Paschall, spearhead of Duke’s Dive in Sports Science


It’s nine o’clock on a scorching scorching morning, and the Duke field hockey team is wrapping up a busy preseason and getting ready for their busy weekend of games. The Blue Devils, always a high-energy bunch, chatting while warming up and stretching to get down to business.

Meanwhile, the team’s sports science specialist Karlie Paschall is on the sidelines in a low squat, gazing intently at her laptop set on a blue folding chair under a tent to make sure she sees every step each player takes.

With each player wearing a Catapult tracking device, Paschall is able to see how far and how fast each player is running as well as how many times the athletes need to decelerate and accelerate. Using this Catapult system, which has been at the forefront of sports science since 2006, Paschall’s goal is to use science and formulas to ensure that each player’s activity level or weekly load sets them up. at peak performance for weekend games.

A four-year member of the Duke women’s football team, Paschall is keenly aware of the important balance between developing and maintaining fitness, while taking care not to overtrain.

“The most important thing that we monitor is their overall volume,” Paschall said. “So we base our training on percentages of play. We know that a play is a certain load, so we say ‘We want today to be half a play load or tomorrow a quarter of a load. game and so on and so on. “

In the spring of his freshman year, Paschall began investigating what his career might look like after football. Major in psychology, Paschall intended to pursue a career in therapy because she enjoyed talking with people and learning more about them.

However, after doing due diligence with some already in the field, she decided that was not the way for her and she skillfully pivoted. Paschall built on a friendship she had developed with one of Duke’s physiotherapists, Ciara Burgi. In addition to working with the current Blue Devil athletes as a physiotherapist, Burgi also managed all fitness and training data for the Duke women’s football team, who also used

Then the world stopped in March 2020 as students were sent home from college campuses, sports were put on hold, and life was mostly spent at home. Paschall, someone who admittedly doesn’t sit well, got bored so she asked Burgi to send her all of her Catapult data from last season, thinking she might do a research project with the goal to publish an article.

“We worked together all summer and she taught me everything she knew,” Paschall said. “We ended up posting an article in terms of preparation scores after playing a game. So basically how quickly do athletes come back to baseline and normal after a game.”

Paschall voraciously consumed books and articles on the science of sports, learning all she could on her own. Then came the moment, in November 2020, when she felt she had to decide between continuing her career on the football field when Duke had to compete in the spring due to the adjusted COVID-19 sporting schedule or pursuing this new passion.

“In November I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between ending my athletic career or starting something new in terms of risk taking and seeing if I could create some kind of internship position to be. sports scientist. ”Paschall said. “So after the ACC tournament in November with women’s football I ended up making the decision that I didn’t want to play in the spring and instead wanted that time a lot to dive really deep into the data. “

The pieces started to fall into place. Burgi has moved on to a new role with the Houston Texans in the NFL, leaving a gap to be filled with some of the Duke teams she has worked closely with in terms of sports science. Paschall dived headfirst as she did with the rest of her life and ended up working closely with the field hockey team throughout their spring campaign.

The Head Coach Pam bustin was thrilled with Paschall’s expertise and enthusiasm for sports science and knew she had to find a way to keep Paschall on staff after graduating in May. Working through the process of hiring a new staff member, Bustin officially welcomed the autodidact to staff over the summer.

“She has such a talent for it and an interest in it and a passion for it. I said we have to find a way to keep her on staff and make that something that she provides to us,” he said. Bustin said. “[Her contributions in the spring] we are amazing. I think [with Karlie] it becomes a more individualized process for each child, but overall, as a team, it makes us stronger. It was awesome. “

Now Paschall, who is also pursuing his Masters, finds himself on the sidelines watching the exercises on his computer screen rather than being part of it. The team takes a break to get some water and Paschall takes the opportunity to turn off the drill and compile the data to check the team’s load for the day.

While the numbers and the science behind them fascinate Paschall, the importance of making it accessible on a human level is paramount for success. Therefore, she needs to develop a certain level of trust with the players to get them to buy in. So she puts it in terms that they can visualize.

“How I explain it to the team is that each of them is a bucket and every week we want their bucket to be filled according to the prescriptions we give them,” Paschall said. “It’s basically about making sure that each individual is filling their bucket while our team is also filling our bucket. pushing them too hard. So it’s about making sure their needs are met so that we can increase their load throughout the season to make them fitter, but in a safe way. “

Paschall and the coaching staff also make sure each player knows she’s not a robot or just a number on a graph on a computer screen. This is where the Fit for 90 assessment comes in. A subjective wellbeing questionnaire that players submit in the morning to let coaches know how they are feeling – under a lot of stress, badly, didn’t sleep well. or whatever.

“This is the part of the science of sports that might be the most important – to make sure we realize that players aren’t just numbers, they’re humans and that there are so many factors that explain why their numbers say what they are, ”Paschall mentioned. “This is my favorite part of my job is that it’s a big puzzle for me. I can see player X running 1,000 meters in a match and she only runs 50, probably unlikely. , but that gives me a glimpse of no “Hey, she’s lazy or she doesn’t care.” Rather, you ask, “Is there something going on behind the scenes?” Has she eaten enough, has she hydrated, is there something going on with her family, friends or classes?

Paschall also emphasizes reassuring athletes that his data will never be used as punishment. Everything she does is for the good of the student-athlete and so far the players have been incredibly responsive.

“A big part of my relationship building is getting people to trust me and realize that I care deeply about them and want them to feel loved and seen and to know that we know they are. work hard, ”Paschall said. “We are not here to punish them or to say they are lazy. We know they work hard and we are here to assert it and get more out of it.”

“It has been an educational process for everyone, including the [players]”said Bustin.” We did it for a year without a person like Karlie and it was difficult because we try to use what we can and explain it to the team, but of course, they’re making judgments about it right away, not good or bad, just the natural process of development. So I think with Karlie’s arrival on board she was able to showcase what we’re doing with [the data] in a non-coaching voice, in a scientific voice that also has compassion and understanding having been a student-athlete herself. “

The energy and excitement for all of this data is transferred to the players as they start asking Paschall a lot more questions. Most of the time they want to know how far and how fast they have run, which Paschall knows to be expected. With that in mind, Paschall also likes to keep it fun and will give players feedback such as they ran as fast as an electric scooter for 50 yards or you ran up Chapel Hill and come back in this game. In fact, over the 10 days of preseason, Paschall said the Blue Devils racked up 615 miles of racing – a mere run to the White House and back – and hit a top speed of 17.5 mph.

“They normally care about how fast they run and how far they run, which is normal,” Paschall said. “The girls love it. They’ve bought into it so much and asked me a ton of questions and are super interested, which is really cool.”

While the basis of how far and how fast is interesting and still very useful, currently Paschall’s greatest interest is focused on something much more nuanced – the deceleration load.

“The only thing I’m really starting to care about is the deceleration load, because that’s where a lot of [the non-contact] injuries happen, ”Paschall said. “We can measure the total deceleration forces in practice and even divide them by time to find their actual load in a practice. We can also look at the deceleration time to see how long it takes for your body to slow down. It is a big problem for recovery. So it’s a good indicator of fatigue and how well they are carrying the load. “

The amount of information that Catapult produces is almost endless and you hear the excitement in her voice and you see the glint in Paschall’s eyes as she talks impatiently about how she is going to approach solving this case. head.

As players and coaching staff practice making figurative strides on the hockey field, Paschall delves deep into the analysis behind these literal steps that appear on her screen in the hope that she can make her mark. set out to push the Blue Devils to succeed this season.


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