BYU sports scientists have a big impact on the football program | News, Sports, Jobs

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU defensive lineman Gabe Summers takes a break during football practice Friday. August 19, 2022.

The science of football players’ health and wellbeing has come a long way from chugging salt tablets before practices, consuming pickle juice to combat dehydration and guaranteeing to eat a big steak. before a game.

As part of its commitment to prepare for its 2023 entry into the Big 12, BYU’s football program has hired two sports scientists on staff: Skyler Mayne and former Cougar linebacker Coleby Clawson.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the players constantly referenced the impact of sports scientists during fall camp.

“These two additions to our staff have been huge for us,” Sitake said. “They have the experience and work with our strength staff and our training room. They use data and research to put our guys in the optimal position to perform well.

“We talk about being as healthy as possible even if we push the players as hard as possible. I love having them with the team that works with our sports medicine group and our weight room. It’s a good system and we really appreciate that.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

A coach delivers water to the BYU football team during a break from training in the summer of 2022.

Sitake gave an example of the contribution of sports scientists during the fall camp.

“Last week we did two days of physical work modes,” he said. “We did it on Saturday and Tuesday and we’ve never done this before. Our research and data told us we could do it.

Clawson — who Cougar fans remember fondly for knocking Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford out of the 2009 game on a free throw in a huge upset victory — graduated from BYU in 2010 with a science major of exercise and a minor in business. His journey took him to Rocky Mountain University, where he earned a doctorate in physical therapy. He taught classes there and helped the school develop a pro bono physiotherapy program. Clawson is in the thesis phase to obtain his Ph.D. in physiotherapy.

BYU approached Clawson for a position on its football team this spring.

“They were looking for someone to bridge the gap between sports training, physical therapy, the weight room, nutrition and coaches,” Clawson said. “Everything I’ve done so far has led me to sports science. I think I’m a good fit for this position. They knew me and they knew I had experience as a player.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

A group of BYU football players enter the field before practice on Monday, August 22, 2022.

What exactly does a sports scientist do?

“The whole sports scientist job is new, but a lot of universities and sports clubs are doing it,” Clawson said. “There are all kinds of technologies that we use like GPS trackers, force locations and things like that. Our role is to help collect player data and monitor load management. We place GPS trackers in the pads and measure each player in real time to see how many miles they cover on the pitch. We measure volume, intensity and when they reach certain speeds. Research is helping to determine what thresholds they can handle before we start seeing injuries and fatigue.

With this data, coaches can make real-time decisions about how much load a player can handle. Clawson said the football program is buying more equipment to help them in their role.

“The main thing we’ve done at camp so far is we’ve tried to be a liaison between coaches, physiotherapy, doctors, strength coaches, nutrition specialists and sports psychologists” , Clawson said. “Instead of operating independently, we try to work together and make it more of a team function.”

Clawson said his job includes tracking injury trends to determine if they’re related to something the team is doing or if there’s something they can change.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU football players pose for a photo as they cruise down the Provo River Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

“We use force rigs, GPS, motion capture and speed trackers,” Clawson said. “Machines track players and our goal is to come up with KPIs and track them throughout their careers. It takes the guesswork out a bit and we can be more objective. We always say some objectivity is worth much better than guessing. There is art in this process.

As a former player, Clawson recognizes the physical challenges college football presents.

“With my background in PT, I see things from a different perspective,” he said. “Sometimes we make decisions as players that aren’t the best for us in the long run. We want to protect these kids and maximize their performance to prolong their careers.

So far, Clawson said BYU coaches and players have been receptive to input from sports scientists.

“The coaches wanted it for a long time,” he said. “To their credit, they are amazing to work with. They are very forward-thinking and we all got their buy-in. The players felt better. We just have more hands on deck. The program has done so much with so little for a very long time. Coaches and trainers were quite scattered. The people working behind the scenes couldn’t get things done because there wasn’t enough manpower.

“Everyone has been great. We don’t always agree, but that’s okay. I want to be challenged. We have to challenge each other with different opinions. The players also reacted well.

The Cougars made it through fall camp without losing anyone for the season to injury.

“Part of that is probably luck,” Clawson said. “I would love to point us to that. Even before we arrived, the coaches had in mind changing up the workouts and doing different things to keep the guys healthy. We implemented some changes slowly as we went along. I think a lot of the credit goes to the coaches.

BYU is traveling across the country in the Sunshine State to open the 2022 season against South Florida. Along with the rigors of the 2,300-mile journey, the Cougars will have to contend with sweltering heat and humidity. Rain showers are also forecast for Tampa on Saturday afternoon.

Clawson and his fellow staffers have more in mind for players than just drinking pickle juice, though he keeps those plans private.

“We met as a performance team and a plan is in place,” Clawson said. “Coming down there, we’re all on the same page. We prepare the guys physically and mentally to face the facts. It will be hot and humid but we are prepared. We are going to execute the plan and the players have signed on. They are serious about it.


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Ryan H. Bowman