It’s well-known that video analysis plays a pivotal part in training, match preparation, previews and reviews, but innovative performance analysts are now working alongside medical staff, using analysis software to assess on-field injuries and aid the management of return to play protocols.
Leading rugby union performance analyst Marc Carter has over 13 years of experience in senior analysis roles for the Welsh Rugby Union, Scarlets Rugby and now the Hong Kong Rugby Union. His professional career has coincided with dramatic change in the way injuries are assessed at the highest level of rugby - in particular head-related injuries.
The growing importance of video analysis for injury assessment:
“When I was working in Wales with the Welsh Rugby Union, one of my roles was to support the national team’s medical professionals monitoring games for injuries or incidents that require a head injury assessment (HIA),” said Carter.
“We would have one analyst based in the medical room with six camera angles supporting a doctor specifically assigned to watch and identify potential injuries. This was combined with medical staff around the stadium watching each player for signs of possible injury or symptoms. The Welsh Rugby Union put a huge emphasis on this area of support for the players to protect their long-term health and well-being.
"These days, as you probably saw during the Rugby World Cup, it's become a huge part of the game with regular stops in play for HIA’s. This is something I believe is essential to support and protect the health of the athletes.“
The growing role of the analyst in injury identification and assessment
It’s not just game analysis that the modern analyst will be tasked with delivering. Injury identification and assessment are clearly a new level of value that an analyst provides.
“Things like injury assessment are historically not something you would be involved in and there was not that much detail and data around injuries, which has obviously changed now,” said Carter.
“Our role is to help inform and educate on the use of data because it not only affects the athlete, Coaches but the medical staffs decision making.
Carter continues “The education and understanding of the data is key to the health and welfare of the players both short and long-term . I'm continually working with the medical, S&C and coaching staff trying to be a gage for what data I think we can use, which will have a positive impact upon the team on and off the field.”
How does technology fit into this process of identifying injuries during live matches?
“So in-game, during internationals, Myself and a match doctor will sit watching a six camera view monitor feed through Hudl Sportscode to review any incidents, be it a tackle, collision at the breakdown or anything else identified, which could be an issue for our players and require a HIA,” We have the ability to switch camera angles and watch frame by frame live in-game said Carter.
“The whole process and detail around identifying and assessing injuries has expanded exponentially in recent years and this is something implemented right through international and professional rugby across the globe”
The whole process and detail around identifying and assessing injuries has expanded exponentially in recent years and this is something implemented right through international and professional rugby across the globe.
Developing return to play plans
Another aspect of how the role of a performance analyst supporting medical staff has developed is surrounding players’ return to play from injury. Analysts monitor how players are adapting and acclimatizing to the rigors of training. The analytical data is assessed by the medical staff who can permit and manage the incremental increase of training load and intensity to the point that players can return to action.
“We have performance markers for all players and use GPS data to inform how many metres, for instance, a player should be running to achieve a fitness level that is suitable for a specific position and the in game demands.
“We also align that with the average physical impact each position endures each game (eg: tackles, carries, rucks and set pieces). The understanding that not every player has the same game involvements and data is so important to give that individual player the ability to achieve match fitness.
“In Hong Kong we have developed a return to play protocol where if you play in a certain position, you have to achieve of X involvements in a game and X amount of GPS metres to run per week,” explained Carter.
“It’s a pyramid-style build up during the training week. For example, if a player is returning from a shoulder operation and the medical staff have an estimated eight-week return to play timeframe, I can inform them that a player in that position would average 40 involvements per game of which 25 are collisions.
“Hopefully by the last couple of weeks the player will progress gradually to full training, increasing their involvements and collisions until both medical staff and player feel ready to play.”
So if a player returning has played for our team for two years, we will have all of their statistics tackles, passes, rucks etc tagged on Hudl Sportscode from that time.
The role of software in return from injury plans
Rather than judging by the coach's eye or a player’s word that they are ready for action, As mentioned above key metrics for training loads are monitored through the use of video analysis software to best judge through statistical evidence when a player should return to play.
“When producing a return to injury plan, I’ll use past game footage to produce the necessary statistics,” said Carter.
“So if a player returning has played for our team for two years, we will have all of their statistics tackles, passes, rucks etc tagged on Hudl Sportscode from that time.
“I can then produce a stats page or output window of what that player’s average collisions and involvements were during that time.
“Then in training, I’ll use an iPad to look at things like tackle technique, where we can see if the returning player is falling off a couple of tackles, and we know to limit or control the amount of collisions allowed.
“So predominantly our iPad work really lets us put a microscope on the player’s skill execution and also keep track of how many impacts they are doing.”
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