Sports and the academic world have collided for years. It’s been on display with analytics, performance enhancement and injury prevention. That relationship is playing out in the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab (NAPL) in Lincoln, Nebraska.
In 2013, the Nebraska Athletic Department and Chris Bach, Director of NAPL, took on the tall task of connecting brains and braun. In what is believed to be the inaugural joint athletic and academic facility in the nation, the NAPL’s mission is to sustain a close bond with student-athletes. In their commitment to serve the student-athlete, the facility performs practices that increase safety, long-term health and well-being.
Along with its practices, the NAPL’s agenda includes investigation of the impact of training techniques, therapeutic interventions, and nutrition on performance and recovery. In all, its goal is based on enhancing performance coupled with finding new ways to prevent injury.
The NAPL was one of the first of its kind. In recent years science and numbers have become a huge part of sport in performance as well as recovery. Bach, coupled with the help of senior applied sport scientist Matt Thome, senior research analyst Ryan Hasenkamp, assistant Dan Ridenour, research assistant professor director Jessica Calvi and Curt Tomasevicz, Ph.D, has changed the way the university tries to tackle better performance, and recovery.
In their efforts solely based on enhancing the performance of Nebraska athletes the NAPL first started out as a research lab to try and tie the schools science and sports relationship more intertwined.
Nebraska, according to Hasenkamp, had a bunch of cool equipment but didn’t know what to do with it. The NAPL first ran like a research team and used grant money to do so. But just as they presumed that was not going to work with their ultimate goal of the lab.
“That is just not really feasible if we want to get that sort of results on performance that we want,” Hasenkamp said. “Research is a process that sometimes takes years to do and that is too long for athletes. So we shifted more towards this model where instead of academics we are more like the performance center.”
With the switch of direction toward catering for the performance of the athlete trancented into what the Lab is today.
As important as they are to the university, Thome and Hasenkamp stressed that they are just a single unit in a collaborative effort to make Nebraska athletes have such success. Today the lab works in unison with the whole athletic department to work toward the goal of making all Huskers sports perform to the top of their ability.
When the lab gets involved with an athlete it has the ability to work at its state of the art facility in Memorial Stadium. There’s a basketball court built with pressure pads, a pitching mound that doubles as a batting cage, a straight away for athletes to run on turf and a weight lifting gym.
The specific areas tend to the type of person who is cared for. Basketball players can test all sorts of joint pressures as the pads give them feedback on ways to prevent injury. In the baseball and softball area athletes can attack sensoray bulbs that with a snap of a camera can give them an enhanced view of the motion of how that player is performing.
“The camera emits infrared light and reflects off of the markers,” Hasenkamp said. “We record their pitching motion with them all marked up and the cameras running. That basically gives us a 3-D look at how they move.”
An image is produced that gives them a look at the motion at about 300 frames per second. What they do with that type of information is where their applied science status comes into play.
The lab then takes that information of how they move and then calculate any biomechanical data that they want to use with it. The lab uses the information to split the movements into two main fields; Kinematic which is how the body moves in space or kinetics which are the forces that go throughout the body.
NAPL see’s all of this through a microscope to help the programs here at Nebraska. But just as the lab enhances they are just resources for programs to use. The employees of the lab spend time at practices observing and aiding what the programs need their help with.
According to Thome, the lab is used as a tool to take a deeper dive into areas of help rather than try to change what the respective coach has implemented into their program.
“We support all of the performance groups here and we just hope to collect data that can provide them with information that can help their decision making,” Thome said.
Just like the rest of the Nebraska fanbase, the NAPL wants to help make the programs win as much as they can. The lab aids with strength coaches to how players are progressing in their return to play process.
The lab’s main goal is for the performance help as well as being a supportive cast to the athletics at Nebraska. It has done research and development that could turn them into published researchers but just as they started out this lab is for the athletes and nothing more.
“There are certainly things that we do that could be publishable but that is not our main goal,” Thome said. “Its performance and health of our athletes.”
The lab is fully equipped to do all sorts of science research tests but throughout the labs near nine years of production the mission has always stayed the same. It is for the support and performance of the athletes.
The NAPL won’t be the first thing that you think of when you watch Nebraska athletes perform but it is a crucial part of the Huskers’ future.