“It’s a linking together of experts in the field who are here to help our kids develop and grow, as people, as athletes, as students,” said Yukelson, who will end a career that spanned three decades at Penn State when he retires this June. “We can just talk about what we see, and how we might be able to help each other.”
Bi-weekly meetings give team members the chance to relay feedback from coaches or student-athletes, discuss best practices, trends, resources, future opportunities and future needs.
“It’s significantly improved communication and provided us with an opportunity for face-to-face discussion of what’s going on in each unit,” Clark said.
Discussion topics can be broad in scope — Clark, for example, is developing a voluntary program for senior athletes that helps them adjust their caloric intake after they move on from their sport – or based on an individual, such as an athlete who is struggling with how to mentally handle a serious injury.
“Sharing with all the leaders of the units trickles back down to the staff,” Clark said, “and then from there, it trickles into the areas where we all work with the student-athletes.”
Hamilton is the newest face in the group. The native of Durham, England spent the previous three years with USA Field Hockey (he spent eight weeks in University Park with the team in 2013) and has also worked with the English Institute of Sport and done consultation for the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Flyers and the Manchester United Football Club.
“David has a unique quality in his ability to cross communicate with a variety of units,” Green said. “He knows how to bring those practitioners together, use data to help inform, and then begin those dialogues that have to happen to strategize about how we take care of our student-athletes.
“This has really enhanced how we make decisions about student-athlete well-being and readiness.”
Since arriving in State College in October, Hamilton has worked with Penn State’s coaches to identify the variables they want to measure, focusing on player development and player management and identifying risk factors. He then shares that information with the other practitioners on the sport performance team.
Hamilton initially met with roughly 15-20 of Penn State’s 31 varsity programs, then made a group presentation to all of the head coaches in December. He estimates he’ll spend time with up to 10-15 different teams per week. A big part of what he does is benchmarking, and to do that he needs to know not only the current abilities of the athletes but how hard they’re working throughout the week or the season.
Data can be collected by simply asking a student-athlete how hard that practice session was — a 6 out of 10 or an 8 out of 10, for example.
“If you say you had a 6, and I know you trained for 90 minutes, then it’s 540 arbitrary units of load,” Hamilton said. “You’re developing an understanding through the week of how Monday was compared to Tuesday through the week to the games.”
Finding a balance between implementing the latest technology in sport and meeting the specific needs of the programs is another priority for the sport performance team. Hamilton has worked with the football team to measure soft-tissue strength using a device called the Bod Pod and has used force plates to measure vertical jump for the ice hockey team. Eventually, Penn State plans to measure student-athletes’ sleep patterns using biometrics.