Bond University Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science student Amy McGaw and Bond Rugby Head Coach Grant Anderson explore data that is leading to better on-field results for the Bull Sharks.
By Pat McLeod
AS Bond Bull Sharks players prepare for their final push towards premiership glory in season 2021, there is a small, anonymous group standing well outside the limelight, who have already played a major role in the club’s most successful season.
Four Bond teams – Premier Women, Second Grade, Colts 1 and Colts 2 – will launch into elimination finals on August 28-29. This is the most teams the club has paraded in the finals since entering the Brisbane Premier competition in 2014.
Each team that wins that finals round will progress to the grand final the following weekend.
Bond Rugby’s Head Coach Grant Anderson often acknowledges the people who make things happen at the club – players, coaching staff, other support staff, club administration, the club’s powerful board members.
This week he shone the spotlight on a handful of Bond University students, who he says have not only helped shape this season, but have also assisted in creating a permanent pathway to future premierships.
“The Sports Science Program, which is a close working relationship between the university’s Exercise and Sports Science degree program and Bond rugby, has resulted in some incredible outcomes in just the few years it has been in place,” he said.
“I can list numerous practical examples of how it has improved the performance of individuals and teams. It has changed the way I coach.”
The Sports Science Program introduces Bond University student interns into the rugby system. After close consultation with Anderson, they match classroom theories with practical sporting situations.
The interns collect data across an array of scenarios that can then be collated and analyzed for better results.
The scenarios include GPS tracking, examining players’ sleep patterns, their weight, stretching markers, questionnaires around physical and mental well-being.
Data is collected across almost every First Grade training session and game. However, the learnings from this filter through every grade.
“Every year I challenge the interns to come up with their own project within the data collection,” says Anderson. “I work hard with them around what that project could be.
“This year we have been fortunate in having a PHD student do a hydration study for six weeks to measure the how much fluid players are taking in and losing.
“The outcomes were extremely helpful for me. A good example was (outside back) Rhian Stowers, who, we discovered, does not drink during a game. Through the GPS data we discovered his numbers and therefore performance starts to drop off late in a game.
“The reason - he is dehydrated. So now we make sure he drinks through the game.
“The GPS data that we now have across several seasons has been invaluable in formulating lots of sessions, especially our pre-season program.
“The GPS tracks many things including metres run, how many of those metres are at high speed, acceleration and declaration loads, maximum speeds.
“These GPS units are not cheap and about 20 are supplied by Bond University and worn by players at training and in games.
“The information is so useful in ascertaining what loads I can put on players who are also involved in Reds and Reds Academy training. If a player is running 12-15kms at those training sessions, and I have that data, then I can reduce workloads at our training.
“That knowledge helps reduce soft tissue injuries and general fatigue.
“I can now look at a player’s percentage of high-speed metres. For example, I know that (centre and First Grade captain) Dan Boardman needs to be operating at around 95-100 metres per minute and if he is not at that level then his performance starts to drop off. So, that is something we can review and address.
“Last year the program’s interns did a heat study on players and came up with the best ways and best times to cool players down. Ice towels, ice baths and hydrolyte slushies were just some of the solutions.”
Second year Bond University Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science student Amy McGaw is part of this year’s intern group working with the rugby club and says the benefits have been mutual.
“For the students the benefits are being able to see how things actually run in real life,” she said.
“You can learn all the theory you want in the classroom, but it is not until you are actually in the environment and working with the players and coaches and handling real data that you understand how it works in the real world.
“Being able to see the data and discuss it with the players, that’s when you fill in the gaps. We get all this data to look at, which doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you know the player and the situation.
“Grant and I have had conversations about how important the data is to him and it is also just as important to the students from that practical side of things.
“It doesn’t matter how many role plays you receive during your degree, it is not until you are actually in that situation and have to deal with it that you fully understand.
“The rugby club and Grant have been amazing with the opportunities they have given me. It has been so invaluable.”
Bond University Director of Rugby, Luca Liussi, said the Sports Science Program was a perfect example of the unique nature of the rugby club.
“Coming under the umbrella of this university has many positives,” he said.
“This program works for the club and the university’s students. It’s a win-win.
“Just recently, for the 16th consecutive year, Bond University was number one in Australia for student experience.
“Initiatives such as the Sports Science Program are why this is the case. Real-life experience. Real benefits.”