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When Notre Dame's Director of Sports Science Matt Howley first started working with the men's soccer team over three years ago, head coach Bobby Clark gave him the reigns to revise their fitness training program.
A significant part of Howley's revision was the introduction of a new athlete monitoring technology called Catapult.
The GPS device is fairly small, no bigger than a bar of soap, and it fits snugly into a pocket that sits between the shoulder blades on compression shirts worn beneath the players' jerseys. Using satellite technology, the device measures things like how far or fast a player runs, how many times they sprint in a game, and various body movements, to name a few.
The Catapult device
The measurement Howley looks at most, though, is 'player load', a number that, simply put, encompasses all of an athlete's movements to represent the total output of an athlete. "[Player load] takes into account what speed you're running at, how many accelerations you're doing, how many decelerations you're doing, how many times you change direction (front and back, side to side, up and down), all that kind of stuff," said Howley.
The soccer team wears these devices in all of their games and practices. On the surface, game data collected by the system provides some fascinating numbers.
The highest speed recorded by a player in a game, for example, is 33.4 kilometers per hour (about 20.8 miles per hour) by sophomore forward Jon Gallagher. Data from the devices has also shown that the players run, on average, about 6.8 miles in a game.
While these numbers alone are intriguing, the technology accomplishes so much more than just measuring who ran the fastest or the furthest in a game. The Catapult system is an invention that has truly transformed the fitness program of the men's soccer team, which is exactly what Coach Clark asked Howley to do.
For Howley and the soccer team, gathering data from games is essential in the larger goal of helping athletes perform at their highest level while also staying away from injury.
Once game data from the devices is collected and analyzed, the performance requirements for a typical soccer game can be determined. Then, Matt and the coaches can use that information to efficiently map out their practices and training for a given week.
"When we're planning practice, we look at the data so we can know what's easy and what's hard," said Howley. "The biggest thing is, you can train however you want to train but you need to understand the demands of your game to actually be on a program. By monitoring it and understanding the load you did in a game you can then adjust your training load - do more, do less. By having everything charted, then we can be proactive. We know if we do X drill, we're going to accumulate on average X kind of effort. We will then know what drills to do [in practice]."
Howley monitors the GPS data live during a recent practice. The system updates every two seconds. Howley keeps track of player loads for each block or drill of practice as well as the accumulated player load over the entire session for each player.
Not only does the data, and especially player load measurements, collected from the devices help the coaches decide which sessions and drills in practice will help players achieve optimum performance in game scenarios, but it also helps the coaching staff monitor fatigue and, in result, decrease the likelihood of injury in their players.
When it comes to fatigue and injury, Howley says, the high intensity movements, such as sprinting, are the ones he monitors most closely.
"We know that those higher intensity movements are the ones that can potentially be the most harming but, they're essentially instances that can win us games," said Howley. "So, if we can have them better maintained and healthier at that point, we can then ensure we're able to perform on game day."
Noticing fatigue represented in the data is one thing. But, making conscious decisions in response is more challenging.
"The hardest thing to figure out is what to do with the information and how to convey that to a coach," said Howley. "I like to think we're now in a position where we're able to use it week to week and actually make some informed decisions."
Those informed decisions could be changing the intensity of a practice or just giving the players a day off altogether.
When I spoke to Howley last Wednesday, the team was coming off a six day stretch where they played in two double overtime games and one single overtime game. Based on the Catapult data and more subjective measures, such as wellness questionnaires given to the players, a decision was made to give those who played the most minutes an extra day off.
These decisions, though, are not made my Howley alone. The entire coaching staff gets a chance to analyze and apply the Catapult information that is collected.
Howley also sends an individualized report to the players after every game so that they can see what kind of data is being recorded and how they are performing. "The coaches get a report every day," said Howley. "We give the coaches a little more information [than the players], though that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily understand it any more. We just give [the players] game data and some basic running information."
So, what numbers do the players focus on the most?
"For them, it's all about top speed," said Howley. "It's never 'how much distance did I run?' It's usually 'how fast did I go?' It's a competition between the guys."
Once they get past the speed element, though, Howley says the devices are helping the players better understand and appreciate the training process.
"The guys, in some sense, are really trusting," said Howley. "They know that we know how we're managing them and that there's a reason for everything. It's not like we just come out here and train. There's a rationale behind what we do and a reason that the day before a game looks the way it does and why they get days off when they do. It's all planned out."
Captain Max Lachowecki is in his fifth year on the team and has been here throughout the entire process of incorporating the Catapult system. Lachowecki acknowledges the impact of the system on the team's fitness regimen. "[Matt] completely changed the culture around our fitness program and the way we do things," said Lachowecki.
And while Max said it's "cool" to see the results from the game in terms of the effort he's putting out, he understands that there's a deeper effect as well.
"It's a confidence boost for us going into each game knowing that we are the fittest team in the country," said Lachowecki. "There's no reason that a team should outwork us. It's all mental at that point."
So far, the revitalized fitness program has had plenty of chances to prove it's worth. The men's team has played in seven overtime or double overtime games this season. Their record in these games is two wins, zero losses, and five ties. Being able to stay in the game is, in large part, due to the fitness of the team, something Howley credits to more than just the Catapult system.
"If we hadn't gone to the structure, the program, the philosophy we use, we wouldn't be at this level," said Howley. "That all stems from the underlying of the coaching and those kinds of things that we instilled three years ago. But [Catapult] gives us the ability to provide the coaches and the guys with more information."
While Howley works closely with the men's soccer squad, they aren't the only team using this technology. The women's soccer team has been using Catapult for four years and men's and women's lacrosse as well as women's basketball have been using it for two years. The hockey, football, and volleyball teams have all done trials with the system and, according to Howley, will likely adopt it completely in the near future if funding is available.
Outside of Notre Dame, the system is even more popular. It is being used on a regular basis by 15 NFL teams, 11 NBA teams, 2 NHL teams, 35 schools in the NCAA, and countless professional rugby and soccer teams internationally.
If you ask Bobby Clark about the fitness of his team, he'll give almost all of the credit to Matt Howley and his implementation of the Catapult system. How does Howley feel about that?
"[Catapult] definitely helps," said Howley. "I wouldn't say it's the ultimate reason, but without it we wouldn't be able to make some of the decisions we've been able to make."
Happy Throwback Thursday! Now is a great time to look back on some of the amazing team photos that have been taken over the years. Here are my personal favorites.
#4: 1990 Tracksuits
Tracksuits are definitely one of the most memorable parts of the '80s and '90s. I love the triangular pose and the amazing hairstyles in this shot.
#3: 2002 Emerging from the Lakes
For some reason, in 2002 our very own men's soccer team decided to get into the lake with their uniforms on and and take an intimidating photo. Whether or not this shot was meant to be humorous is still up in the air. Also, in case you forgot what emerging means the definition is provided below. The question I have is, what exactly are they emerging from? This one is hilarious! This is also a year that the team made an appearance in the NCAA tournament
#2: 1992 Greased Lightnin': Geared for Success
What's better than a photo of soccer players? A photo of soccer players and racecars. I am not entirely sure how racecars are related to the game of soccer but this honestly is a beautiful picture for so many reasons. And there are more tracksuits, an obvious staple of the '90s.
2 years is not much of a throwback but this picture definitely tops every other one yet to be taken. Just looking at how happy the team is in this picture puts a smile on my face. Hopefully, we can make our way into the NCAA Championship yet again this year! Go Irish!!
While our student-athletes have been working hard in preparation for the start of the fall season, we've also made a few improvements in anticipation of the new school year.
From this point forward, Irish UNDerground will be utilizing the Wordpress platform powered by NBC Sports.
Here's a look at our three new blog websites:
: Notre Dame Athletics
Strong and True
: Notre Dame Football
: Notre Dame Men's and Women's Soccer
Go ahead and bookmark these now. With features, videos, photos, commentaries and news from inside the athletic department, we are committed to bringing you coverage of Notre Dame athletics unlike any you can find elsewhere.
Get ready. 2012-13 is going to be an exciting year to be Irish.
- Linebacker Manti Te'o was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Football Club announced Tuesday ... the Bednarik Award is presented to college football's best defensive player ... Te'o leads the Irish with 82 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and four and a half sacks ... he has already set career highs this year in tackles for loss and sacks ... Te'o has recorded at least 10 tackles in six of eight games this year and he leads the Irish in solo tackles, assisted tackles and tackles on running plays ... among all middle or inside linebackers in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, Te'o ranks tied for first in solo tackles for loss, tied for first in solo sacks, second in total sacks,second in total tackles for loss, second in tackles for loss per game and third in sacks per game.
- The LSU-Alabama game this weekend has prompted lots of revisiting of previous No. 1 vs. No. 2 college games ... SI.com's Richard Rothschild rated the best previous regular-season collisions based on quality of the game, impact on the season and long-term ramifications - and he put 1946 Notre Dame-Army 10th on his list, 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State sixth and 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State fifth.
- Through eight games, Notre Dame's Tommy Rees has completed 179 passes for an average of 22.375 per game ... if Rees continues that pace and the Irish play 13 games, Rees would finish with 291 completions - one short of Brady Quinn's Notre Dame single-season record of 292 from 2005 ... Rees has played only about the equivalent of one full season, but his career .641 pass completion percentage is the best in Notre Dame history ... he needs one more TD pass to match (1943 Heisman Trophy winner) Angelo Bertelli's career total and four more to catch Joe Theismann at 31.
- Michael Floyd ranks second nationally among active players in career pass receptions and career reception yards ... through eight games he has caught 63 balls - for an average of 7.875 per game ... if he continues that pace and the Irish play 13 games he would finish with 102 catches (which would easily eclipse Golden Tate's Irish single-season record of 93 from 2009) ... Floyd currently has 1,025 receiving yards (128.125 per game) - which would project to 1,665 over 13 games (better than Tate's single-season Notre Dame record of 1,496 from 2009).
- Saturday is the seventh annual National College Football Day, originally created by the Cotton Bowl Classic.
- Anders Lee has been selected as the RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month for October ... the 6-3, 227-pound left wing has helped the fourth-ranked Irish get off to a strong 5-2 start this season as he has scored at least one goal in all seven games, with a two-goal effort and a hat trick thrown in for good measure ... after seven contests, Lee leads both the conference and the nation with 10 goals and has added three assists for 13 points.
- Melissa Henderson scored in the ninth minute off a pinpoint service by junior defender Jazmin Hall and Notre Dame used a stellar defensive performance to defeat No. 5/9 Marquette, 1-0, in a BIG EAST Conference Championship quarterfinal women's soccer match on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Valley Fields in Milwaukee ... Henderson's goal -- her career high-tying 18th of the season, and 70th of her brilliant career, as well as a school-record 24th career match-winning goal -- lifted the Fighting Irish into the BIG EAST Championship semifinals for the 15th time in Notre Dame's 17 years as a conference member ... the Fighting Irish will square off with BIG EAST National Division champion Louisville in a tournament semifinal match at 3 p.m. (ET) Friday in Morgantown, W.Va., with CBS Sports Network televising the contest live from Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
- Less than 24 hours after an exhausting five-set defeat at Connecticut, Notre Dame recovered to down host St. John's, 3-1 (25-19, 17-25, 25-22, 25-20) in BIG EAST Conference volleyball action Sunday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y. ... with its fourth straight win in the 19-match series with the Red Storm, Notre Dame concluded its recent road escapades that spanned 11,309 miles in the air and on the road since Oct. 8 ... coming through with a second straight double-double - and her sixth of the season - was Kristen Dealy, who led the Irish with 15 kills (.378) ... Dealy also had 11 digs and a pair of blocks.
- The men's soccer team closes its regular season at noon (ET) today at Alumni Stadium against Seton Hall - and the Irish are hoping a win in that one would translate into a home play-in game Thursday in the BIG EAST Championships.
- The men's golf team closes its fall season today at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas.
- Notre Dame's basketball teams kick off their seasons with exhibition games this week - the men at 7:30 p.m. (ET) tonight against St. Xavier and the #2-rated (AP) women at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Windsor (Ontario) ... both games are at Purcell Pavilion.
- District Academic All-America ballots feature five Irish women's soccer players, four football players and two men's soccer players.
After its game has been rescheduled multiple times, the men's soccer team is anxious to face the Seton Hall Pirates on Tuesday.
First postponed earlier in the month due to non-tropical South Bend weather and then pushed back from Monday because of weather-related travel issues face by Seton Hall, the long awaited match will be played at the odd mid-week and midday time of noon (ET).
Notre Dame holds an overall record of 8-4-4 and is looking forward to improving upon its BIG EAST record of 4-3-1. The Pirates hold a record of 4-10-2 overall and a conference record of 4-2-1.
The Irish are coming off of a 2-0 loss to West Virginia on Saturday, despite the fact that West Virginia only outshot the Irish 10-9.
Saturday's game was a big day for nine Irish seniors: Brendan King, Greg Klazura, Aaron Maund, Sean McGrath, Adam Mena, Michael Rose, Chris Sutton and Will Walsh.
Senior Day is often one of the last times graduating players will ever play on their home turf. But as the luck of the Irish may have it, Tuesday's game against Seton Hall will provide a second Senior Day.
- Erin Ellis ('12)
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