Our weekly Q&A session continues this week with Skylar Richards, Director of Sports Science & Head ATC at FC Dallas (MLS). Skylar is also serving on Major League Soccer’s Sports Technology Committee. Skylar has a deep experience in sports science, wearable technologies, and performance biometric analysis.
SCSV: Can you briefly explain to us your background?
Skylar Richards: I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Evansville (Indiana) in Athletic Training and a Masters in Exercise Physiology from the University of Akron (Ohio). I have been in football (soccer) for more than a decade now having worked for four MLS teams during that time. I began my career as an intern athletic trainer at DC United, and then was a full Assistant Athletic Trainer at Columbus Crew SC for five years, moving on to Colorado to be the Sports Scientist and Assistant ATC. I have been with FC Dallas now for over five years and hold the titles of Director of Sports Science and Head Athletic Trainer.
SCSV: What are your primary roles at the Dallas FC?
Skylar Richards: As Director of Sports Science / Head Athletic Trainer I oversee the physiologic measurement and analysis of all seven of our full time teams from our U1As the Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Science, what are your primary responsibilities?2–U18 full scholarship academy teams as well as the Professional Squad. In general, I have the responsibility of overseeing the areas of measurement / revitalization / replenishment / maintenance / rehabilitation.
SCSV: As the Head Athletic Trainer and Director of Sports Science, what are your primary responsibilities?
Skylar Richards: I take my teams through periodic sessions that focus on 1: biomechanical screening 2: physiologic measurement 3: tissue treatment 4: nutritional supplementation. I do this mandatory with the Pro team 2-3 times per week, once per week with my U18 -16 teams, and as needed based on games for my other teams. Also as director I am in charge of identifying innovation sponsors for the club and brokering deals thereof with the help of the sponsorship/marketing department. Lastly, as Head Athletic Trainer I oversee the care and rehabilitation of the first team directly and advise my athletic training staff for the other teams.
SCSV: The cost of injuries has become a real problem across various leagues. For example in the Premier League, soccer teams have to pay $300M in paid salaries to injured players every year. How great of a focus is injury prevention to you?
Skylar Richards: When starting my career I was educated on three domains of athletic training: injury prevention, injury evaluation & injury rehabilitation. After completing several internships I realized that injury prevention was not focused on enough in our prevention, but was very important in terms of savings and winning. This realization is what propelled me to dive into the sports sciences, specifically in how to increase detection of physiologic breakdown before it affected squad availability. This of course has a savings effect on the bottom line of the team, directly in workers compensation (US) costs but also indirectly in sponsorship/ticket sales.
SCSV: What are the most innovative wearable technologies and injury prevention software that you have come across in your career?
Skylar Richards: (a) I think wearable EMG (Electromyography) is the future of soft tissue breakdown detection. Most measures that claim to measure soft tissue (muscle) fatigue are systemic (whole-body) measures and not measures of individual muscles.
(b) Wearable sweat analysis paired with the expected accelerometer and heart rate has the potential to allow us to become pit crews for the body during a game. By monitoring metrics that can be realistically changed in real time we can begin to truly affect performance and also prevent systemic fatigue.
(c) Markerless biomechanical analysis has been a passion of mine in that the ability to detect changes in movement ability with a camera based system can be fast enough to do a large group easily. This becomes the perfect way to stratify individuals by risk/fatigue level and focus on those who need it.
SCSV: How do you see wearable technologies and injury prevention tools evolving in the next few years?
Skylar Richards: For my specialty interest, group based tech, I see several things happening soon:
(a) First off, on field wearables, largely GPS, by itself will become obsolete. As computer vision technology improves, it will make completely more sense to have one piece of hardware to maintain that automatically scales to whatever number of athletes you need it for. Currently game video analysis is done in this way by paying companies thousands of dollars to have an individual manually decipher this data. Once it can be automated then 1- granularity of the data improves greatly. 2- speak of processing becomes a fraction of what it is now, and 3- you can use your one consolidated system on multiple teams in the same day (i.e. youth sports academies).
(b) Use of this same video will be turned into reaction based training games to help athletes make decisions faster and also allow coaches to gauge if the correct decision was made or not. There by you can now relate decision making into performance.
(c) Overlay this with the previously mentioned physiology technologies and now you are seeing the complete picture of the athlete.
SCSV: What are your goals to accomplish as a mentor for the Sports Council SV? Does it include working and advising our sports startups or other athletic trainers from other leagues (LaLiga, Calcio, Ligue 1, NBA, NFL)? Perhaps to share knowledge about best practices in the world of sports science?
Skylar Richards: I truly enjoy working in sports innovation. We are living in a renaissance era of technology that sometimes does not know how to adapt to the unique circumstances of team-based sports. My goal is to continue and guide technology companies to design products that logistically work in the environments they are targeting, likewise help those organizations find technology that will help their improve their daily work flow/ability without complicating it further. I do this by getting to know the team experts involved and applying my own experience to help make their efforts more efficient/effective rather than inundate them with more technology. That is a very fun challenge for me.
SCSV: I appreciate the time taken to speak with us this week. We look forward to working with you through the SportsCouncil SV.