Ti­cats over­haul camp prac­tices

De­ter­mined to avoid in­juries

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MIL­TON

Armed with the data from two sea­sons of dig­i­tally mon­i­tor­ing 24 play­ers as they went through daily prac­tice, the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats are chang­ing their sched­ules at train­ing camp and for prac­tices dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The foot­ball lay­man might not im­me­di­ately no­tice, but long­time ob­servers will rec­og­nize that the first day of prac­tice dur­ing reg­u­lar sea­son will now be a lighter one, phys­i­cally, rather than the heav­i­est of the week.

And in train­ing camp, ev­ery third day will be less phys­i­cal than the two be­fore it, with em­pha­sis on mis­take cor­rec­tion, walk­throughs in­stalling new plays and sys­tems, and manda­tory weightlift­ing.

It’s all de­signed to avoid the avalanche of in­juries that have over­run the club so of­ten in the past four years.

“You’re try­ing to elim­i­nate soft­tis­sue in­juries,” ex­plains head coach Kent Austin, who worked with noted strength and fit­ness con­sul­tant Matt Ni­chols to cre­ate the changes, based on in­for­ma­tion from mon­i­tor­ing com­pany Cat­a­pult, which tracked the two dozen play­ers via mon­i­tors on the back of their shoul­der pads.

“It’s a huge is­sue. If it’s not THE top pri­or­ity here, it’s 1-A. Ob­vi­ously, there’s a di­rect cor­re­la­tion to your best play­ers play­ing and your prob­a­bil­ity of win­ning.

“There are pre­cur­sors to soft tis­sue in­juries. There are red flags. It gets re­ally tech­ni­cal, but it re­lates to track­ing of player load through­out the week. And when they hit warn­ing ar­eas be­cause of the load they have been sub­jected to, you have to pull off it, be­cause the risk for in­juries, es­pe­cially soft tis­sue, goes up.

“We re­mod­elled our train­ing camp and reg­u­lar sea­son to closely match our data, which was in line with the cur­rent re­search in the in­dus­try.”

The mea­sur­ing sys­tem is GPS­driven and mon­i­tors “hun­dreds of things,” in­clud­ing to­tal dis­tance trav­elled by a player, his ve­loc­ity, change of di­rec­tions, in­ten­sity of work and over­all work­load.

Austin says there are both macro and mi­cro ef­fects.

On the mi­cro level, this year play­ers’ en­ergy out­put, to­tal-work­load bear­ing and in­ten­sity lev­els will be mon­i­tored in real-time, and coaches will ad­just in­di­vid­ual sit­u­a­tions ac­cord­ingly, right on the field. “Say, for in­stance, Luke Tasker is get­ting close to his to­tal load and in­ten­sity for a given day, we’d re­ar­range the plays that have a prob­a­bil­ity that he’s go­ing to be in­volved in, and put them at the front of the line, then get him out,” Austin says. “We’re kind of do­ing that any­way, with our eyes, we’re just bring­ing more sci­ence to it.

On the macro level, the data com­pelled foot­ball op­er­a­tions to al­ter the team’s gameprep sched­ules.

So dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, the first prac­tice day of a week which tra­di­tion­ally — across the CFL and in Hamil­ton for decades — has been a heavy phys­i­cal day, with play in­stal­la­tion and the play­ers of­ten in full pads, is now “more of a re­cov­ery day.”

It will in­clude walk-throughs for play in­stal­la­tion, and pe­ri­ods of strength and con­di­tion­ing.

Day 2 will now be a heav­ier day, more like the old Day 1. At train­ing camp, it’ll be two-on, one-off. When camp opens Sun­day, there’ll be a nor­mal train­ing camp prac­tice. Mon­day will be the heav­i­est in the cy­cle: the dreaded “two-a-day” which sep­a­rates a pair of prac­tices by a 20-minute rest and nu­tri­tion pe­riod. Then Tues­day will be like the new Day One of the reg­u­lar sea­son: “There will be foot­ball, but it’s a re­cov­ery day.”

Then the three-day cy­cle be­gins again on Wed­nes­day.

“It’s part of our over­ar­ch­ing high-per­for­mance plan,” Austin says. “This is one el­e­ment. But there’s nu­tri­tion, there’s sleep, there’s strength and con­di­tion­ing, there’s sports psy­chol­ogy.

“But we’re do­ing it in baby steps. We’re go­ing to gather our own in­for­ma­tion. We know our play­ers,” he added.

“We sus­pect cer­tain things that are co-re­la­tions to per­for­mance or lack thereof and then we’re go­ing to get an­a­lyt­ics to mine what WE say to mine.”

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