Giants Add Technology to Their Training Staff

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Giants General Manager Jerry Reese looked out a window at the team’s training facility one day last summer and quickly became confused. He knew that Manchester United, the British soccer power, was training at the facility ahead of its match with all-stars from Major League Soccer, but he had no idea what the players were wearing.
Data from heart-rate monitors and watch-like G.P.S. devices can be tracked in real time on laptops.
“Ronnie, what’s that strap on their back?” Reese said to Ronnie Barnes, the Giants’ vice president for medical services. Barnes smiled.
“That’s a G.P.S. device,” he told Reese. “And we should have them, too.”
The reason, Barnes said, was simple. Technology, the Giants hope, will ultimately help optimize a player’s ability while reducing the risk of injury, essentially telling the team when a player is physically ready to be at his best. Now, after dabbling with the use of heart-rate monitors before last season, the Giants are pushing forward with the idea, an outlier among N.F.L. teams.
In recent off-season workouts, the Giants used heart-rate monitors, G.P.S. devices and hydration/nutrition monitoring to better evaluate how much energy a player had exerted and how quickly he was recovering. While similar technology is widely used by soccer teams around the world, as well as by athletes in individual sports, like runners, few professional sports teams in the United States have shown an interest.
“Football is really the last bastion of sports, where you don’t really look at that,” Barnes said. “Yet we train them like heck, and we don’t really know whether they’ve recovered or not.”
He added: “I’m looking into the future. We’ve known we need to do this, and I feel like we’ve begun to pioneer a little bit with our players and within the league.”
It is a multilevel operation. Tracking a player’s heart rate allows the team to see, among other things, at what points and during which drills a player is at maximum exertion, and how often he reaches that point. Testing hydration levels allows the team to see if a player is showing up to practice with full energy and if he is replacing the fluids he loses — if he is not, he may be more prone to injury. Using G.P.S. devices allows trainers to see the distances run by specific players during workouts — data that can be a powerful comparison tool for coaches and front-office executives.
For example, G.P.S. data from a recent Giants workout showed that Da’Rel Scott, one of several running backs competing for carries, ran the most among the backs. When Barnes mentioned that to Tom Coughlin, the coach was intrigued, considering all of the backs were doing the same drills.
“It really lets you see exactly what you — and just you — are doing,” offensive lineman Kevin Boothe said of the technology.
Generally, the number of players involved in a workout makes specific attention impossible.
“Currently, Couch Coughlin comes to me and says, ‘Do you think the team looks tired?’ ” Barnes said. “Or the players come to me and say, ‘Our legs are dead.’ And I’ll go up and say, ‘Coach, the guys are telling me they’re really tired.’ ”
Barnes laughed and continued: “And usually he says to me, ‘Well, we haven’t done that much!’ But then he’ll make adaptations based on what I’ve told him. With this setup, I’ll be able to tell him, yes, they are tired — and also that, say, Ahmad Bradshaw is particularly tired and here’s why.”
About 35 Giants players volunteered to wear the devices during workouts, as well as give urine samples to measure hydration. The players also answered standardized survey questions designed to give context to the data. The Giants worked with Timex — one of their corporate partners and the maker of the devices — as well as the Korey Stringer Institute, which is a part of the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, to conduct the study.


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