ATHENS – Ron Courson can tell you exactly how much one of Georgia’s players ran during a given game or practice. He can tell you his average speed, his max speed, his average heart rate, his oxygen saturation and about a half-dozen other medical readings as well. He can even tell you how many hits a player took and how much force was behind them.
What does he do with all that information? Well, Courson and the Bulldogs are still trying to figure all that out.
But, suffice it to say, when it comes to the prevention of sports injuries, UGA is on the cutting edge.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for a couple of years,” said Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine and a 26-year veteran as an athletic trainer. “Sports performance and injury prevention is one of the emergent things right now. Obviously you want to think about taking care of the body. We’re going to push our athletes; we’re going to work them hard. So the more science we can put into their performance the better prevention we can have of injuries.”
Courson is considered one of the foremost authorities in Division I athletics in the treatment and prevention of sports injuries and is an expert in the field of concussion study. A past chairman of the National Athletic Trainers Association, Courson sought and received a grant to enlist UGA in a program to experiment with the latest in GPS and medical monitoring technologies.
As a result, half of the Georgia’s team – 44 players to be exact – have been outfitted with the Zephyr Physiological Status Monitoring system. The system merges global position technology and modern medical monitoring capabilities to deliver streams of data to trainers and coaches on Georgia’s athletes.
The devices, which are smaller than a person’s hand, are either attached to the back of players shoulder pads or sewn into a pocket inside the back of the jersey. They can be programmed to monitor as many as 50 different applications simultaneously. But generally UGA limits its input to primary factors such as speed, heart rate, body temperature and “loads,” which calculate the amount and force of contact players are enduring.
“We try to keep it simple,” Courson said. “Primarily we use GPS, but we can collect data of somebody who had concussion that we’re just bringing back to activity. There are heart-rate monitors, oxygen saturation, pulse, EKG. It’s programmable. It just gives us more analytics where we can be more objective about the information we’re getting.”
Georgia has employed the technology since preseason camp. Each night the monitors are plugged into docking stations where the data is downloaded. Then trainers print out the results in color-coded charts that are distributed electronically to coaches.
“We look at it every day but, to be honest, this is almost a fact-finding year,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “We really don’t have anything to compare it to. But we are able to see what they’re doing. And it’s interesting.”
Richt said he has been able to note how often a player is running “at top-end speed” in comparison to others. He said you can also tell how far from reaching full speed a player is who might be recovering from, say, a hamstring injury.
“So we’re learning some things from it,” Richt said. “In the spring we’ll have a much better gauge about how much work is too much in practice and things of that nature. You just try to learn from it.”
Georgia’s players definitely like the idea of it.
“At Virginia, I got one of the first Nike prototype quarterback shirts,” said quarterback Greyson Lambert, a first-year transfer from the ACC school. “It was me, Russell Wilson, RG III and (Colin) Kaepernick. So that was pretty cool. But there’s a lot of high-tech stuff here, a lot of really cool things to help us perform at a higher level.”
The Zephyr monitoring system is one of several cutting-edge technologies UGA has introduced into its sports training repertoire in the last year or so. Georgia players can climb into a cryotherapy chamber to cool their bodies after intense workouts with minus-120 degree Celsius nitrogen vapor. They can oxygenate their blood by climbing into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. They can use Normatec sequential air compression boots to facilitate the healing of leg injuries.
Georgia utilizes a system known as “Fusionetics” that explores every joint in a players’ bodies when they first arrive on campus and offers assessments as to what type of injuries for which each individual might have a proclivity. Preventive exercises are then suggested.
“We’re always trying to push the edge and get the very best we can for the stiudent-athletes, because that’s what it’s about,” Courson said. “Particularly in sports medicine, we want to be an advocate for student-athletes and give them the best we can. And that’s not only taking care of injuries but for recovery and prevention. That’s where the new frontier is, what kind of things we can do for prevention.”