Enhancing Tommies' athletic excellence at the Sports Science Institute.


Enhancing Tommies’ athletic excellence at the Sports Science Institute.

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The University of St. Thomas’ decision to transition from Division III to Division I athletics was primarily motivated by the desire to enhance the school’s national brand. This strategic move also laid the foundation for the establishment of the university’s Sports Science Institute.

This unique initiative, a collaborative effort between the athletic department and the College of Health, is being hailed as one of the few, if not the sole, program in the country that provides undergraduate students with the exceptional opportunity to engage with Division I athletes in the monitoring and analysis of their athletic performance.

Paul Mellick, the head of the university’s Health and Exercise Science department and the program’s leader, pointed out that larger universities in the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences often rely on third-party entities to run their sports science institutes. Consequently, he has not come across any institution that allows undergraduates to work directly with Division I athletes in the same way.

The program had been under consideration for several years but gained momentum when Rico Blasi, the new men’s hockey coach, arrived with a background in utilizing sports science to enhance his coaching methods. Subsequently, other sports, including women’s basketball, cross-country, swimming and diving, and women’s soccer, joined the collaborative effort.

Blasi shared his perspective, saying, “It’s something I was accustomed to at the two previous institutions I worked at. So it was an easy request, and, obviously, Paul and his staff were willing to accommodate. There are so many benefits for both sides. For us, we get data and information that we can use to make informed decisions, such as work-to-rest ratios and optimizing performance. And it’s a valuable experience for our St. Thomas students as they pursue their careers.”

The university aims to promote this opportunity to students interested in athletic training and sports science. Mellick emphasized, “What we like to tell our students is that you can gain valuable hands-on experience at St. Thomas in general. This Sports Science Institute offers one of the most significant avenues for that. We’ve also recently established a partnership with North Hennepin Community College for transfer students, further expanding awareness of this program.”

Currently, 15 students work alongside the various teams participating in the program. Each athlete wears a monitor that tracks metrics like distance covered and calories burned. This data provides insights into an athlete’s effort during practice and games.

Men’s hockey players wear these monitors during every practice and game, while women’s basketball players use them for practices and home games. Jamie Jaeger, athletic trainer for men’s hockey and men’s and women’s golf, has played a crucial role in implementing the program. She emphasized the positive impact, such as a reduced rate of non-contact injuries, achieved through careful workload management.

The modern approach to sports training acknowledges that athletes no longer take extended breaks in the summer, and with many athletes training year-round, the risk of overtraining is real. Monitoring the workload is essential, and it’s beneficial for coaches to have scientific data to support their decisions.

Additionally, by comparing preseason and postseason data, coaches can assess the effectiveness of their training methods. This data can also help identify overtraining, a critical consideration for athletes returning from injuries.

Importantly, the program has been well-received by the athletes, who understand it is not about surveillance but improving performance. Coaches use the data to optimize practice intensity for desired outcomes.

Mellick regularly collaborates with coaches and plans to involve students in these discussions to provide them with valuable experience in data dissemination. The program’s future includes expanding student participation and exploring additional data sources, including analytics related to in-game performance.

The university aspires to have all its athletic teams benefit from the program, promoting data-driven coaching and athlete development. However, the transition from Division III to Division I is a significant undertaking for coaches, and the integration of new programs like this may occur more gradually as they settle into their new status.




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