For Austria’s Head Coach, Richi Hauer, his interests align perfectly.
It’s nothing new in the lacrosse world that players and coaches typically have jobs different than what they are doing on the field. But there are always those fortunate enough to have some overlap, and have their personal and professional interests align. For many, that means doing something with lacrosse. Whether it be coaching in college, running club teams, working at camps, in sales, or for an equipment company, those tend to be the common themes.
Richie Hauer played for over 14 years in Austria, first picking up the game at a sports festival where you could try out several different sports. There was a lacrosse station that instantly captured his interest and he never looked back. He played in two World Championships, both 2010 and 2014, and now is the Austrian team’s Head Coach. He also spent time coaching women’s lacrosse and playing in the European Championships. But while his lacrosse experience is wonderful, what really stood out to me was after their game against Poland, I saw several of his players taking off small sensors which were under their pads.
As it turns out, Hauer is a researcher at the University of Vienna while working on his PhD, and is focusing on Sports Science and Training Theory and working to develop an physiological profile for lacrosse players.
He has already been working on this for a number of years, and it was the subject of his Master’s degree work. He began with box lacrosse players, and looking into their strength and conditioning methods. There would be a baseline test before as a control, then as he tracked their workouts and used that information to make adjustments, it would indicate whether or not using this information to improve their training performance. From there, he would also compare it to existing published data from college athletes to see how the profiles from different athletes or different sports would stack up.
So moving to the sensors his players were wearing, they have heart rate, GPS, and an accelerometer. The heart rate is rather self-explanatory, but the GPS is used to track distance covered in a game while the accelerometer will track impact force of player collisions. They sensors are all feeding information wirelessly in real time to a transmitter located off the field. If it were a practice, you could actively look up this information for each players with the sensors on to monitor performance. Being the head coach, Hauer has a few other things to attend to during games. Afterwards, he can open up his laptop to start seeing the physical toll that game took on his players. He can start evaluating questions like was a certain attackman running more than usual? Did a middie have a lower peak heart rate in a game compared to their past records? Was their FOGO taking more collisions that usual?
All this data for all players is recorded, and the software allows him to add notes to the timeline. You can track where the timeouts and hydration breaks were, halftime, quarter ends, etc. Basically anything that might help explain a different data curve, drop, or spike in a value. He is then able to sit down with this data and compare it to the normal coaching analysis that takes place. Watching film, tracking possessions, understanding the Xs and Os, matchups, and evaluating mistakes. He does use these more typical analytics ideas to better understand how his team is scoring, allowing goals, and tries to use it to put them in the best spot for success.
So what has this done for him so far?
The big thing is how this will pay off long term. For example, he now knows his attackmen will run anywhere from 6 to 8 kilometers each game. He can then see how those distances are broken down by sprints, jogs, and walking. He can see how much rest is in between the sprints and how intense they are. There is of course also seeing how many sprints they’ll do in a game and what the speed and distance are of them. Taking all this information in, there can be highly customized training plans developed for lacrosse players by position.
The other major potential benefit of this is injury prevention. While the impact sensors they wear do track collision, they are not intended for concussions. What they do track is the sudden stops and force involved. With all the attention that excessive contact is getting in our game, this type of information paired with other physiological information could be invaluable.
Finding out what he is working on and sitting down to see it first hand is one of my highlights of this tournament. While I do love all the stories I hear of teams overcoming obstacles to grow the sport in all these different countries, this is something that truly sets Austria apart. Hauer’s research is at a level which would even be considered advanced for teams in the United States or Canada.
More than anything, it shows how driven so many different people are to continue to advance this sport in new and exciting ways. So while this research will not result in a medal for Austria in 2018, it could mean they are able to produce better results in the future. And as other teams look at what is being done, it could elevate the performance of lacrosse players everywhere.