Australia, the AIS, and Chip Kelly: Sports Science in Theory and Practice


With all the talks about sports and exercise science, and the recent confirmation that Chip Kelly went and hired guys from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), I thought as resident Australian around here that I would try and explain to what you guys a few things that we could be seeing as time goes on. And if you could hold off on playing 'Land down under' until after I've explained everything, that'd be great. There's four things that the sports science of every club has seeked to implement to get the most out of their athletes: Individual Training Schedules, GPS data and its analysis, Advanced Injury Prevention and Rehab, and Player Education. But this list is by no means exhaustive: there are other things like altitude training and ice baths that I could include, but don;t have anywhere near enough data on. There are also peptides, and its best to stay away from those (not exactly WADA approved). Anyway, on with the show: I'll introduce each thing under each heading and try and explain them as best I can.

Individual training schedules

We know Chip has used these in the past and is using them. However it does provide a stepping stone on which the rest of what I'm discussing is based. Individual training schedules are personalized schedules so that players can condition and prepare themselves for the game and the season to their own requirements and needs.

GPS data and its analysis

This is probably a big one, and a prime example of the AIS pushing its athletes to such great heights. Put simply, every player/athlete is given a GPS watch and a running program, which they must stick to. In the case of an AFL footballer, this would probably be close to 8 miles in 45 minutes/1 hour, or the same ratio distance/time. The data would also be personalized with individual courses for individual players. This is even completed on days off during the offseason or during the 24 week season. The data is then collated and put together as what each player has done for their conditioning. If a player hasn't conditioned themselves properly and either cut corners or not participated at all, then the GPS data can re-affirm that and there will probably be a few questions asked of players who do not want to train.

Now granted, the AFL is a harder running league than the NFL (and I urge each of you to at least give it a look in) and it is not uncommon for a guy to run anywhere from 10 miles in a single game, but this is why sports science is such a brutal necessity. Conditioning based on GPS locations of your players, even in the offseason, is a great way to make sure that a) there is brutal conditioning in your squad - just like Chipper likes it and b) there is brutal competition in your squad, as each player tries to condition themselves better than the next guy to have a better chance of success. Its also a great way of weeding out the guys who don't want to be there - the Haynesworths and the like.

Advanced injury prevention and rehabilitation methods

Its strange, because I've kind of grown accustomed to how we do things over here with Injury Rehab and prevention that I forget what its like when say, JP goes down with an ankle. Read: Not much. And that saddens me, because I know if I was coach (and I'd imagine Chipper feels the same way) I'd want all of my players hanging in and around the clubhouse during as much of the season as they could.

AFL Clubs and the AIS did the same things, and brought in their own "in-house" rehab facilities. Most of the time you'll spend your time in 'the dungeon' getting to know the team doctor and rehabbing your torn hamstring, or knee tendonitis or whatever. And if you're not doing that? Then you're doing work on other parts of the body that could still do with conditioning - unless of course you can;t do that due to the injury.

There's also a step-by-step approach to re-integrating a player back into the club. First we rehab, then they start running again (typically laps of the oval, until they are are at a pace the coach is happy with) then they start back with the main training group before and training with them before we put them back into a full match situation. Typically, they would also only play a half game their first game back (I'm not sure on the equivalent - Special Teams?) and again monitor progress from there. Again, I don't know how feasible that is, but it something that has happened before, so you never know.

The advanced injury prevention comes in at least one kinda left field way - Yoga. I've seen clubs break down their all day training sessions with three half an hour sessions of Yoga (mid-morning, just after lunch, mid-afternoon) as it increases flexibility of the tendons and bones and un-restricts the blood vessels. As such, this prevents injuries and allows for the harder training as it allows the body small amounts of 'rest' whilst enhancing flexibility. That added flexibility turns into the ability for muscles to flex or bend further. While I'm not saying you should go out and try bending your muscles as far as possible, if it does happen on the field, the Yoga diminishes what could be a nasty tear.

I should put a note in here about Post Game Recovery sessions. Put simply, the morning after a game the team get together and begin a form of warm up/down that involves a few laps in the pool, a few sprints, and a few stretching exercises for an hour/hour and a half. Its both a great way to meet the fans both home and away as well as restrict injuries or soreness.

Education of coaches and players about how to prepare as a professional athlete.

Chips already started implementing this, and I think this is the real one where its going to pay dividends.A simple fact of exercise science is that you only get out what you put in and that nothing can be achieved without good dietary practice.

Well, gone is the fried chicken and the burritos. Instead we've got organic fat-free ice cream and smoothies. I think that's great for year one of a new program, and I also suspect Chip pushes it further next year if he hasn't already: diet plans, recorded eating, and instruction by team dietitians and sports science guys on what to eat, when to eat it, and how to cook and prepare it.

The diet plans are huge, and match up with what was listed before about the running plans. Basically, that the players health and diet will be monitored. Not getting enough protein? Try some lean steaks with veggies. Not enough carbs after the game to keep you going? Home made fat-free pizza. This is all instructed by the teams sports science guys and dietitians, who try and maintain the safety of their players at all times.

Which leads me to recorded eating. Put simply, after each day the club requires players to log in and record how much they have eaten and of what to better control what goes into the bodies of the players and control differing levels of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and sugars. It's a great method of accountability which requires the players to stick to their diet plans. It also allows the coaches to go back and look at a player during training camp if they're flagging behind as to why that might be - are they following the programs or they simply not up to snuff? Have they been eating properly? I've seen a lot of players criticized on here and elsewhere for showing up to camp in poor shape - I think the quote is they sat on the couch playing video games and eating Cheetos - and this is where that gets prevented if at all possible.

In conclusion, much like before, it can be hard to see why this hasn't been implemented before. Its a system that has proven results and can push a team further. Might there be a few teething problems with perceived invasion of privacy? perhaps, but also remember that you're going for guys who are passionate about their game and wanting to take it to another level.

If anything else crops up over here or I hear anything I'll put another post up about the AIS and what it does and a few of the other more 'sciency' programs they run. Until then, got any questions/comments/trolls, leave 'em in the comments and I'll see what I can do