Assess, quantify, understand: Technology and the battle to reduce injury risk

Participation in sport carries with it an inherent level of risk. Every time an athlete trains or takes to the field for a match, they are exposing themselves at some degree of risk of injury. If these risks are not assessed, quantified, and understood, then that amount of risk can significantly increase.

The introduction of monitoring technology in sports has enabled teams, coaches, and players to objectively understand the risk associated with their sports. This has helped to mitigate injury risk by giving organisations the objective data required to inform key coaching decisions. It would, of course, be inaccurate to claim that monitoring technologies can eliminate injuries altogether, but the insights they provide can be used to identify high-risk situations and protect athletes from those scenarios where possible.

As the use of monitoring technologies continues to develop, teams around the world are adopting a distinctive set of best practices that help them to more effectively manage risk. We’ve spoken to a number of teams from a cross-section of sports to find out how they are working to reduce the risks their athletes are exposed to.    

Reaching an objective understanding

The Lees-McRae Bobcats are an NCAA Division II program that prioritises the use of technology as an injury risk mitigation tool. Erin Barcal, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at Lees-McRae, uses Catapult technology specifically to reduce injury risk and structure training and recovery plans.

“We decided to implement Catapult at Lees-McRae Women’s Soccer from an injury prevention and athlete performance index standpoint,” Erin explains. “Catapult’s technology improves my job by giving our athletes numerical figures to strive for, while we can ensure their optimal safety and recovery to help navigate optimal performance standards.”

More specifically, wearable technology has enabled Erin to identify metrics that are significant for the awareness and mitigation of injury risk. “When it comes to injury prevention and recovery, we analyse Impact and PlayerLoad data to inform decisions around the planning of training and athlete recovery.”

Adopting an individualised approach

When it comes to protecting athletes from injury, the ability to individualise training to the specific needs of athletes can be invaluable. Both the DHL Stormers, one of the world’s best rugby franchises, and the Colorado School of Mines, a strong NCAA Division II program based in Golden, Colorado, take an individualised approach to injury risk mitigation.

The Stormers and Mines both individualise training by focusing on players at an individual level, rather than taking a uniform approach to the whole squad. By using technology as part of this process, both teams feel that they have improved their understanding of how to make the changes necessary to reduce the risk of avoidable injuries.

Chris van Zyl, a Lock with more than 30 Super Rugby appearances for the Stormers, outlined the benefits to the players of using monitoring technology to understand individual differences between athletes. “Through a combination of putting in our daily wellness and RPEs after every training session, our S&C coaches get an understanding of where we’re at and how we’re feeling. If there’s an issue of undertraining or overtraining, they will adjust our sessions accordingly to ensure they get the best out of us every day.”

Similarly, Greg Mulholland, Head Coach of the Mines Orediggers men’s soccer program, sees value in using Catapult technology to put players in the best possible physical condition each day. “We know who is ready to be pushed and who we need to taper each and every day. Our training has become much more individualised, even as a team sport, so that we are maximising our players every day.”