Using Tech and Data to Reduce Injuries in Contact Sports

In “Moneyball,” best-selling author Michael Lewis describes how the Oakland A’s famously used sabermetrics data to overachieve in – and eventually reinvent – Major League Baseball (MLB).

Now, Wales-based Sports and Wellbeing Analytics (SWA) is using what could be called “safermetrics” — technology and data analytics to reduce injuries in contact sports related to head trauma.

The company has developed a mouthguard filled with sensors that sends data to SAP S/4HANA Cloud. In the same way the A’s transformed professional sports by creating a new way of looking at statistics, SWA wants to redefine the way sports are played from a safety perspective.

“In short, we call it ‘Performance Through Welfare,’ and that’s what this is about,” SWA CEO Chris Turner said. “For players, this is about safety. For coaches, it is about performance. By taking advantage of the data, you can instill safety into performance.”

The mouthguard does not prevent injuries in contact sports resulting in concussions, which have become the basis of a major discussion and put the parents of every athlete on edge. But the technology’s goal is to create an atmosphere that is accepting of change based on the head trauma data that the platform gathers.

The platform, Protech, is the combination of the mouthguard, the technology that transmits data from training and games to a computer, and the software that allows the data to be analyzed in the right ways.

Protech was piloted with the Welsh rugby team Ospreys and is now being used by other rugby teams. It is also gaining attention in other contact sports seeking injury prevention, such as boxing, ice hockey, and even Olympic bobsledding.

Though it may sound unwieldy, fitted with a rechargeable battery and sensors that transmit data, the mouthguard itself is only five grams heavier than a normal mouthguard.

According to Turner, the tricky part was programming the mouthguard to consider and eliminate many of the false positives that would naturally come as a byproduct of sports.

For example, the mouthpiece may fall out of an athlete’s mouth and hit the ground, creating an impact. That data point needed to be defined. Other data points include vibrations caused when athletes spit, speak or shout. All those pieces of inaccurate data needed to be minimized.

Protech records severe impacts, measured in G forces. Measurements are transmitted in real time. Turner said if somebody sustains a severe impact during a match – especially one away from the ball that nobody ever sees – medical personnel can quickly be informed and check whether the player sustained a concussion.

Another great value of the technology is identifying patterns of impacts during training so coaches can alter their approaches to practices.

“With a game, match, or fight, the technology is used for monitoring, but training is a more controlled environment,” Turner said. “That’s when you can look for patterns of behavior, such as what’s happening during contact drills. Some drills are more intense than coaches expected. They made small alternations to the drills so that players still get the benefits, but impacts are reduced or eliminated.”

Turner, who recently detailed his company’s progress at the SAP Innovate Live event in New York, said one thing they started analyzing was where a tackle creates the most impact on a player’s body, such as the shoulders, waist, or legs. That information is then shared with coaches so they can teach proper tackling techniques.

“They’re starting to use the data to rearrange the schedules of contact drills,” Turner said. “We’re not telling coaches or athletes what they can and can’t do, we’re just giving them the data to show when you do this drill, here is the consequence. A coach could then choose to schedule high-impact drills earlier in the week rather than two days before they play.”

As more teams and more sports adopt the platform, it will broaden the reach of the analytics to benefit everyone.

“The real value for us is the view of the data that we can create once it’s been collected,” Turner explained. “One benefit of using SAP S/4HANA Cloud is the ability to draw multiple views out of the data, which can help minimize the number and severity of injuries in contact sports. If we have multiple tenants of different rugby clubs, with the right authorizations to access the data, I can produce views across the clubs. I can produce views in a hierarchy, so if I’m playing for the national team or the club team, I can combine data to see trends, similarities, and differences, and sort data across time. This aggregate data becomes really valuable for everyone.”


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Frank Hughes is a contributing writer for SAP Global Partner Marketing