Study adds more brains to the brawn
Walking the high-performance tightrope between data and drills is the focus of a new study on how experts can get the best out of a team in elite level rugby league.
James Cook University Sports and Exercise Science PhD graduate Dr Corey Wedding examined the first 10 rounds of the 2021 National Rugby League (NRL) season while also reviewing existing literature on high performance sport from some of the top sports codes around the world.
Using an analysis technique that has been proven successful in the National Basketball Association, Dr Wedding was able to simplify NRL player positions into five main categories, or clusters - interchange, spine, back, forward and a new positional group – utility.
“This new utility category could provide important information for coaches when making decisions around player recruitment and match-day interchange rotations, particularly in the event of an injury during the match to any of the spine players,” he said.
“Given the recent rule changes in the NRL and the flow-on effect this has had on ball-in-play time and speed of the game, it’s becoming more common for teams to carry a ‘utility’ type player that can cover multiple positions or be brought onto the field as an additional ball player when a team is chasing points.”
Dr Wedding said the positional clusters could be used to support team performance analysts and coaches with their evaluation of player performance and future positional suitability with regard to talent identification, personnel recruitment and roster management.
“I wanted to make it a bit easier for people to access this information,” Dr Wedding said.
“Analysts can run the risk of data overload. As the technology gets better and as we introduce more and more systems, you don’t want to be collecting data for the sake of it.
“It’s important to know how to use that data and the best way to get it out to the coaches and players.”
How computer coding could aid in crunching large sets of data is another area Dr Wedding said he was interested in pursuing as teams continue to explore new ways to get the edge over their opponents.
“I think there is some scepticism about how involved performance analysts should be in elite level sports, but the more that clubs invest in sports science and performance analysis in particular, the more they can understand what’s happening in around the game,” Dr Wedding said.
“It’s just about observing trends that are happening. It’s not about telling a coach what they need to do for the next game but rather, telling them where the game is shifting as the rules change, the types of future players we might need to look for and how we can manipulate things at training or adjust the way the team plays.”
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