GPS to track Proteas fitness

2012-01-07 00:00

AS professional sport in South Africa continues to grow, teams are always scrambling to find new ways to gain an edge over opponents.

Some teams have looked to the business world for inspiration.

When Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin, was asked what his secret to success is, he said: “I do exactly what the other billionaires do, I just do it smarter.”

This was precisley the inspiration for a stronger focus on sports science within the Proteas.

Through their association with sponsors Powerade, the team have been tracking the performance levels of top players since the beginning of the ongoing Sri Lanka series through the use of individual GPS units which are attached to players.

With these units, the Proteas conditioning coaches can monitor the distance the players cover while walking, sprinting and jogging, and then a total of all three.

Proteas conditioning coach Rob Walter feels this system makes his job easier and gives South Africa an edge in certain areas of the game.

Walter said: “Cricket is a very underestimated sport when it comes to workload demands on players.

“There is a lot of strain which is put on the bodies of cricket players, especially fast bowlers.

“With this system, we can see where has been the area of highest demand and we can work on improving those aspects.”

And when one looks at the statistics, one can see his point.

The Powerade Performance Tracker said that while in the field on the first day of the second Test in Durban, Dale Steyn sprinted 2,2 km, jogged 5,7 km, and walked 12,6 km — bringing his total to 20,5 km.

Fellow fast bowlers Morné Morkel and Marchant de Lange covered 24,3 km and 22 km respectively.

This shows that the Proteas worked a lot harder during the second Test. During the first Test in Pretoria, Steyn covered 24,6 km during the whole Test while Morkel covered 27,3 km.

Fortunately the turnaround time from one Test to another is usually about a week, which gives players time to recover from muscle soreness. But the second Test ended on December 30 and the third Test started in Cape Town on Tuesday — giving players only three days to recover.

“We will treat the third Test as we have treated recovery during the game. We will use gaps in the conditioning schedule which will be used for recovery. Just before the second day of the Kingsmead Test, we took the players down to the beach and let them have a swim in the sea.

“The decrease in temperature aids in muscle rebuilding and reduces the risk of delayed onset of muscle soreness,” said Walter ahead of the Newlands Test.

The statistics show that Test cricket players are the sportsmen in the world that cover the most distance over a game.

But this is over five days and a better comparison would be the workload of a one day international player in comparison to other sports.

Simon Opperman, from the Department of Sport Science at Stellenbosch University, told the Weekend Witness that this is why they print the stats per day rather than over the whole Test.

“Similar GPS units are used in other sports and show that Australian Rules football players cover an average of 13,24 km a game while a midfielder in football covers an average of 10,47 km a game and a centre playing rugby covers 6,6 km  a game,” said Opperman.

The units are relatively small and are not attached to wires so are not cumbersome, but they do need to be physically attached to players as opposed to the units used in the English Premier Soccer League which are fitted into player’s boots.

“We started developing this system a few years ago and we were testing it during the Australian series in October, but we have only been implementing it during the Sri Lanka series. The feedback we have gotten from Cricket South Africa has been positive, not only from the coaches, but also from players who want to improve their own fitness more than the conditioning coaches,” said Opperman.

He said the biggest challenge that they face is getting the players to switch their units on. An option could be to use the same units which are used in English football, which are switched on and off as the game goes on by people on the side of the field.

Although it seems like a novelty that will fade away as time goes on, Walter feels that these units are a look to the future.

“In a world where teams are desperate to get any advantage over the opposition, these units move beyond novelty. They are the way of the future,” he said.

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