Eric Rash is used to the hilarious looks and inevitable follow-up questions. He always gets them.
Rash serves as Baylor Athletics Applied Performance Director. So, what exactly does this title mean? what does he do?
This is a fair (and familiar) question.
“The simplest follow-up that people seem to understand right away, at least from football, is that this is a sports science position,” Rush said. “For whatever reason, it seems to be popular with a lot of people. Overall In general, sports science has exploded over the past decade.”
Today, the fusion of technology and college football is commonplace. Baylor employs multiple support staff who work directly with various types of technologies and track their application in football.
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“Certainly, over the past five years, you’ll see this in projects across the country, especially at the Power 5 level,” Rush said. “Embedded in football, there is one person who coordinates the technology needed, collects the data, synthesizes the data, maybe creates an area around it to explain something to the players, explain something to the performance coach, support the coach, what have you. role in the football programme.”
Rush doesn’t have to be a sports scientist. In his soul he wanted to be a strength coach and he still thinks he fits into that world. But he does have an undergraduate degree in neurobiology to match his master’s degree in strength and conditioning studies. Rush jumped when there was an opportunity to move in the direction of application performance because he was already leaning more in that direction.
Andrew Altoff was his predecessor, holding the position under Matt Rhule. When Rhule left the Carolina Panthers for the NFL ahead of the 2020 season, Althoff joined him, and Rash interviewed and found an open position at Baylor.
He works with several Baylor sports, but when football enters season, he spends most of his time working with Dave Aranda and his staff.
One of the most popular technologies used by football players is the Catapult GPS Player Tracker System. GPS technology is fairly familiar to even the most ignorant layman. Golfers use it with an electronic rangefinder to determine the yardage from the ball to the flag. Runners rely on it to track their average speed when training for a marathon or triathlon. Moms and dads use it with apps like Life360 to track their kids’ whereabouts, and teens rely on it when they open the Find My iPhone app to find their phone in their cluttered room. technology. It’s part of our daily life.
So, naturally, it only makes sense to find your way to the football field. Baylor players wear Catapult Trackers in every practice and every game. They look like tank tops but have GPS trackers sewn into the fabric.
This season, Arlanda has mentioned several times how many players are going over 21 or 22 mph in a race. It’s a stat that coaches (and fans) are drooling over.
“That one was really compelling because people got it right away,” Rush said. “It’s hard to say that a person is accelerating at four or five meters per second, and no one really knows what that means. ‘Is this good, isn’t it bad? What does it mean?’ But if you say a person is running 22 miles per hour, It was like, ‘Wow, that’s good.'”
Still, Rash and his company use GPS data to measure more than just player speed. Rush said Catapult has developed different algorithm-based metrics to measure things like the strength of a linebacker’s contact during a block or how hard a defender is on a tackle. Having a change of direction metric can prove useful for evaluating running backs and linebackers, who often need to accelerate in tight spaces.
“We really use it as an audit tool,” Rush said. “Some would argue that it’s better for programming, planning and stuff like that. There’s a time and a place for that. But, really, the key to our use of it is for audit purposes.”
That means looking at the data and determining if the player is hitting or exceeding his goals, or not hitting them.
“We have game data, so we know how much a guy does,” Rush said. “We know the volume, we know the intensity, how much, how far, how fast. We can quantify it all.”
Aranda began his coaching career back in 1995, when this combination of sport and science could have been equated with witchcraft by old-school football coaching. However, Baylor’s thoughtful third-year head coach has embraced the influx of technology and data, even though he understands that he still has to believe what his eyes tell him.
“It’s funny because you kind of go back and it’s a complete cycle for me,” Aranda said. “Earlier this year, we were probably too reliant on it. … The first part of the year, I was probably too much on the stats because I didn’t really feel energized in practice. It’s going to be The old-school thing you could feel before there were numbers. There’s guys coming to practice and they’ll have a feeling, is this team in there, they’re not in it, how does it feel.
“Sometimes, numbers are good, but I think they help to enhance that feeling. I don’t think they replace the feeling, the reading of it. So for the past three weeks and now the fourth week, I think that That feeling is always there, and you have some numbers to go along with, which I think is a positive thing.”
the power of habit
In addition to the GPS trackers worn by players, Baylor relies on a variety of other technologies. In the weight room, football players regularly jump on the force board. These devices measure the force and force a player exerts while jumping.
“We’re going to look at a bunch of different metrics in that regard, but the metric that everybody wants to know, something like miles per hour, is they want to know how high they jumped,” Rush said. “We’ll tell them right away, it’s really cool. But we can see how much centrifugal force a person exhibits, how much centripetal force. How much is going down, how much is going up.”
They track other things too. Player weight is a simple statistic that football teams have been collecting since the days of leather helmets. But Rush said it’s often overlooked when it comes to maintaining the health and wellness of football teams.
“Every football program in the U.S. does this, but how do you take weight information and then combine that with what you’re seeing on the GPS and what you’re seeing on the force plate,” Laura said. even said. “Plus, you’re talking to a guy, how does he feel? What is he telling you? There’s an interaction between all these things.”
All data is fed back to Aranda and his assistant coaches. Together, with the help of Rash and others, they decide how best to use and evaluate it. That’s where speaking the coach’s language helps.
Eccentric power? Just tell me if this guy is dragging.
“I’ve always felt guilty about it in the past,” Rush said. “Sometimes you want to do numbers and science fair, so you use the nomenclature associated with that. Sometimes that can get lost because it’s not part of the everyday vernacular used in the coaching space.
“Sometimes mistakes are made and, well, coaches should learn to understand it. Really, I think we as sports scientists need to adjust what we say to coaches so they can understand, so it makes sense right away.”
That’s a godsend for strength coach Vik Voloria, Rush said. Voloria – whose official title is Director of Athletic Performance – acts as a kind of translator between the applied performance side of things and the coaching side. He is fluent in two languages.
As the business of college football continues to evolve, so does the science and metrics. They are already using GPS and force plate data to help players return to the field after injury, Rush said, and he expects that marriage to develop further over the next five to 10 years.
Next step: Recruiting
Where the next boom may be coming, he said, is greater use of technology in evaluating recruits.
“These data can make huge strides in hiring,” Rush said. “I don’t think it can be underestimated that if you bring in really good players, you have a great chance of winning. All things considered, if your base level is much better than your competitors, you are already at an advantage, you don’t have to do anything else matter.
“So, being able to identify kids on the front end, because you also see the explosion of wearables in high school. That data is for kids at that level. … That’s where the real big bang comes in.”
Even the most avid Baylor football fan might not be able to pick Rush out of the crowd. So did dozens of others in the support staff. But they are still part of the team.
Rash is happy when technology helps a player reach his potential, or when it prevents an injured player from returning to the court too soon. Like everyone involved in football, nothing beats winning on game day.
“It’s great. The amount of work these people and these coaches put in, people think they know, but they don’t, unless you’re around every day,” Rush said. “It’s amazing to see the hard work, time and sacrifice pay off.
“It’s hard to win. It shouldn’t be taken for granted no matter who your opponent is. I don’t take it for granted. When you actually get there, it’s really, really rewarding.”