How Well Does Sports Science Prevent Injuries?

Hang around sports stat nerds long enough, and you'll hear one of them spew out, "Injuries are the new Moneyball," or something near enough to carry the message. Point is, injuries are bad for business, and teams are increasingly throwing "sports science" at the problem. So how's it working so far?

Fast Company has a story about a technology several NBA and NFL teams are using, called OptimEye. Last season the Toronto Raptors had players wear the cell phone-sized trackers during practice that documented the amount and intensity of players' movement. The trackers, which were designed by Australia-based Catapult, allow teams to examine things such as when players subtly favor one leg over the other. While this may seem insignificant, it led the Raptors to change practice habits and drop some shooting drills after realizing the drills were of higher intensity than previously thought.

At first blush, there seems to be at least some payoff. Among Catapult's clients are eight NBA and 12 NFL teams. According to mangameslost.com, Catapult's NBA clients ranked favorably in games missed to injury last season. Several of their clients were among the least-injured NBA teams. Among the 27 teams that reported injuries, the Knicks were the least injured, Raptors came in second, Spurs sixth, Magic seventh, Mavericks eighth, Rockets ninth, Grizzlies 12th, and 76ers 23rd—and Philly was more or less permanently injured by design.

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Catapult's NFL clients had decent injury rates, according to Football Outsiders. But these rates were not nearly as good as their NBA clients. And several of their clients were among the most injured teams in football. Their clients fared as follows: The Eagles were the second-least injured team in the NFL, the Brows fifth, Bills seventh, Rams eighth, Dolphins 13th, Cowboys 17th, Jaguars 20th, Steelers 22nd, Falcons 27th, Packers 30th, Colts 31st, and the Giants were the most injured team in the league at 32nd. (In contrast, Philadelphia and its own brand of sports science was the second-least injured team.) But the disconnect between how well Catapult's NBA and NFL clients avoid injuries may simply speak to the certainty of bodily destruction in football.

These technologies are still in early stages of being used—the Raptors didn't fully integrate the trackers until last season—and these teams may be doing other things all ready to lower their injury rates. But the power of observation in systems like these seems to be actually, possibly, put to some good use.

Top Image: Getty Images / Dave Sandford

[Fast Company]