Boys Varsity Soccer Coach Andrew Fitzgerald runs with the team during practice.
Millions of sports fans found inspiration in last summer’s World Cup. Riverdale Athletic Director John Pizzi was among them.
As Pizzi watched a program about the U.S. Soccer Team, he learned that the players used heart-rate monitors to optimize their training. “I got the crazy idea that I would speak to Dominic Randolph and ask him if we could test out these heart-rate monitors, “ Pizzi said. Randolph readily agreed.
"John comes up with these great ideas," said Randolph, the head of school. "The least I can do is support his inspiring leadership of the Athletic Department."
This fall, every member of the boys varsity soccer team has been wearing a heart-rate monitor during practices and games that is programmed with his individual profile — height, weight, resting pulse, etc. — as well as other data points associated with athletic performance.
They wear the monitors strapped to their chests. The sensors measure “training load,” which varies from position to position, and athlete to athlete, depending on the individual’s fitness level and the specific demands of the position.
Coaches can use the data to individualize practices and recovery time for players, understanding better whether they are underperforming, working at their potential, or overexerting and risking injury.
While coaches are still learning how best to analyze the data, Pizzi said they are better able to manage practices knowing how hard the players, and the team as a whole, are working. “We are able to make our practices a lot more efficient and in tune with what is happening with the student and his body,” Pizzi said.
The data also teaches the athletes about paying attention to their own conditioning: rest, sleep, diet, hydration, stress and other factors can affect their health and energy. The heart-rate monitors help them to see how lifestyle affects performance, and how to manage their own fitness.
While heart-rate monitors are used extensively in professional and college sports, they are relatively new for high school sports. Riverdale will be creating its own benchmarks to help analyze the data.
After the boys soccer season, Pizzi plans to use the heart-rate monitors with the girls squash team this winter, and the boys and girls lacrosse teams this spring. Eventually he would like to see every varsity athlete wearing a monitor and benefiting from the information that it provides.
The use of heart-rate monitors is part of the Athletic Department’s focus on educating students about health and wellness as well as developing successful athletes and teams. The goal, Pizzi said, is to give students “knowledge of how to take care of themselves and how to live a healthy lifestyle well beyond Riverdale.”