and that involves the efficiency of the whole system itself (such as) the amount of dilatation of your vessels in your legs, the efficiency at which your lungs can extract the oxygen out of the inhaled air, the efficiency at which your heart can contract, and the efficiency of which your muscles can consume that oxygen and get rid of the metabolized (products) that are produced as a result of exercise.”


Hawkins said the players can no longer get away with slacking off during practice and are forced to work harder knowing the coaches are constantly monitoring how hard they’re working.


“They definitely increase our workrate, because there’s no faking it; you can’t really slack off anymore,” Hawkins said. “It’s really upped our workrate, intensity’s gone up; It’s been a huge positive for the team.”


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