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Fit For 90, Dr. Cone bring sports science to soccer

The Chicago Red Stars were among the first NWSL teams to embrace the fitness monitoring system, Fit For 90. All 10 NWSL teams will use the program in 2016. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The Chicago Red Stars were among the first NWSL teams to embrace the sports science system, Fit For 90. All 10 NWSL teams will use the program in 2016. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

There are a lot of components that coalesce to generate a team’s performance on the field. Media and fans alike focus on the elements we actually see play out of the field like tactics, personnel decisions, and formations. These elements are obviously important, but below the surface, there’s a myriad of other factors that influence the outcome of games.

Today, sports science is increasingly playing a larger role as teams look for any available advantage. Although information regarding a player’s physical condition has been tracked for some time now, there really hasn’t been an easy way to quantify the information in a real-time format that’s useful to coaches. But that is all changing with the release of Fit For 90, a product by Dr. John Cone, former director of sports science for the Portland Timbers.

His experiences with the Timbers spawned the idea for the Fit For 90 system.

“We collected a lot of this information with paper-based methods,” Dr. Cone recalled. “I’d also create and use like google docs and stuff like that to try and get the information. You can’t possibly get information and assemble it in a timely fashion to pull it together and have it work in terms of what you need to do in training. There’s just not enough time.”

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With Fit For 90, Dr. Cone aims to address this impediment through a monitoring system that marries information technology with sports science, which allows coaches to access collected data quickly and efficiently. The system, in turn, allows them to use this data to make informed decisions regarding training sessions and personnel.

Fit For 90 is already in use by soccer programs ranging from youth 14-year-old youth teams all the way to professional teams, including Orlando City FC and the New England Revolution in MLS and the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League and the U.S. women’s national team. In fact, the U.S. women used the monitoring program during last summer’s Women’s World Cup.

The U.S. women used Fit For 90 during their run to the 2015 World Cup title. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

The U.S. women used Fit For 90 during their run to the 2015 World Cup title. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

For the upcoming NWSL season, all 10 teams will utilize the Fit For 90 monitoring system for each player. The adoption of the system by the clubs as part of an initiative to further implement sports science and technology into the league.

Chelsea Ladies also announced on Wednesday that they will use the Fit For 90 system.

In addition to the monitoring system, Fit For 90 also offers a periodization piece which is utilized by a smaller number of teams. The periodization system essentially provides enrolled teams an itinerary of when to do certain activities ranging from sleep, training, and recovery. It also provides a physical framework of what to do in training sessions as well as a general description of what to do in recovery sessions.

Most notably, women’s College Cup runners-up Duke instituted the Fit For 90 monitoring and periodization system last fall. During the Blue Devils’ run to the title game, the team was on the road for the final three matches leading up to the College Cup, including a cross-country trek to Stanford. Fit For 90’s monitoring and periodization systems helped the team manage this challenge.

Most of the teams using Fit For 90 utilize only the monitoring system. With the monitoring piece, the players log into the system on their smartphones daily and answer questions related to fatigue, stress, mood, sleep and soreness. The players’ answers produce an overall readiness rating which is color coded to help visually quantify their readiness. Green is the most favorable readiness color on the scale while red is the least. When coaches log in to the system, they can view the overall readiness of their teams and the players individually. The system provides an easy way for coaches to quantify where their players are on a given day.

The system uses an algorithm that uses the players’ responses to compute the overall readiness but individual different elements are weighed differently.

“The sleep quality, sleep quantity, are weighed a little bit higher than stress, mood and so forth,” Dr. Cone explained, “The more acute things like fatigue, soreness and so forth are weighed a little bit differently, but also any time anything changes dramatically it will trigger them going into the red or the orange, whatever is equitable to that problem.”

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Coaches can look at players individually and pinpoint what key driver is causing her readiness to be in orange or red. This allows coaches to have conversations with players about any issues they may be facing.

Fit For 90’s monitoring system impacts not only short-term decisions but also long-term as well. Problem areas can be identified from the data that is collected daily. For example, if a player regularly reports specific site soreness in a particular area, training staff can address it by having the player do flexibility work, massage or other possible treatment to try to get rid of soreness.

While explaining how the daily reporting can impact players’ longitudinally, Dr. Cone gave the classic example of a player not reporting to coaching staff a problem until it escalates to the point that she can’t train anymore. When players’ health deteriorates to this level, they are looking, at least, at a fatigue-free training load for a considerable period of time, if not outright resting period. If training staff know about such a problem from the onset, it can be addressed so it never gets to the point of missing substantial time.

Fit For 90 is a subjective program in that it relies on players to honestly assess their health and well-being. While this type of system certainly has its qualms, Dr. Cone points out that subjective systems have been shown to be a more effective way to measure training loads and readiness over time.

Dr. Cone feels that ultimately it’s the coaching staff that is best equipped to combat the issue of false reporting. First, coaches need to ensure that the players understand how important honesty is to the program. Coaches also need to make sure they’ve created an environment where players are feeling comfortable being honest about their health and well-being.

The dangers of false reporting cut both ways. The danger exists when players inaccurately report being healthier than they are and also when players inaccurately report being less healthy than is the reality. It’s important that players understand that they could cause themselves injuries or under-perform and impact the entire team’s performance.

Looking to the future, Fit For 90 aims to add to an individual module to its system for injury prevention and recovery that is highly individualized and age-specific. It will provide a calendar that would keep track of what the player did each day and what her or she plans to do in the future. This would, in turn, help coaches and training staff create exercise prescriptions relative to player’s readiness, soreness etc. This could reap huge rewards especially in the youth soccer realm where injury prevention is a chief concern. Having the ability to tailor programs could help cut down on both growth-related and overuse injuries for youth players.

The basis of the Fit for 90 program, despite what its name might imply, is general sports science that can be used across the sports world. The company is currently providing its services to a few teams in other sports including football, hockey, volleyball and basketball. As of yet, the company hasn’t tried to sell the product on the open sports market.

“We wanted to make sure we could actually manage a 130 football players through our interface before we actually tried to go sell to football teams,” Dr. Cone said about the implementation of the program in other sports. “It’s unique because the (non-soccer) teams using it actually found us, contacted us and wanted to use the system and so we basically developed a separate site for them to use. In the next six months, we’ll be looking to develop and actually sell the system on the non-soccer specific platform.”

More information about the system can be found on the company’s website: fitfor90.com.

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