Lawrence — In August, after an open soccer practice in Kansas, coach Lance Leibold uttered the words “load management” as he explained why some players wouldn’t do what others were doing that day.
The two words are perhaps not unfamiliar to sports fans’ ears. They highlight how the team handles the workload of the individual or, in this case, the group. As Leibold further explained his rationale for the decision that day, he stated that they were trying to make sure these guys were in the best shape possible before the season opener.
But just because the game week leading up to the September 2 competition against Tennessee Tech came and went, not to mention West Virginia (September 10) and Houston (September 17), it doesn’t mean that they gave up their efforts to study the data they collect while monitoring player activity. Conceptually, what they’re doing now is no different than what they did at or before fall camp, said athletic performance director Matt Gelderslev on Wednesday. It’s still an important part of the weekly plan and dates back to the time he and Leibold were in Buffalo together.
How did the program start?
In 2019, when Gildersleeve began monitoring what he called his “player load,” he began contacting different schools about what normal practice was like for them. This was his first instinct. He wanted to gather information to see how his team stacked up and discern what a difficult practice looked like.
What Gildersleeve has found is that it is crucial to collect normative data on what has been applied to his software and how it works. It provides something to compare and evaluate with, in the way that the data on a wide receiver at Ohio State wasn’t helpful because the two teams didn’t train in the same way.
“Really, in the whole first year that we started tracking, it was all just collecting our benchmark data,” Gildersleeve said.
Think of this season’s game week in Kansas, with Gelderslev working with assistant performance coach Conor McNally and Gildersleaf returning to Buffalo for two seasons before joining Jay Hawk with Leibold in 2021.
In terms of the importance of carrying a training day, Monday is a low day that gets out of the game. Tuesday and Wednesday are higher days. Thursday is more of a mild, mental day before the highest day of any day – Game Day, which would be Saturday in this example.
Since Gildersleaf and McNally know how to practice in Kansas, they can compare the intensity of the days before the Houston game to the days before the West Virginia game. They can tell if, in a good way, the players are working out more during those Tuesday and Wednesday workouts. They can tell if they need to back off as a team, if they’re pushing too much.
“So, yes, we train for the sport,” Gelderslev said. “But my point is, to bring this back to the topic of normative data, it doesn’t matter how West Virginia practices. We care about how KS practices and what our practice model is. So, for us, to have a rhythmic cycle of how we practice and what our weeks look like, is critical because It allows us to prepare the athletes for that.”
It’s not just about what happens during game week either. The data that McNally collects and provides to Gildersleeve helps determine their plan for the season. From January to July through the end of the year, they build towards the peak of the most significant pregnancy that may be present in the week of the season.
“Connor is the best in the country in this area, so people will reach out to us all the time and ask us questions,” Gelderslev said. Or they’ll ask me, ‘Hey, what’s your advice on these things? We’re about to get started with Catapult. Can you share your information? I’m like, “Yeah. It wouldn’t do anything for you, because you need to know, like, what week is it? Because if our week of practice is half of what a week of your practice is…”
“Don’t take our things,” said McNally.
“Yes,” Gilderslev agreed. “Your comrades will be largely unprepared. And vice versa.”
How can this appear with a player in a given week
As Gildersleeve said, Kansas uses wearable technology through the Catapult that can track various data with athletes during a practice or game. There are also strength boards in the weight room that men jump on each week that provide more insight. They also use the so-called NordBord, which measures hamstring strength.
All of these have their applicability within a given week.
Say McNally, who tracks data live on each exercise, continues on his computer as he normally would. Although Gildersleeve noted that this is much rarer now with men than when they first started doing it, McNally might see someone like red-moon wide receiver Lawrence Arnold – up more than 10% than he was before. McNally was teaching Gildersleaf because this is a red flag.
This is probably the 20th period of practice in one day they have 28. They may not shut down Arnold right away. But Gildersleeve has let wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel know what the data shows and left that decision up to Samuel, while also potentially preparing to grab Arnold after a workout for a more intentional recovery.
This is one example.
Suppose, in fact, that Arnold’s pregnancy fell in a certain week. Gildersleeve and McNally will first look to see if it was by chance, if Arnold didn’t run as many deep roads as usual or lost time during training due to an equipment issue. They will also look to see if there is a buildup of fatigue, which could be a problem.
Enter Arnold’s force plate data, which Gildersleeve’s interpretation of it sums up as “the speed at which he produces force.” McNally agreed that this is a simplified way of putting it. If, for Arnold, it slowed down too much, Gilderslev and McNally would look at each other and go, “Better make some adjustments here.”
This example can lead to an analysis of how much Arnold has exercised, if he has any recovery issues or even if he is sleeping properly.
Suppose, on the other hand, that Arnold received his best score on the Nordboard recently. Arnold is a player who has a huge player load. For someone like that, Gildersleeve has been constantly looking at NordBord data due to concern about fatigue leading to a serious injury unrelated to the end of the season.
“But when Connor gives me his Nordboard score and I see we’re in week four, he’s literally the strongest ever, he’s got the best reading of his Nordboard scores, we start, ‘Okay, he obviously doesn’t get tired,'” Gildersleeve said. training, and it becomes more efficient.”
How Gelderslev and McNally moved from Buffalo to Kansas
Moving from Buffalo to KS did not require a reset to the year spent obtaining the necessary normative data.
As McNally explained, they had their own practice model. They knew what to look for athletes to deal with.
But what was difficult about getting to a new place was that they didn’t know what the players had been through in the past. They did not know the starting point. So, McNally said they started conservatively for two weeks and then gradually started building on that.
“How do we determine what we need to prepare for?” McNally said. “And then equip them appropriately to deal with these demands, so that in the long run we can train more, and we can train more seriously. We do it in a smart way.”
And given the growing resources with the transition from a Group of Five program in college football to one program at the Power Five level, McNally has allowed it to definitely be easier to accomplish what they plan to do.
Gelderslev noted more work, but easier.
Which McNally has no problem with.
Now their vision of the team can be broader. Not only do they have to spread, say, 12 catapult units between attack and defense – six on each side. Their focus can extend far beyond potential beginners.
It is important to know what is expected of a midfielder. But this player may not take as many special team delegates in the same way as backup. The team won’t have many ideas about what the latter should be prepared to deal with, which could increase injury risks.
“So, if you take the non-special teams linebacker and say, ‘Well… the specials guy should be prepared to deal with what the rookie does,’” McNally said. “Well, it’s really like two slightly different positions because that guy The reserve, yes, he should be ready to play quarterback, but he also has the requirements of what comes with every special teams unit.”
If they have 44 units instead of 12, they can analyze both the novices in attack and defense and others who have crucial roles.
Combine that with the training crew led by Leibold who has bought into what they do, and they’ll feel very lucky.
“I would argue by saying that Coach Leibold is the most sane in the country with this stuff, just accepting,” Gelderslev said. “You go to the strength and conditioning conference, there — we sit there and tell people the approval we have from our staff and our head coach. People just start drooling, like, ‘What?’ how could you?'”
“What or what?” McNally added, laughing.
How is the Kansas Football Program progressing
Last season, McNally started tracking Quentin Skinner with a Catapult probably midway through the season. Skinner, who was then a junior wide and is now a sophomore of the Redshirt, did not play offensively but was used frequently on special teams. McNally admitted, they probably should have realized this sooner, but realized that Skinner had the ability to run about 22 mph while covering kickoff.
This season, Gelderslev said junior junior racer Tori Lucklin set a record for how fast he sprinted during the win in Houston. McNally volunteered who came on the 60-yard Lucklin hunt. Loughlin was running at about 21 miles per hour.
There are no two examples that say using Catapult led to these results, but they do show how McNally and Gelderslev can determine what happens to players. And given how fluid the space your catapult and everything else they use is part of it, the highlights a year from now might be different because the way you operate might be.
As the resources become available, Gildersleeve said they will continue to use and explore them. They want to evolve. What they’re doing this year isn’t exactly what they did last year, and what they’ll do next year will likely look different, too.
“We will never allow ourselves to just say, ‘Hey, we’re at the top of sports science and we’re doing some major things,'” Gildersleif said. Like, we want to stay on top of that.”
McNally routinely brings something new to Gildersleeve, whether it’s research or an idea of a piece of data that can give them a better picture of what they’re looking for. There’s a list of things they talk about, and McNally said there’s no shortage of discussion topics. The only thing on McNally’s mind is to keep diving deeper into how the ways they use catapults and power plates overlap.
“I have a very good little section on notes, like questions you want to get an answer to,” McNally said. “And obviously it’s exciting and we’re very fortunate to be able to have the resources that we have to try and figure out some of these things.”
Jordan Guskey covers the University of Kansas Athletics in The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.
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