By: Lee Melotti - SWA Performance Scientist

Performance scientists and coaches, including myself, have tried to accurately assess and quantify the contact match demands in rugby in a variety of ways; traditionally count by video analysis, progressing to high-intensity static exertions identified through GPS technology. The new insights provided from the PROTECHT system using the OPRO+ instrumented mouthguard highlighted how rudimentary many of our thoughts on match impact demands, training impact exposures and terminologies applied may actually be.

The PROTECHT system accurately monitors head impacts live and allows us to understand not only the number of impacts an athlete is exposed to but also the intensity of each one of those impacts. It is a new but important piece of safety equipment for contact sport with a primary focus on improving player welfare and safety.

The OPRO+ mouthguard, embedded with PROTECHT’s technology, allows Performance Scientists to use leading head impact monitoring technology, within a fully customizable, comfortable and highly protective mouthguard. As practitioners, we know that the PROTECHT system is the best on the market, supported by OPRO’s expert know-how and manufacturing processes to support our work with players; providing them with the comfort and protection they desire as athletes but in a discreet way to collect valid and reliable data. With this, data application, training and monitoring for impact load can be driven and developed the same way GPS has been by practitioners over the last decade.

Covid-19 provided an opportunity to apply our sports analytics which found that longer breaks in training and competition provide the basis for greater decreases in volume and intensity (de-training). When athletes de-train, we know this requires a longer and more passive return to full training and competition. However, this time is not now available to players, support staff and coaches alike to complete their preparation to fulfil the current season. Strategies need to be implemented to best prepare players for competition in a condensed time frame but with the reduced mitigation of injury. It is well publicised that injury susceptibility post lockdown will increase. This can be seen from the 2011 NFL lockout, early injury reports from the Bundesliga and horrific scenes in the NRL quite recently. It was therefore important that we at Sports & Wellbeing Analytics alongside OPRO could support our partners, using the PROTECHT system and help them to implement a graded impact loading strategy. This was well supported by not only science but also by applied practice in ways to allow technical and tactical coaches to seamlessly adapt in this high-pressure situation.

Taking these new data sets from elite rugby union for match collision demands, our sports analytics experts developed what is currently, the only intensity collision-based variables and then provided analysis which isn’t available from other monitoring devices.

We were able to apply these data insights to well used and documented acute chronic workload ratio (ACWR) loading guides. This provided the understanding and basis to introduce impact residual training; this could be tumbles, break falls and down ups in-home training maintenance phases.

These qualities then underpin the graded increases in contact load and intensity over the coming weeks through structured and periodized team training. This impact loading strategy provided our partners with a key understanding and insight to new data available from current elite match exposures in rugby, as well as an appropriate loading scale, with training recommendations and drill designs supporting the player’s performance and personal wellbeing within the contact demands of the sport.

To learn more about PROTECHT’s head impact monitoring technology, visit swa.one.