GIANTS ADD TECHNOLOGY TO THEIR TRAINING STAFF
"Giants General Manager Jerry Reese looked out a window at the team’s training
facility one day last summer and quickly became confused. He knew that
Manchester United, the British soccer power, was training at the facility ahead
of its match with all-stars from Major League Soccer, but he had no idea what
the players were wearing.
“Ronnie, what’s that strap on their back?” Reese said
to Ronnie Barnes, the Giants’ vice president for medical services. Barnes
“That’s a G.P.S. device,” he told Reese. “And we
should have them, too.”
The reason, Barnes said, was simple. Technology, the
Giants hope, will ultimately help optimize a player’s ability while reducing the
risk of injury, essentially telling the team when a player is physically ready
to be at his best. Now, after dabbling with the use of heart-rate monitors
before last season, the Giants are pushing forward with the idea, an outlier
among N.F.L. teams.
In recent off-season workouts, the Giants used
heart-rate monitors, G.P.S. devices and hydration/nutrition monitoring to better
evaluate how much energy a player had exerted and how quickly he was recovering.
While similar technology is widely used by soccer teams around the world, as
well as by athletes in individual sports, like runners, few professional sports
teams in the United States have shown an interest.
“Football is really the last bastion of sports, where
you don’t really look at that,” Barnes said. “Yet we train them like heck, and
we don’t really know whether they’ve recovered or not.”
He added: “I’m looking into the future. We’ve known we
need to do this, and I feel like we’ve begun to pioneer a little bit with our
players and within the league.”
It is a multilevel operation. Tracking a player’s
heart rate allows the team to see, among other things, at what points and during
which drills a player is at maximum exertion, and how often he reaches that
point. Testing hydration levels allows the team to see if a player is showing up
to practice with full energy and if he is replacing the fluids he loses — if he
is not, he may be more prone to injury. Using G.P.S. devices allows trainers to
see the distances run by specific players during workouts — data that can be a
powerful comparison tool for coaches and front-office executives.
For example, G.P.S. data from a recent Giants workout
showed that Da’Rel Scott, one of several running backs competing for carries,
ran the most among the backs. When Barnes mentioned that to Tom Coughlin, the
coach was intrigued, considering all of the backs were doing the same drills.
“It really lets you see exactly what you — and just
you — are doing,” offensive lineman Kevin Boothe said of the technology.
Generally, the number of players involved in a workout
makes specific attention impossible.
“Currently, Couch Coughlin comes to me and says, ‘Do
you think the team looks tired?’” Barnes said. “Or the players come to me and
say, ‘Our legs are dead.’ And I’ll go up and say, ‘Coach, the guys are telling
me they’re really tired.’”
Barnes laughed and continued: “And usually he says to
me, ‘Well, we haven’t done that much!’ But then he’ll make adaptations based on
what I’ve told him. With this setup, I’ll be able to tell him, yes, they are
tired — and also that, say, Ahmad Bradshaw is particularly tired and here’s
About 35 Giants players volunteered to wear the
devices during workouts, as well as give urine samples to measure hydration. The
players also answered standardized survey questions designed to give context to
the data. The Giants worked with Timex — one of their corporate partners and the
maker of the devices — as well as the Korey Stringer Institute, which is a part
of the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, to conduct the
Each morning, players went to a table outside the
locker room to pick up their equipment. The heart monitors were worn with a
strap across the chest, and a G.P.S. watch went on each player’s wrist. Before
each workout the players answered questions about how they were feeling that
morning — tired? thirsty? — then headed to the weight room or practice field.
During workouts, data could be tracked in real time on
laptop computers. At one point an observer staring intently at the screen
noticed most of the heart-rate lines had gone flat. When she looked up with
alarm, she chuckled; the players were standing in a circle, idly stretching.
After a recent workout, Boothe returned his equipment.
A staff member then asked him several questions, requesting he use numbers to
rate his level of exertion, thirst and pain, among other feelings.
“When did you go to sleep last night?” Boothe was
asked. He thought for a second. “Ten-thirty,” he said. “When did you get up?”
“Six-thirty,” he said.
For linebacker Chase Blackburn, answering candidly was
a challenge: “The crazy part for me was them asking what we’re eating. This time
of year, the off-season, I’m not used to telling people, Yeah, I had pumpkin pie
Wide receiver Victor Cruz said reactions to the new
devices varied. “At first, to be honest, it was kind of annoying. Guys didn’t
want to put extra stuff on,” he said, noting that athletes are creatures of
But Cruz generally embraces technology — “I’ve got
everything, the laptop, the iPad,
I’ve got it all,” he said — so he began trying to figure out how the data could
“Seeing at what points my heart rate peaks and things
like that will make it easier for me to tailor my own workouts when I’m not with
the team,” he said.
Cruz also recognized the safety aspect of the
technology. He has vivid memories of the shock he felt when he heard that
Stringer, a lineman with the Minnesota Vikings, collapsed and died from
complications related to heat stroke after an off-season practice in 2001.
“They didn’t have these tests before, and they didn’t
know where it came from until they did an autopsy,” Cruz said. “You don’t want
it to have to be like that.”
Still, the biggest obstacle for widespread use in
football remains simple logistics: How can these devices fit under a bulky set
of shoulder pads? While some companies, like Under Armour, have produced apparel
with similar technology embedded in it, those products have received mixed
Barnes said the Giants were in discussions to find a
way a device could be worn with the players feeling little to no intrusion. He
added that he hoped the team would be able to use the technology in a
significant way this season.
Either way, he plans to do a presentation for the
players at training camp based on the data gleaned from the off-season program.
“I’m ambivalent about the players’ reception of it at
the moment because they all think they’re the biggest, fastest and strongest,
and that they’ve gotten here without any kind of help,” he said. “They’re wrong.
We’re slowly but surely cultivating them, and they’ll buy in. I really believe
He added: “We’re not going to stop doing it. It’s
going to become part of the Giants’ culture.”