In two years off the sidelines and away from being a coach, Ben Howland, while itching to get back, spent much of his newfound time studying and researching for when the day came he would once again have a team of his own.
When he was hired by Mississippi State to be their new head coach, one of the first things he implemented was a discovery he made of the Sparta Science Force Plate technology.
The science behind them is complex, but through the simplicity of their software, the result of their use is pretty straightforward: better conditioned, healthier athletes. The force plate software alerts coaches and trainers of any potential susceptibility to injury, identifies weaknesses and measures the level of fatigue in the body of the athletes.
By having players do six vertical jumps on the force plate, the Sparta technology is able to quickly assess neuromuscular efficiency within the body, everything an athlete needs to play their game and everything strength coaches and trainers need to take care of them. Each jump is tracked for the records of the individual and also anonymously added to the database of over 1.3 million jumps, or “scans,” Sparta uses to assess the athletes.
Under the encouragement of Howland and MSU women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, MSU’s Director of Basketball Performance David Deets added the Sparta force plates to his revamped performance center this summer.
“I think the science behind it and the research that’s been done about them is what really drew me in,” Deets said. “Knowing that that’s where training is going and trying to be on the forefront of that, trying to always stay ahead.”
Being on the cutting edge has been a consistent theme since Deets and Howland’s arrival in Starkville, as the performance center has undergone thorough renovation and the strength and training program has taken on a new and at-times-futuristic life.
Part of that has been an emphasis on health, especially given the recent history of injuries for the men’s basketball program at MSU – a battle Deets is still fighting, though now with a new weapon. It’s those struggles that helped draw him so much to the Sparta Software in the first place, having a way to find out ahead of time that a player may be close to injury.
The need for tracking such things, Deets said, is especially important in basketball where players have so many games and so many practices, making so many cuts and having so many jumps and corresponding landings. The wear and tear on the legs of basketball players is seemingly unending and it can be easy for a particular area to become fatigued, unbeknownst to the player going through it all.
By using the force plates, Deets is able to receive immediate analysis on his players on a week-to-week basis, receiving measurements in three specific categories – load, explode and drive – while finding any issues with balance, fatigue or a specific area of the body.
“It gives us that signature and also gives us warnings if something is going on that we might need to look at closer to help with the prevention of injuries and some of the over-use stuff that goes on,” Deets said. “From that we’re able to tweak their workout for what they’re weakest at. We’re able to really fine-tune their workout to work on their deficiencies.”
Michael Hoffmann, the Director of Business Development for Sparta Science, said the idea of gathering data has grown in popularity, especially in the international market, but that it’s rare for athletic departments to take the data and act on it. It’s part of why he’s been so impressed with the vision of MSU’s basketball programs for taking the knowledge and applying it, one of only two schools in the Southeastern Conference (Arkansas being the other) to use the Sparta Software.
As Hoffmann described it, since coaches can scan so frequently (at least every couple weeks), the software allows them to run that anonymous data next to their injury history to create an accurate model for predicting specific injuries. With so many scans already part of the database, and with more coming every day, they’re even able to run research with the force plate variables next to key performance indicators from the court, things as specific as minutes played or offensive rebounds.
The idea is for Sparta to provide a diagnosis of the body, while the individual coaches prescribe a treatment plan.
“If Coach Howland knows a guy is fatigued,” Hoffman gave as an example, “he has the ability to back off the volume in practice. Or if a guy is not loading very well, Coach Deets will prescribe movements he believes in to increase load during his workout in the weight room.”
MSU just recently began using the force plates and Deets has already made adjustments in training as a result. He has the men’s and women’s team scan every couple weeks currently as they continue through the preseason, but he expects to have each player be measured twice per week when the seasons begin. All of it in the name of having athletes perform at the highest level possible.
The rewards, Howland believes, are coming.
“I’ve just seen the incredible benefits from having those,” Howland said. “There are so many uses for this technology.”