July 30, 2021

Sports & Wellbeing Analytics: Our game changing PROTECHT solution behind new Premier League heading guidance

  • Premier League announced new heading in training guidance this week, which recommend a maximum of 10 ‘higher force’ headers per player per training week
  • SWA worked with Premier League on study on heading in football, which saw players from Manchester City and Liverpool fitted with a PROTECHT mouthguard
  • Findings reveal defenders head the ball the most and that mean accelerations of headers is 16.8g (linear) and 1,373rad/s2 – lower than average head impacts measured in other contact sports
  • Early evidence to suggest younger players and women may experience higher forces than older players, with neck strength a contributing factor
  • SWA ready to work with Premier League and wider sports industry on broadening understanding of head impacts through the use of PROTECHT

Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA) is delighted to have been involved in a study with the Premier League which has contributed to its new heading in training guidance announced this week.

The announcement follows a study carried out by SWA in which a cohort of players from Manchester City’s U18s and women’s teams and Liverpool FC’s U23s and U18s teams were fitted with PROTECHT mouthguards to measure the acceleration involved in headers taking place during training sessions. PROTECHT measured head impacts from chipped passes, thrown-ins, crosses and long balls.

The guidance – which will apply to clubs in the Premier League, EFL, Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL), FA Women’s Championship, the National League System from Steps 1-4 and the England national teams – includes the following:

  • A recommendation that a maximum of 10 higher force headers are carried out in any training week
  • A recommendation that clubs develop player profiles that consider gender, age, playing position, the number of headers per match and the nature of these headers
  • Encouragement for club staff to work with players following each match to ensure they have adequate time to recover from heading exposure

Research from SWA found that the mean acceleration of headers measured by PROTECHT was 16.8g (linear) and 1,373 rad/s² (rotational). Daily activity (running, walking and jumping) values are outlined in the literature to occur below 10g. Linear and rotational mean values of 26.6g and 2,000 rad/s² have been observed in other sports.

The Premier League also revealed that the data suggested central defenders head the ball on average more times per match than players in other positions, across all professional football, and the highest average headed forces per match in the Premier League.

Early evidence suggests that younger players and women may experience higher forces than older male players, and that neck muscle strength may be a contributing factor to the level of force transmitted through heading.

The Premier League has indicated its intention to carry out additional research in 2021/22 to increase its understanding of heading and the forces involved for players.

Chris Turner, CEO at SWA, commented: “We’re delighted with how the study with the Premier League went and we’re excited about the potential our PROTECHT system has to be applied more broadly across football.

“The Premier League have signalled its intention to carry out further research into the impact of heading in football and we remain in dialogue with them as we explore the ways we can work together moving forwards.

“Player welfare is rightly being spoken about with the seriousness it deserves and PROTECHT offers a real possibility for governing bodies, leagues and individual clubs to measure head impacts – and indeed contact more generally – objectively and in real time.

“We remain willing to work with those key decision makers across the sports industry for the good of the players, which are central to the sports we love.”

PROTECHT is an innovative solution developed by SWA which precisely measures the frequency and intensity of all impacts that occur to the head. Through a chip placed in a custom fit mouthguard, or mouthpiece, it is possible for coaches, managers, medics, physios and strength & conditioning staff to receive precise, objective surveillance data in real-time, about the intensity of any collision or head impact that occurs on the field of play or during training.

The system works using a tri-axial accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer to accurately measure the acceleration of forces from an impact in a certain direction; the change in rotational velocity on impact; and the orientation and direction of impact. Meanwhile a proximity sensor ensures readings are only captured when the mouthguard is being worn. Data is then transmitted in real-time to a portable device on the touchline.

The technology is currently in use at a number of professional rugby union clubs – including current Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins, Gloucester Rugby and Leicester Tigers – as well as sports such as boxing, mixed martial arts and rugby league.

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