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To Train And Develop Its Athletes, IU Football Dives Deep Into Data

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IU sophomore offensive lineman Harry Crider performs the squat under monitoring from Director of Athletic Performance David Ballou as an iPad displays his power output. The setup is part of Ballou and Athletic Performance Coach Dr. Matt Rhea's data-driven approach to IU's strength and conditioning program.
Jordan Wells / TheHoosier.com

When Director of Athletic Performance David Ballou and Athletic Performance Coach Matt Rhea joined the IU football program, their first introduction to the players was a powerpoint presentation detailing power outputs and speed outputs of elite athletes.

While the technology recording those numbers wasn't necessarily new to players like senior defensive end Jacob Robinson, having an idea of what numbers to strive for was.

"It was really, really motivating that Sunday we came in here (to see that presentation)," Robinson said Tuesday. "I think everyone was ready to work that (following) Monday, and it hasn't changed since."

These days, the Hoosiers' strength and conditioning results are all about numbers - lots and lots of numbers. It's part of Ballou and Dr. Rhea's approach as the new faces of the Hoosiers' strength and conditioning program.

Over the last three weeks, said program has centered around improving players' physical weaknesses and flaws.

The data-driven evaluations have been honest. Sophomore wide receiver Whop Philyor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds in high school, according to his hudl page, but the numbers gathered by Ballou and Rhea have shown the BTN.com All-Freshman team honorable mention he can be even more explosive.

"They said I have a lot of potential," Philyor said. "They said my legs are weak right now, so I'm working on getting them stronger."

Simply saying "we want to get more explosive" is not enough for Ballou or Rhea.

How IU's players become more explosive starts with tracking and measuring their progress through a metric called peak power, which measures the amount of weight they have on a bar and how fast they move it, according to Ballou.

"That number means a lot to us, because it gives us a true measure of explosive power," Ballou said.

To measure peak power, they use 3-D cameras fashioned to the equipment. Ballou said the Hoosiers have seen an average of a 20-30 percent increase in power output from the day he and Rhea arrived through Tuesday.

"That's a great increase," Ballou said. "That's not where we need to be. That's not where we'll be in August, but that's where we're at right now."

When players step up to the equipment in the weight room, an iPad looms over their right shoulder. From there, they navigate the built-in software to find their name and sign in to have the performance measured and recorded.

There's also machines that work other muscles and give a specific firing number which helps Ballou and Dr. Rhea determine what weaknesses to be targeted for specific players.

Using concrete data as guidance for training helps take a lot of the guess work out of it, according to Dr. Rhea.

"You can't hide from data," Dr. Rhea said. "I think our guys start to understand that when we're collecting information it's to help them and help us identify ways to help them. "

Ballou and Dr. Rhea both praised IU's players for their coachability and receptiveness to the program early on.

There's still progress to be made - the big focus right now is on single-leg exercises, which translate the most to on-field performance when it comes to speed, change of direction and injury prevention, according to Ballou.

Overall, though, both are pleased with what they've seen so far.

"We're almost there," Dr. Rhea said. "There's still a little bit a of a learning curve going on, but we can sense that guys are buying into it and starting to really get excited about seeing numbers and seeing improvement already."

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