Sports science pushes athletes to their limits

Players take to the pitch for just seven minutes before being substituted

Ireland men’s coach Andrew Meredith.

Ireland men’s coach Andrew Meredith.

Fri, Oct 4, 2013, 01:00

Another couple of weeks and the Irish team will go back into strength and conditioning as Irish coach Andrew Meredith continues to dramatically change how the team plays at international level.

While Australia, always at the cutting edge of sports science through their Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), have their players substituting at three minute intervals in a constant blizzard of changing bodies, Ireland are rotating at longer but much shorter intervals than they have ever done before.

Meredith, an Australian who came to Ireland from German hockey is basing the philosophy on what the Australians began eight years ago and hinges on players performing at their absolute physical maximum and playing error free for the short time they are on the pitch.

Strikers may only get seven minutes of play before they are hauled off with defenders, because of the nature of their running and work loads, a little longer, between 13 and 15 minutes.

Science is shaping the game more than ever and any idea of players pacing themselves during an international match is a luxury no longer tolerated. Nearly every international team are following the same path except the Germans, who are consistently one of the best teams in the world. The German captain Max Muller plays the whole match in the centre of defence.

“It’s a cultural thing and they don’t take off the central defender,” says Meredith. “Muller is working at 190 heart beats a minute for the 70 minutes of a match. Some doctors might say that is not recommended.”

Fascinating change
It’s a fascinating change to the game and one other sports also use to some degree or another. In many sports players use GPS systems than monitor everything from impacts to distance and speed. “We toyed with GPS and you see the Lions (rugby) were using them and soccer players too. All the top countries are but we don’t have the budget,” adds Meredith.

The Catapult GPS system, developed by the AIS and used in tennis, NFL, soccer and rugby costs about €80,000 and is currently a luxury Ireland does not have in hockey. But Meredith bases pitch time on the data they collect on player’s training and physical levels.

“We do it based on fitness and collect data on what the player’s capabilities are, their thresholds,” he says.