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USF basketball players using heart monitors

USF director of strength and conditioning Evan Nielsen removes a heart-rate monitor worn by Cody Doolin. (Associated Press)
USF director of strength and conditioning Evan Nielsen removes a heart-rate monitor worn by Cody Doolin. (Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO – The laptop screen showed that Cody Doolin’s heart rate had reached the red zone, meaning he was giving his maximum effort during a recent basketball practice at the University of San Francisco.

The freshman guard is one of the team’s hardest workers and among its fittest players, typically burning 1,700 calories over the course of a 40-minute game. These days, the coaches know this not just based on a hunch but because they have scientific evidence to prove it.

The San Francisco men’s basketball program invested $10,000 this season for its athletes to wear heart rate monitors in both practices and games, and even for workouts in the weight room.

Dons director of strength and conditioning Evan Nielsen and director of basketball operations Jack Kennedy watch and monitor each player’s exertion every day.

When a grid on the laptop reveals a player has reached his max heart rate, signaled by a red number in the color-coded software program, coach Rex Walters is told it’s time to sit him down for a break.

“It’s automatic, for the most part,” Kennedy said. “As soon as we see somebody getting in the red, we’re telling coach they’ve got to come out.”

In fact, Nielsen provides the coaching staff with nightly reports breaking down the players’ outputs and how hard they worked down to a given drill, and even a chart showing how long it will take for an athlete to recover after a game.

Doolin, for example, played 37 minutes in a 68-62 victory over rival Santa Clara on Feb. 5. Nielsen determined – from the monitoring program developed by Polar USA – that the point guard needed from that Saturday night until Tuesday to be full strength again. Doolin was given Sunday and Monday off, returning to the court for Tuesday’s practice last week.

Walters is able to pull players out for a rest based on what the data tells him, making it hard to argue such a move.

“It’s something different but it’s pretty useful,” Doolin said. “Sometimes as a player you don’t want to come out. Everybody wants to play the whole game. I think it’s good because we stay fresh and I think we close out the end of games pretty well.”

Wearing the monitors is a health and safety precaution but also a strategic move by the Dons, who have begun the West Coast Conference season at 8-3 for their best conference start since 1982.

“Statistics show more turnovers happen, there’s worse shot selection and decision-making when you’re in the red – the anaerobic threshold,” Kennedy said.

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons began using the heart rate technology this past season. Polar has approximately 200 systems across the country from the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, U.S. Soccer, some Olympic teams and in collegiate athletics.

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