House on the Hill: Monitoring Success

October 15, 2014

Excruciating foot pain that resulted in stress fractures kept Kelly Boyce out of more high school soccer games than she cares to recall.

While at the Pennington School, the New Jersey native also was hampered by countless pulled muscles and tendonitis in both knees that only caused more heartache and time away from the field, Boyce's worst nightmare.

Once she arrived at Lafayette College, some unexpected technology became Boyce's best friend. Thanks to a large donation to the women's soccer team Boyce's freshman year, coach Mick Statham opted to use the money to purchase heart monitors, part of the Polar Team 2 Pro software --- the same system used by the U.S. Women's National team --- that each player wears for every practice, game and weightlifting session.

Senior Kelly Boyce 

"In the offseason, I spend a lot of time trying to improve myself as a coach, researching as much as I can,"  Statham said. "I was looking at injury prevention and it's just a way of using more technology to factor into training sessions to help monitor players. It's been kind of a revelation.

Since the Leopards started using Polar Team 2 Pro --- monitors that track heart rates and use computer software to calculate the level of effort and intensity during a game or training session --- Boyce hasn't been sidelined once by a pulled muscle, nor have her stress fractures returned. Overuse injuries have become a thing of Boyce's past.

Boyce isn't the only Leopard, though, to benefit from the training software.

"It's a tremendous asset to be able to decrease overuse and muscular injuries," said Dawn Comp, Lafayette's senior associate athletic trainer.

"Other injuries you see are part of the game...like sprained ankles. When you slide tackle somebody, there's not much you can do. But from a muscle injury standpoint, we have had a definite decrease with our women's soccer players and that goes hand in hand with how coach Statham handles his training and his preparation.”

Most times when you think of heart monitors you think of equipment that is simply tracking your heart rate. This system, though, does so much more. It has allowed Statham to keep tabs on every player's heart rate, which, when entered into the computer via the accompanying software, tells him how hard they are working, a key factor in preventing injuries such as strained hamstrings and quad muscles, tendonitis and stress fractures.

Once all the players' monitors have been removed (they are attached to a strap that goes right under their sports bras), Statham breaks down each player's training load, which is an accumulation of points for effort. If a player is working hard, she usually accumulates three points per minute of effort. If a player falls in the “above threshold” category, that means her heart is working at 89 percent and higher of her maximum heart rate. The maximum heart rate is the number of beats per minute she is under the most stress.

The software then helps Statham calculate the recovery time each player needs. For example, if the monitor analyzed after a game shows that a particular player's heart rate during a game was above the threshold for 60 minutes of 90 minutes, that, Statham said, is something he takes very seriously and adjusts that player's upcoming workout.

“If I see that, I factor that into the equivalent of a second game on their body and take that into account for the recovery process,” Statham said. “What they do at practice the next day will be lower impact. It's absolutely fascinating, and I can't imagine not using it now. When you're creating training sessions, you start to see the affects on the players physically. Sometimes you think a session you put together is hard and then you look at the heart rate software and you realize it wasn't as hard as you thought; and it happens in reverse as well. As a coach that is so helpful because up to that point, you're kind of guessing.”

During her career, Boyce, Statham said, consistently has had the highest training load of anyone, and it means that she's not always taking part in the same workouts as her teammates. Initially, that created some wonderment among others on the team. But it didn't take long for everyone to understand that each player is different. It wasn't always easy for Boyce to tone down her intensity, but she has since she realized how important it has been to make those adjustments.

"I am gym rat and I constantly move all the time and need to be doing something," Boyce said. "I know now I need to slow down at times. Even though I think my body can do more, it can't."

The Polar Team 2 system was about $10,000, something the women's soccer team has because of a generous donor, and Statham can't imagine not being able to take advantage of all the technology has to offer.

“Any time a player gets a little bit of a muscle injury or soft tissue injury, I take that a little personally because I think that has a lot to do with our training,” he said. “We had a pretty low soft tissue injury on our team, and I think it's because of this. It does add quite a bit of work because you have to input all the information. But it's definitely worth it.”

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill