The Growing Role of Video for Injury Assessment in Professional Sports

The Growing Role of Video for Injury Assessment in Professional Sports

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.“ 

Leading rugby union performance analyst Marc Carter is innovating the use of video analysis for injury assessment and return to play.

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.”

The safeguarding of players from head injuries has become a key point of modern rugby at all levels.

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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