Rugby is a tough, high-contact sport in which players can easily be hurt during tackles, mauls, and other collisions. Due to the explosive speed and power generated and the fatigue created by the endurance element of each match, and the need for players to contribute to both offense and defense for up to 80 minutes, the rate of non-contact injuries is also high. National Rugby League (NRL) teams are using Smartabase to collect, collate, and manage data that feeds into individualized injury risk profiles, so the performance staff can proactively monitor every factor that can contribute to players getting hurt.
By evaluating centralized and complete data through this lens, practitioners and coaches have an overview of the entire squad and each member of it. This allows them to answer two key questions: who is available for practices and matches, and who is at greater risk of injury? They can then program accordingly. In this article and the accompanying video, we’ll show how NRL teams use the Smartabase athlete management system (AMS) to support injury risk profiling.
Injury Risk Profile: Data Inputs
To have a full and holistic view of each player’s injury risk, staff members need to combine current data that shows a snapshot of squad members’ current status and historical information that reveals how they got there. Specialists have traditionally only viewed and evaluated the few factors that relate to their own discipline, but Smartabase breaks down silo walls to bring all the data together in a single source of truth that can be used to inform injury risk profiling. Here are some of the inputs NRL teams can integrate into Smartabase, which are completely customizable depending on what technology and manual assessments are utilized:
In addition to being technically and tactically prepared, NRL players must stay physically ready to withstand the demands of playing elite rugby every weekend during the season. As such, they need to be exposed to sufficient loads to prompt adaptation and keep fitness levels high throughout the year, without going too far into excessive fatigue and potential burnout. If there’s a sudden spike in workload, it increases players’ risk of getting hurt, which will compromise their availability and diminish the overall readiness and capability of the whole squad.
This is why many NRL teams choose to include several kinds of acute-to-chronic workload ratios (ACWR) in their injury risk profiles. Acute workloads are typically the work an athlete performs in a seven-day training and/or competition period, which can be calculated by multiplying the player’s rate of perceived exertion by the duration of training or a match. The chronic side is often the average acute workload across four weeks, with the ratio being acute divided by chronic. ACWRs can also be collected on a session-by-session basis using tracking variables captured by a Catapult GPS unit and integrated into Smartabase. This provides ACWR values for sprinting, distance, and overall workload (more data points could also be displayed), with the performance staff trying to keep each player within an individualized range to combine minimized injury risk with full match readiness.
When a head, assistant, or position coach brings up an injury profile in Smartabase, the first thing they’ll usually want to know is which players are available for today’s practice and the upcoming match. This is why a color-coded availability status (with red being unavailable, amber modified/restricted, and green fully available, for example) is such an important part of the profile. It can be based on a combination of inputs into Smartabase or simply the SOAP notes that the club’s physiotherapist enters when they assess a player. Availability can be sorted by a player’s current status, which can help physios, team doctors, and others direct care appropriately.
There’s a broad body of evidence to show that if an athlete consistently has low sleep quantity and quality, they’re much more likely to get injured, ill, or both. Invisible monitoring with wearables from Oura, Garmin, and Apple collects sleep data without requiring rugby players’ input and can easily be integrated into Smartabase. The HP analytics team can work with the performance staff to decide which metrics are most valuable and should be included in the risk profile. This could be as simple as the total number of hours that each squad member sleeps nightly.
Another factor that can impact a rugby player’s risk of injury is any soft tissue or joint restrictions that they might have. Integration between systems from VALD and KangaTech and Smartabase allows clubs to import musculoskeletal (MSK) screening data and display it in players’ injury risk profiles. A simple example is an adductor squeeze test, though there are many more that could be incorporated depending on what the physio, S&C coach, and other staff members believe to be the metrics that have the greatest bearing on the chance of players getting hurt. Data from manual assessments could also be included, such as a sit and reach score or a more comprehensive evaluation like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS).
While quantitative data might provide most of the information in an NRL player’s injury risk profile, we cannot discount qualitative information. In addition to including RPE in ACWR calculations, the entire team could fill in a quick daily survey to provide extra context about how they’re feeling. Data sets such as muscle soreness are then displayed in their profile to complement other load management details.
Injury Risk Profile: Metrics and Analysis
The combination of all the inputs mentioned above could collect a massive amount of raw data. So it’s important for NRL clubs to zero in on the data sets that they feel are most relevant to injury risk and belong in each player’s profile. This can include objective data from devices, systems, and wearables and subjective information captured from surveys via the Smartabase mobile app. So that coaches and other staff know when there’s a significant change in any of these metrics, the HP analytics team needs to establish baselines and acceptable ranges for each player. When a score moves outside of these, Smartabase can present a color-coded flag indicating low, moderate, or high risk in a particular area. This could also trigger an alert to certain practitioners. A risk scoring model can be used to monitor the impact of each variable and prioritize those that have the greatest bearing on injury risk.
Injury Risk Profile: Reporting
As we explored in a previous post, collecting data and information is always of some value, but it needs to be put into context to become knowledge and wisdom that can improve players’ performance and wellbeing outcomes. This is why it’s crucial for an NRL team to aggregate all the inputs relating to players’ injury risk and status in a way that coaches, staff, and – in some cases – the athletes themselves can understand meaningful changes. Smartabase provides this with robust and easily configurable reporting features. These include the ability to visualize data in a convenient dashboard that gives an at-a-glance view of players’ injury risk and availability.
Smartabase can make a calculation to display trends in a textual format rather than numerically, which is helpful for coaches and other stakeholders who just need a quick summary rather than detailed metrics. For example, muscle soreness, sleep duration, or any other value mentioned above could be described as improved, declined, or stable. Some staff members might want to use a filter to order players in a certain way, such as listing those with the greatest number of risk flags at the top so they can be talked to or treated first when the squad arrives at the team facility.
Injury Risk Profile: Action
It could be beneficial for an NRL team to look back at injuries at the end of a season and try to find correlations between risk factors and players getting hurt. But during the competitive calendar, the true value of using Smartabase for injury risk profiling is that it allows for fast, informed, and accurate decision-making in the moment. With all the relevant data points in front of them in an intuitive graphical format, the performance staff and coaches can work together to proactively manage and reduce players’ injury risk, intervening when necessary to alter practice participation, modify gym training programs, enhance player education, and more. Doing so provides better, more individualized service and care to each player, and helps maximize the availability of the entire squad so that the best possible team is selected for every match.