(Winnipeg, MB) Volleyball Alberta will have a subtle advantage over most other provinces this week at the Canada Games: accurate and reliable statistical data on jump load, jump height and force.

Working with exercise physiologist Carlyn Stilling, Volleyball Alberta and the coaching staff for the men and women’s teams have been capturing critical jump load data over the last few months, mainly around their jump count and height.

Using chip-technology called Vert which is attached around the waist, coaches of Team Alberta can accurately monitor the numbers of jump each athlete take during practice and games, average and peak jump heights of each athlete.

The wearable technology is attached to a belt, and the data captured is transferred to a tablet in real-time to the coaching staff at the bench level.

Men’s volleyball team head coach, Brock Davidiuk, explains the value of having data and analytics captured to help the performance of his team.

“In our training camp, we would use the data to inform our decision on how we are going forward in terms of fatigue management, to see if we can push the athletes. In competition, the data can help us in making a decision, fatigue management, and assess how hard the guys are working.”

And for Davidiuk, he can use the data as an extra layer in addition to his coaching experience: “What has been really great about the units is that they allow us not to rely only on the coaching eye. We have objective scientific data that we can use to supplement those decisions, both while training and in the competition.”

“We use the data to understand the athletes’ load. We have to make the decision, and there is not a hard-scientific line as to when an athlete can or cannot play. Our sport isn’t like that. We also need to talk to the athletes and ask them how they are feeling. At the end of the day, we need to assess at what level they feel they are at. The data itself will not dictate our decision, but is a tool we use to complement our decisions.”

The data also gives an indication of the fatigue level of our players, especially towards the end of the tournament. “We can also manage the recovery exercise of players. We take a look at the data, and we can see that a specific athlete has jumped so many times, has exerted this amount of force, or was at this amount of intensity. We can make a decision on deciding what type of recovery we need to provide or push them harder.”

The technology can also help with injury prevention and return to play. “We’ve had a number of athletes that have come back from or successfully manage an existing injury. We were able to monitor their jump load closely as well as their movements and intensity. With the new Vert, we can analyze on the ground movement in addition to jump loads. Having that technology available to us was helpful in assessing how much we can push each individual, each day.”

“Carlyn Stilling is doing the bulk of the analytics. She has been amazing with us. Anything that has come out of the Vert data is because of her work with us. She’s been invaluable to have around.”

Stilling is a born and raised Calgarian who graduated in 2006 from the U of Calgary with a Kinesiology degree in Exercise and Health Physiology. She began her career in sports with coaching women’s volleyball for youth and college programs in Calgary in 2002, with her most recent positions as an assistant coach for the 2015 Canadian Women’s Youth National Volleyball Team and 2016 Boys Youth National Development program.

She sees value in the work done with young athletes across the country. “After working five years for Volleyball Canada’s youth programs, I realized how Provincial camps across the country are notorious for losing a lot of players to injury quickly during summer training. Volleyball Canada has done intensive work in youth development and injury prevention, so it has been awesome to see Volleyball Alberta in step with their comprehensive directives, working on recovery, nutrition, sleep, sports psychology and pre-camp training.”

With the technology, Volleyball Alberta has added training load monitoring that goes beyond counting training hours, as a volleyball player could jump over 200 times, or not at all, in a single practice. The use of the Vert, which is an inertial measurement unit (IMU), to track jump count in practices and games is allowing the team to provide a more accurate, sport-specific, estimation of activity load for the sport.

The Vert is the first of its kind in being able to provide jump count information, and the newer generation of devices will soon allow the team to have a better understanding about an athlete’s efficiency in movement and mechanical stress at jumping and landing and defensive movements.

The use of this technology can also be considered an advantage, providing quality data to coaches to help them make decisions, according to Stilling: “It allows us to objectively measure training load, athlete performance, and fatigue, so the goal is to have the best performing and healthiest 12 players out there at the games.  Coaching is an art, and this just adds another tool in the toolbox for them to inform decisions they need to make.”

Both volleyball teams are playing their semi-finals today at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.