New Technology Adds To West Virginia’s Offseason Prep
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If there’s ever a question about the dedication of student-athletes, it has been answered and then some with the latest of gadgets.
West Virginia has run the gamut of up-and-coming technologies and practices, from higher-end video breakdown of film to the recent sleep monitoring program used last season to ensure adequate rest. Former head coach Don Nehlen even once issued a weekly motivational statement to his players as written by licensed professional counselor and performance consultant Tony Onorato.
But now that’s been taken a step further with this newest of introductions, the WHOOP system of physiological measuring. It’s a continuous monitoring wristband that gives statistical feedback on aspects such as average and max heart rate, sleep cycles, ambient temperature, fatigue and frankly a whole lot more. The idea is to give athletes literal insights into themselves, with a constant supply of data that should optimize daily performance.
If that sounds a bit Orwellian, it’s because it well could be. Director of Strength and Conditioning Mike Joseph ensured the program was voluntary, but nearly every member of the football team signed on to wear the bands around the clock.
“It’s a smart way for the coaches and staff and players to be able to see what their actual numbers are when it comes to their performance, their sleep, all the intangibles that make you into a great athlete,” guard Kyle Bosch said.
And while West Virginia isn’t exactly on the cutting edge here – some 50-plus teams on more than a dozen schools are using the program – the Mountaineers are among the early adopters. The technology has only been available to the general public since November, but the foundation of analysis is solid, so much so that elite level athletes like LeBron James, Ryan Lochte and Sue Bird have strapped on the bands for years now.
There’s little doubt the information aids in understanding potential drawbacks to performance, be it lack of sleep, overtraining or inappropriate recovery time. The question is how much is too much in terms of invasiveness? That’s an aspect only individual players can answer.
“Right when we got these bands and this new program, (Joseph) said ‘Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable doing this, you can hand this back in and we can give it to the next guy who wants it,'” Bosch said. “None of us really wanted to do that because we are committed to trying to win the Big 12, get to the College Football Playoff. We are all taking this offseason very seriously and monitoring everything we do, everything we eat, every time we fall asleep and so forth.”
The WHOOP program is a product of former Harvard men’s squash captain Will Ahmed and co-founders John Capodilupo, who was studying math and statistics at Harvard, and Aurelian Nicolae, a fellow Harvard grad with a gift for mechanical prototyping and engineering. It doesn’t truly stand for anything. Ahmed simply liked the term because he thought it sounded euphoric. And it’s true that there’s likely never been a physiological study of this magnitude, with physical feedback cross referenced with tangible performance data like wins and losses, batting average, time trials, etc. At one point, WHOOP was dubbed “Moneyball 2.0” for its apparent groundbreaking approach.
How much will it truly help West Virginia? That remains to be seen.
“In juco, I didn’t have any of this technology,” running back Justin Crawford said. “It was just get up on your own time, get to practice. With me having two kids, it’s kinda hard to get sleep. One is two and the other is one, and the youngest one, we are trying to get him off bottles, but that’s not working too well. He wakes up one time throughout the night. I try to go to bed early, but I still have to get up.”
Of course, the edge of technology cuts both ways. Those $500 bands can reveal perhaps too much detail, such as late nights that weren’t spent caring for a toddler. It’s all about the balance of how much a student-athlete is comfortable revealing versus the information desired.
“Mike Joseph and his staff do a really nice job of implementing new techniques that he learns from around the country,” Bosch said. “They go to clinics every year and they find new techniques that have a lot of critical backing. If they don’t have critical backing, they are not going to do it. We are constantly changing our workout regime and our workout program to meet the modern day student-athlete.
“I came here from the University of Michigan, and when you come from a place, you think they are the geniuses. They are the guys who know everything. So you get here and think ‘What do you know?’ And it really was a pleasant surprise being around arguably the best strength staff in the country.”