Sitting behind a desk at a computer, going through mind-numbing pages of data, doesn’t sound like the work of a strength and conditioning coach.
But as director of Baylor Athletics new Applied Performance department, that’s exactly what Andrew Althoff will be doing.
Based off the European and Australian High Performance model that’s been used more internationally with rugby and soccer, Applied Performance tries to monitor the additional stressors of a college setting and how they affect athletic performance.
“Everything that stresses a student-athlete - physical, psychological or social - we want to make sure we’re aware of it, and find ways to assess that, to make sure we’re putting the athlete as a whole in a great position to be successful,” said Althoff, who was formerly an Associate Director of Athletic Performance.
“We felt Applied Performance was a more applicable title for us, because we’re trying to find out what’s going on with these guys, how we can best manage these stressors, and apply it to performance.”
While some of the technology has begun creeping into the U.S. with NBA and NFL teams, Baylor is definitely on the cutting edge in the collegiate world.
“We spent a lot of time talking to people, both state-side and internationally, about what they’re doing, what they believe in,” Althoff said, “and then taking it to our setting, with our individual athletes and our facilities and resources, and how we can structure it where it works best for us.”
The idea has been “on the radar” for more than two years, but Baylor began the process last summer with wellness monitoring of its football student-athletes through self-reporting questionnaires that cover everything from sleep and nutrition to academic and emotional stress.
“The first thing is we’ve got to have great relationships with our student-athletes,” Althoff said. “And that starts out with communication with those guys on a daily basis. (In the questionnaires), they’ll tell us how much sleep they’ve had, how good was their sleep, how good was their nutrition, how stressed out they are, how sore they are, where they’re sore. Then, we take all that information . . . and as the data stacks up, we look for trends.”
Through the wellness monitoring, student-athletes can get advice on the areas where they need to improve to produce the maximum performance in competitions.
“Whereas your performance might be very closely related to your nutrition, somebody else’s might be related to how much sleep they’re getting,” Althoff said. “So, we’re able to individualize. Now, we can be specific and say, `I want you to work on this one habit.’ Yeah, there are a bunch of things we can do, but I want you to specifically work on this habit.”
That can be as simple as taking 10 or 20 minutes a day to “just take a nice, relaxing nap, kind of kick your feet up and calm everything down,” Althoff said.
Another aspect of Applied Performance that was phased in during football training camp in August 2013 was the Catapult GPS devices that monitor how fast and far athletes are traveling during practice and training.
The small monitors, which look like mini walkie-talkies, are placed in pouches and strapped to the back of a player’s shoulder pads during a football practice. And the GPS units monitor max speeds, changes of direction and distance covered.
“Say you went 3,000 yards at practice. Well, 200 of those yards were 90-plus percent of your top velocity,” Althoff said. “And then, this many yards were between 75 percent. So, we can break it down into velocity ranges.”
Here’s where it gets difficult, particularly as you try to take this department-wide to all the other sports. The Catapult GPS monitoring spits out more than 400 lines of data “per athlete, per practice,” Althoff said.
“Really, one of the only issues with this is too much information,” he said. “My biggest job is to filter what’s important, and then give tangible action steps based off of the data that I found, so that it’s not just a bunch of information.”
Applied Performance also uses heart-rate and Omegawave monitoring, which uses sensors to assess how an athlete’s body is responding to previous exertion while providing insights to optimize the next training session. Just last week, Omegawave was recognized by UK-based Sports Technology Awards as the developer of the “Best Performance Technology for Elite Athletes.”
“We can use the Catapult GPS and what we do here in the weight room to measure the external lode,” Althoff said, “and then we can use the Omegawave to measure the internal response, or how the body’s adapting to the stress that we’re applying to it.”
Through Project 1, a collaboration model that’s attracted attention and approval from the NCAA office, there are also monthly meetings with representatives from other departments that have direct influences on student-athletes - including academic services, compliance, student life and spiritual life.
“We all work together, and we all have the same goals,” Althoff said. “We all want to win. So, how can we work together to make sure we’re doing that? I think it all starts with communication.”
Down the road, as the program transitions to department-wide, there will be other things added like sleep monitoring. “The athletes tell us how much they slept and how good it is, but now we’ll have actual numbers and specific data that we can correlate to performance,” Althoff said.
Without the support of Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw, football head coach Art Briles and Kaz Kazadi, Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Performance, Althoff said the Applied Performance department “wouldn’t have got off the ground.”
“Their leadership and vision to understand that this is the next thing, and let’s get out on the front and be trend-setters and be the standard,” he said. “It really is fun to work with Coach Kaz and the rest of the staff. There are no egos. It’s just a bunch of humble people, rolling up their sleeves and going to work and making sure we can protect the student-athletes and do whatever we can to put them in a great position to succeed.”