That’s the spirit! PhD researcher drops everything to resume work with WNBL team

As the days, weeks and months blur into one big, bottomless pandemic pit, imagine having urgent and pressing business arise to leave the house and show up for!

This month sports science PhD researcher Jodie Palmer received just a few days’ notice to get to Bendigo and resume her work during two big weeks of intense training with the Bendigo Spirit.

She’s currently officially part of the training bubble, at the Bendigo Stadium for twice daily sessions, collecting data.

“It’s so exciting because it feels like it’s been so long since we’ve been able to play sport,” Jodie says. “I feel really privileged to be working with an elite team at this moment.”

Jodie began her research in February last year, only to have Covid-19 completely wipe her plans. Sound familiar?

She’s working with the Women’s National Basketball League team to find ways to improve performance and reduce injury risk in elite athletes.

Using a device called an accelerometer, worn around the torso, Jodie records each player’s intensity and volume of activity, and neuromuscular fatigue, pre-and-post training and games. Comparing results shows how tiring the activity has been and what effect that has on the players.

Her data can be used as evidence on how to get the most out of each player. “For example, coaches might look at the intensity and volume of training and alter that depending on what game schedule is coming up,” Jodie says.

She also collects data via surveys on fatigue, muscle soreness, and wellbeing measures such as stress levels and sleep quality. The latter being particularly important during the pandemic.

“A lot of the players are away from their families and it’s important to look at not just what they’re doing on the court but what’s going on outside as well and the effects that has on their performance and recovery. Plus, we want to make sure everyone is okay and looking after themselves,” Jodie says.

“And most of the players have had six months of no basketball so we don’t want to overload them too much at the beginning.”

This week the Spirit will complete its pre-season training before following in the footsteps of the national football and netball leagues by heading to Queensland to isolate for a fortnight, then play in a condensed four-week season.

Jodie says although she’s disappointed she won’t be joining the team in its playing hub up north, these past two weeks have come at just the right time to enable her to progress her research.

“I don’t know what questions will be answered at this stage, and there are lots of questions applicable to looking at training resuming after six months off.”

Jodie will soon begin the detailed process of analysing data and writing about her findings – something to focus on as she bids the team farewell this weekend.

“It’s been really cool to be a part of the team environment again and I’ll definitely be watching the live streams of the games and cheering them on,” she says.

Jodie’s PhD experience should set her up for a rewarding future career. “I want to end up working as a sports scientist for a professional team,” she says. “They look at loading on players, like I’m doing at the moment, but also analytics for team and individual statistics. It’s about using science to help players perform better and teams win more.”

Photo caption: PhD researcher Jodie Palmer (centre) with Bendigo Spirit players Paige Price and Demi Skinner.

La Trobe University is proud to be the Official University and Sports Science Partner of the Bendigo Spirit, which enables collaborations such as Jodie’s research.

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