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How Oregon Stays Cool When Camp Heats Up

Aug 14, 2014

By Rob Moseley

Scott Frost’s dander was up a bit at the conclusion of Monday morning’s practice. Oregon’s defense got the best of a red-zone drill to end the workout, and Frost wanted better from his group.

Quickly, though, the UO offensive coordinator’s message pivoted. “Hydrate,” Frost shouted. “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.” A second practice loomed later in the day, and temperatures were forecast to approach 100 degrees.

A few hours later, the Ducks left the field after the second workout, during which the thermometer did indeed hit triple digits. As usual, players had weighed in before practice, and when they did so afterward, about a quarter of the team had maintained rather than lost weight. Players had taken seriously Frost’s message to hydrate between practices, and then kept up their fluid intake with the help of Oregon’s athletic training staff during the afternoon session.

That was a welcome sign for Oregon’s “performance team,” tasked this month with helping the Ducks navigate the rigors of preseason camp, with its extreme temperatures and two-a-day practices on alternating days. Doctors, athletic trainers, nutritionists and sports science specialists have taken recovery measures to new heights, collecting detailed information on how much effort individual players put forth in practice, their hydration and their sleep.

“Not only is it more objective, but it happens every day,” said Dr. Greg Skaggs, Oregon’s director of athletic medicine. “We’re not waiting for someone to complain or cramp, we’re measuring work and recovery and attempting to intervene.”

James Hanisch, Oregon’s sports science coordinator, called sleep and hydration “the fundamentals” to recovery. The nutrition staff arrives at the athletics facilities by 6:30 a.m. to immediately begin distributing fluids, while Hanisch helped coordinate the setup of a meeting room specifically set aside for sleep this month.

“We’re blessed to have great equipment and all this stuff we have, but at the end of the day, the fundamentals are the biggest percentage chunks,” Hanisch said. “Then there’s the little things that help; they all add up. But if you can’t get the fundamentals right, you can’t get the rest of it right.”

Hanisch also set up a room for Oregon’s more cutting edge recovery methods, sports science principles the program is loath to discuss in too much detail. Players are free to drop in, and can be assigned treatment sessions based on their workloads in practice.

Among Hanisch’s primary duties is the collection and analysis of data from GPS units worn by players at practices. By reading the data, he can determine whether a player might need attention from the “performance team.” No longer must staff hope a player lets on that he might be having an issue, whether it be sleep deprivation, a minor injury or something else. The numbers help tell the story.

“If we’re seeing a guy who is consistently among the top 10 workers, and then drops to 30, we ask, ‘What’s going on here?’” Hanisch said.

The collection of data on players’ sleep habits has become much more aggressive recently, too. They’re encouraged to drop into a darkened meeting room for a 30-minute nap between practices if needed.

And at every turn, nutrition staff is available to dispense with fluids, while also taking several steps to monitor players’ hydration levels throughout the day. They’ve identified the team’s heaviest sweaters, players whom athletic trainers make sure to target for extra water and sports drinks during practices.

Weigh-ins before and after practice illustrate that those efforts have been successful. One player lost 11 pounds during the first preseason camp practice, but that hasn’t continued.

“We had some really big numbers the first part of last week,” sports dietician Molly Wheatley said, “and we’ve slowly trended lower and lower.”