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.”


Fan is Short for Fanatic


With each season passing in the NBA, NFL, MLB and more, new teams implement new techniques that are more entertaining for us the viewers. And it’s easy to like these teams that are fun to watch. But some people take it a little too far. Everyone knows that one guy or girl that is always jumping on the latest and greatest bandwagon. They may have barely heard of that team a year ago, but all of a sudden they know all the stats and have all the merchandise of their favorite player. I’m not going to name any names, but I would imagine nearly all of you already have someone in mind. Whether it’s the long-distance shooting of the Splash Brothers from Golden State, or the streak of 4th quarter comebacks of Tim Tebow for his Denver Broncos in 2011, there will always be bandwagons.

But I would like to take another look at the word “fan,” a word we most definitely overuse. I would like to remind you what “fan” truly means: fanatic. I feel like often times people downplay what being a fan actually means. Mariam-Webster defines “fanatic” as a person “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” A fanatic is the person who owns season tickets and attends every game. A fanatic is the person you see screaming at opposing players from the stands, doing whatever they can to make an impact on the game.

I have lived in Cincinnati my entire life, and when asked who my favorite teams are, I would tell you the staples of Cincinnati sports: Bengals, Reds, Bearcats. Whenever one of these teams are playing, they are the team I’m rooting for. But I’m not a fan. I’m not a fanatic. I’ve been to a couple Bengals games in my life, but not since Ochocinco still went by Chad Johnson. Similarly, I haven’t attended a Reds or Bearcats game in years; it wouldn’t be correct to call myself a fanatic for any team.

And that’s probably why we get so annoyed when we see bandwagon fans. Because at least for me, it’s hard to picture someone who just began liking the Warriors of the NBA or the Royals of the MLB as someone who is intensely devoted to their team. If you are not sticking to your team through every bad season and every breakthrough season, you’re not a fanatic. Period. A typical bandwagon fan likes whatever team is their best in a certain season, but is then quick to jump off when that team or player under-performs.

So here is my challenge to you: if you call yourself a fan, be a fanatic. Be the guy that paints his face or that one lady with the loudest scream in the building. Stick to your team even when they miss the playoffs, or finish in last place. Because that will make it all the more sweeter when your team finally does make it to the promised land.

The Best Two Words in Team Sports


Game Seven. I can remember three years ago when LeBron James and his Miami Heat were coming off a historic Game Six victory in the 2013 finals against the San Antonio Spurs. In a post-game press conference, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra expressed his excitement for the deciding game by describing it as the “best two words in team sports.”

Well, that’s debatable. Any hardcore NFL fan would tell you the best two words are “Super Bowl.” Athletes that compete internationally would probably say “World Champion” or “Gold Medal” are the best. A die-hard soccer fan would probably tell you that the words “World Cup” epitomize team competition. And what about March Madness?

Don’t get me wrong, a Game Seven is undoubtedly exciting. Game Seven culminates two teams trading blows back and forth over the course of six games, neither club gaining an advantage over the other. Fighting tooth and nail to the very end of each 48+ minute ballgame. Sacrificing blood, sweat, and tears to notch one last game out of four needed to win is very exciting for us, as fans of the game, to watch.

But what I often struggle with is how if people like Coach Spo believe that a winner-take-all game is what epitomizes competition, why do the NBA, MLB, and NHL all incorporate a seven-game series into their championships? I’ll admit that I began following the NFL before any other league, but if the viewership truly wants a max excitement and pressure contest, doesn’t it make sense to play a winner-take-all game? When you think about it, there’s a reason we love the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The yearly upsets and bracket-busting Cinderellas would be nearly impossible if every round was a series of games to prove who was the better team. Of course, with a 68-team tournament, implementing a series into every match-up would be a nearly never-ending tournament of games. But the single-elimination is just what makes us love it so much. The stakes are higher; the pressure is on. Upsets are WAY more likely, and we find ourselves cheering for teams  that we had never before heard of– like George Mason in 2006 or VCU in 2011– to be the David that takes down the Goliath. Because those upset stories are what we love to hear about as hard-working Americans.

So let me ask you, would you rather watch a championship like the NBA Playoffs, a system built to prove one team as the undisputed champion, or the free-for-all frenzy of March Madness, where maybe the best team doesn’t win, but we get the chance to see Cinderella?

Tonight, May 30, at 9:00 p.m., the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Golden State Warriors in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals. In my opinion, this is exactly what I would want out of a seven game series. The underdog came to play, but just when you thought they had it in the bag, the ever-resilient defending champs refused to back down, leaving one free-for-all, winner-take-all game to decide who will advance to the NBA Finals. I can only hope that Game Seven will live up to the hype of combining the emotions of all six prior games into one competitive thriller.