Prior to the 2021 season, the University of Miami Football Team lacked a method for measuring athlete strain and recovery that would improve their readiness to perform on the field. Despite all the data they tracked as a team, the staff couldn’t sort through it to figure out how and why it mattered, let alone implement the insights in a way that staff and athletes could change behavior to impact recovery and performance.
Pairing Technology and Human Expertise
OWN IT and WHOOP provided a combination of technology and expert coaching to Miami Football athletes that gave each athlete personalized insights and recommendations to change daily habits that affected their recovery, readiness to perform, and sleep optimization. Habit and behavior change is instrumental in building a program that acclimates athletes to the levels of strain and exertion that take place in D1 football.
OWN IT’s certified sports science coaches were responsible for interpreting data and recommending behavior changes that improved recoveries and performance. To do this, student-athletes consented to share their biometric data on sleep, strain, and recovery from WHOOP with their coaches. This allowed coaches to provide actionable recommendations for athletes, working side-by-side with Miami nutrition and performance staff to add an additional layer of expertise to their program.
Even in a well-supported program like Miami Football, the team would’ve needed several full-time sports scientists and an extra S&C coach to accomplish what OWN IT provided. By providing athletes with WHOOP and access to their biometric data, the staff and athletes received personalized recommendations for each athlete that prompted sustainable habit changes.
Bringing in a Round-the-Clock Performance Coach
Coaches can’t be with athletes all day and night. But as every coach knows, the 22 hours a day away from the team environment defines how well an athlete recovers, and therefore, how they perform. From their nutrition to their sleep (a common sticking point among college athletes), to their non-exercise activities, OWN IT allowed Miami Football athletes to improve recovery in a way that boosted performance.
OWN IT provides results as if every athlete has an individual performance coach on call. Athletes are able to take action on their own data in real-time.
“I really believe it was that powerful,” stated Kyle Bellamy, Director of Football Performance Nutrition. “Not only does this solution provide personalized insights and coaching, but it relieves the burden from our already overworked staff. We no longer have to waste a single minute entering data manually in Excel. Nor will we spend countless hours going back and forth with athletes trying to figure out what was wrong with their sleep or recovery — the data is at their fingertips too. We don’t have to expend resources trying to figure out what was wrong with an athlete’s sleep… We have it right in front of us.”
Like an Extra Staff Member
This coaching is led by OWN IT’s Chief Performance Officer, Justin Roethlingshoefer, who has experience as an elite performance coach at NCAA D1 programs and in the NHL. He understands the struggles of putting the data to work for you, especially in a team setting with 50+ athletes. As a result, the University of Miami Football Team is experiencing what it feels like to have an extra staff member with considerable expertise in this realm, without violating NCAA rules.
Improved Performance is Quantifiable: Fewer Injuries and Better Sleep
The data from the system speaks for itself. Across the board, athletes experienced a 20% increase in heart rate variability (HRV) from the start of the season, to the time we finished. If you’re not familiar with HRV, it’s used as the body’s language to help determine how the body is adapting to the stress and strain being placed on it. Higher HRV signals proper recovery, while lower HRV signals sub-optimal recovery.
Within this framework, guidelines were developed for how to act on changes in HRV. A drop three days in a row, for example, signals a clear need to pull back from heavy training. Peak HRV scores, especially across the team, gave Miami Football the green light to get in more quality training. This was part of the protocol OWN IT coaching implemented to monitor individual athletes and the entire team.
With custom protocols in place, the team experienced a 14% decrease in absences due to illness, and a 27% increase in sleep quantity, and finished the season winning 5 of their last 6 games.
To bring those results, OWN IT incorporated data that athletes and staff can easily understand. The coaching staff used it to adjust the intensity of practice, and give certain athletes or groups more or less work than planned. Without data, it’s all just a guessing game whether you’re pushing too hard or not enough. What gets measured gets managed, and for coaches with too much to think about, this technology does a lot of the work for them.
Combating Sickness and Thwarting Outbreaks
As fall turned to winter, the nutrition and performance staff used three metrics suggested by OWN IT coaches to proactively identify illnesses before symptoms presented themselves.
- 3 day decrease in HRV (in a row)
- 15% increase in respiration rate
- 100% sleep score paired with a drop in HRV or recovery score below 40%
These three metrics were chosen because they often reflect the body’s strain and stress prior to symptoms of illness. If an athlete was flagged under this protocol, coaches were able to isolate and treat the athlete before symptoms of illness present themselves.
Before using OWN IT, Miami Football relied on athletes reporting how they felt in order to treat them before symptoms appeared. This reactive approach is ineffective against widespread outbreaks that can affect multiple players on the team. With data at their fingertips (24-48 hours before symptoms), the staff was able to increase supplementation, decrease workload, and have conversations about focusing on self-care and the ‘8 Controllables’ they used to ensure elite performance and recovery.
The result? Over 30 players were flagged with this protocol throughout the season and given proactive intervention that prevented further individual sickness AND a team-wide outbreak. Without the advisory from OWN IT coaches, Miami Football would’ve continued using a reactive approach to strain and stress on athletes’ bodies, which would leave their program susceptible to outbreaks.
70% Increase in Habit Adherence
Since athletes had access to their own real-time data, they made changes and built new habits of their own accord.
“As an athlete, it was really useful having my recovery metrics data. I can see how small changes in my habits, like putting my phone away an hour before bed, made a huge change in my recovery. I could even feel it on the field. I used to have heavy legs from time to time, but now I feel much fresher every day”, junior cornerback DJ Ivey mentioned when asked about OWN IT’s impact.
In addition to athletes using the data for themselves, the coaches’ dashboard provides easy to interpret recovery and sleep metrics. It’s a coaching staff’s nightmare to invest thousands of dollars into resources that collect data, only to realize it’s too complicated to spend time interpreting it and applying it to individual athletes. For Miami Football, OWN IT’s specialized coaches do the work for them.
Custom Plans For Each Athlete
Additionally, OWN IT coaches built custom protocols on everything from how to recover while traveling, to individualized night-time routines, to custom supplement plans. Under their unique protocols, athletes stuck to their personal routines and increased habit adherence by over 70% by the end of the season.
During the season, there was a turning point for athletes that helped them to recognize and take their recovery seriously. There was a starting freshman athlete that was displaying signs of increased strain and stress on his body. Coaches recognized that he wasn’t accustomed to the workload and level of performance that Miami Football was asking of him and his teammates.
Because coaches kept a special eye on him, they quickly identified early signs of illness before he displayed symptoms. After instructing him on some different ways to better recover, he made changes accordingly. Later, his roommate was also instructed to take the same precautions, but his roommate neglected to take those precautions. As a result, his roommate fell sick while he made a quick recovery.
Kamren Kinchens Makes The Game-Winning Play
Kamren Kinchens, a true freshman safety, is an incredible example of how custom plans for athletes affected on-field performance for Miami Football in 2021. Kinchens was assigned to the 5:45 AM workout group during the season. OWN IT coaches recognized during the season that his HRV continued to trend downward, which suggests that his sleep and recovery were being negatively affected. Kinchens even noticed that his lack of sleep and recovery was decreasing his memory, attention, and focus.
Kyle Bellamy, Director of Football Performance Nutrition at the University of Miami, moved Kinchens to a later workout group to allow for improved sleep and recovery. After two weeks of adjusted workout times, Miami found itself up by one point against NC State on 4th down with less than three minutes remaining. Kinchens came up with the game-winning stop two yards short of the first down.
During the post-game interview, Kinchens mentioned that he recognized the formation from his film sessions with the coaching staff and was able to predict the play and make the stop. Bellamy insists that “there was no doubt that changing his workout times directly affected [Kinchens] having the best average sleep time, HRV, and recovery score on the team. That is what gave him the focus and attention in a film to recognize that formation and recall it that quickly in a high-stakes situation.”
Ultimately, Bellamy had this to say about OWN IT and the impact it had on Miami Football in 2021:
“I’m hesitant to give such a strong recommendation because the competitor in me wants to keep this our secret weapon. However, it’s only a matter of time before this is the norm, and every year you wait to jump on board, more and more competitors will get ahead,” said Bellamy. “With that said, I highly recommend the OWN IT App and coaching solution — WHOOP on the wrist of every athlete, their app to display that data to the staff and athletes and OWN IT coaches that understand the data at a personalized level for each athlete. When it comes to educating our coaching staff and empowering athletes with their personal recovery data, OWN IT is in a category of its own.”