Q & A with Rick Franzblau
Over the past four years, Clemson University Men’s Soccer has emerged as an elite Men’s Soccer program, making a jump from six straight years without an NCAA Tournament appearance to winning an ACC title and landing in the Sweet 16 in 2014 and playing in the National Championship last year. Throughout their growth as a program, the Tigers have increased their use of technology and are using CoachMePlus’s dashboard system to efficiently analyze their data.
CoachMePlus’s Matthew Coller sat down with Director of Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning Rick Franzblau, who is in charge of training for the Men’s soccer team as well as baseball and track and field sports.
Matt Coller’s Q & A with Rick Franzblau
Great to meet you, Rick. Since every team’s story is a little bit different and every team has their own way of utilizing technology, I’d like to start out by simply asking, what led to Clemson’s decision to use CoachMePlus?
Over the past few years we’ve added a number of different technologies and we found that, while we were getting a lot out of them, so much of the day was spent emailing reports to our coaches, to our trainers, a lot of the day was lost just trying to communicate this information to our coaches for different sports and other support staff. So we did a little research and one of my assistants Stephanie Mock brought CoachMePlus to our attention. We spoke to some other universities and professional teams that are using it.
Two things came across: One was great customer service and the other is how much the system would be able to help with organization and cutting down on unnecessary meetings and emails and making us a lot more efficient day-to-day with our process in collecting and using information.
How does the communication work, exactly, between different coaching staffs and members of the training staff?
It’s really allowed communication to speed up. The most important thing for us is to get a snapshot of the guys and all the information before they roll off to practice. This is particularly helpful for Men’s soccer because our training block is from 8 A.M. to 11 A.M. so we have to have a system that can pull all this information in quickly so we can ask the guys some questions before they roll out to practice and make some adjustments. Another team that practices in the afternoon, you would have all day to look at the information and digest it. Particularly having the dashboard is helpful for us in that situation where guys are practicing in the morning and we need the assessment monitor that can take a quick snapshot of some important information. It definitely allows information to reach all the people that will have their hands on the athletes and make decisions with the athletes without having to email, call, text or walk up stairs.
As far as the success of the Men’s soccer team goes, of course it’s hard to point to a one-to-one, analytics-to-winning connection, so how do you analyze the effect of using more data and more information as it relates to the team improving over the years and now being a serious contender for a national title?
I think the mindset we have in using different technology and assimilating them with the CoachMePlus dashboard is that you aren’t looking to change everything you do but you are looking for that small marginal percent that can help you get better. For us, a lot of it is looking at the loads that we are putting on the players both internal and external, so heart rate and GPS mechanical stuff, and allowing us to see an issue a little bit before it happens. Whether it’s a player is getting sick or some hamstring tightness becomes a hamstring strain or some groin or abdominal issues become a sports hernia. It allows us to get a great snapshot of all these different factors. The goal is that it allows you to stay ahead of the curve and be smarter in your decision making, which allows you to keep your players healthier and train them harder. That gives you a better chance to be on the right side of the scoreboard.
So what has the response been from the players? When the team is doing well, I’m sure it is easier for everyone to buy into having a GPS on them or filling out a questionnaire every day, but how have they reacted to the use of more technology?
Our experience has been really positive. I can speak on behalf of the Men’s soccer team that, being as they have been a successful program over the past couple years, a lot of players want to go on to play at the professional level and they know these are some things being done at that level. Whether it be Omegawave, GPS, heart rate, questionnaires, they know a lot of these things are being done in the Premier League and MLS.
There is motivation to get to that level, so there is an easy buy-in on their part. Give Coach Noonan credit for that. Also we have a pretty cerebral team in their overall approach to training. Guys like to learn about a lot of different things and we try to give them a chance to see some of the data and involve them in the process. If it was just collecting the data and digesting it, maybe it would be an issue with them buying into it, but we show them the heart rate and GPS stuff and questionnaire. We tell them up front: We’re collecting this information so we can make better decisions about their training so they know the ultimate goal is to be healthy and have a higher level of fitness.
So you might say that you are using the data as an educational tool? There have to be some players who want to follow in your footsteps and pursue careers in fitness, right?
Absolutely. We’ve had a lot of former athletes get into training, conditioning, physical therapy and actually a player that just graduated and was drafted in the MLS draft is interested in sports science and that type of stuff. Our guys have been awesome. We have a former player who is with the new Atlanta MLS team in their front office, so you have guys going off into a lot of different professions that, in some way shape or form, comes back to this type of information and being able to know it and learn it is helpful.
That’s awesome. Last thing for you: The Tigers are putting an emphasis on nutrition with athletes. How does that work combined with CoachMePlus?
A huge thing, particularly with soccer, is making sure the guys are getting enough calories. With the heart rate system, we track calories burned. That’s something that pulls into the dashboard so our nutritionist has that information and we can build a plan for the guys by using that. We have some bigger guys and defensive players that might be 190 or 200 pounds and others who might be 150 or 160, so there are different caloric needs. You can pull that up on the dashboard every day and help make better decisions for the student athletes.
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