Graduate's GPS expertise enhances Crusaders' performance

Sports science and The Crusaders is proving to be a perfect partnership for performance analyst Richard Holmes.

Armed with a CPIT Bachelor of Applied Science in sport and exercise, Holmes had a mission when he scored a job with the renowned Canterbury Rugby Football Union team after his work placement in 2012; to expand the use of global positioning systems technology or GPS, in aiding team performance.

Crusaders strength and conditioning coach, Mark Drury said Holmes had taken the application of this technology to a whole new level for the team.

"In the field of sports science, CPIT has turned out an outstanding addition to the team in Richard, whose skill with data analysis is helping the coaching staff gauge performance of individual players and the whole Crusaders squad."

Now in his third season with the team, the 28 year-old Christchurch sports science professional is on his way toward this goal.

"When I started we had 10 GPS units, and then we got another 10. But this season, the whole squad has them. We can now more effectively regulate players' workload and now we can maximise what we can do with the technology."

Each team member is fitted with a vest and a unit, which communicates with a GPS satellite that transmits to a receiver in Holmes' laptop computer, with the wearer's name and data.  

This GPS-based technology records how much work a player has done in a training session or game, recording distance covered, speed, acceleration and heart rate.

Holmes then analyses this data to compare players, to help coaches assess strengths and weaknesses and to manage workload and fatigue. For example, a player might be over-training or under-training, which could lead to injury or a sub-optimal performance.

"It's a valuable tool, to look at weekly totals and trends across the season, or to detect anything out of the ordinary, and to make adjustments in training. GPS has definitely got its place in sport. But it's not the be-all and end-all. That's an important thing I learned on my course. It can be easy to make science prove a point, but in the end the coach still has the final decision about what is best for the team."

Dealing with data: Crusaders performance analyst and former CPIT sports science student Richard Holmes is helping keep the rugby team on its toes, through the application of GPS technology.  

With his role increasing, the job has taken him to overseas matches, including South Africa during the 2015 Super Rugby season.

"I'm enjoying my job, and I'm always trying to grow it, to find new strings to the bow and to help the team to perform, and to contribute to something that means a lot to people."

Holmes has maintained contact with CPIT as a guest tutor, to share what he has learned in the sports industry. He is keen to delve more deeply into sport science. This would include monitoring "readiness"; that is, preparing players to peak at the right moment. He's interested in hormone testing and explosive power testing, for assessing neural fatigue, the first sign of over-training, when the neurons get tired, and as a result, 'fire' slower than usual.

"If I could expand in those areas, as rugby continues to become more professional, I'd feel that I was adding even more practical value to the job."