In a bid to revamp their training operations via sports science, the Boston Celtics have made several notable personnel changes.
Recently, the Boston Celtics parted ways with longtime trainer Ed Lacerte, a man who had been with the team for 30 years. According to Steve Bulpett, he was the franchise’s longest tenured trainer. The Celtics also parted ways with Bryan Doo, who had served the team for 14 years as their strength and conditioning coach.
Between the draft, summer league, and the free agency period, this news appears to have gone largely unnoticed. Few outlets picked the story up, and even fewer dared to speculate as to what remodeled training operations formulated by way of sports science insights might look like.
After a bit of research, a few interesting trends pertaining to sports science in the NBA have become apparent, potentially providing some revelations as to how the Celtics are trying to restructure.
The Australian School
In 2013, Grantland columnist Noah Davis penned an article about the Australian experience with sports science. In short:
"The men and women in the Land Down Under have become the world leaders in maximizing performance through the use of trackable, sortable, actionable data."
Through the use of experimental methods and technologies, Australian sports scientists place a premium on the physical betterment of the individual. Using things like heart rate monitors and motion tracking devices, sports scientists can actually discern the physiological impact of sport on the individual player, in turn allowing teams to customize training programs to optimize performance.
The video below follows Wayne Spratford and Dr. Megan Ross as they explore how running mechanics can influence the strain on an athlete’s joints, and how carbohydrate loading impacts athletes in endurance sports, respectively.
Obviously, the Australian School is more complex than described and the video only provides us with a cursory glimpse at what the Australian School entails. That being said, Australia’s devotion to scientific objectivity in sport has undoubtedly influenced the country’s success on the international stage, successively grabbing the attention of other global sporting powers.
All in on Biological Analytics?
It should come as no surprise then that NBA teams have begun emulating the work of, and even trying to recruit, Australian sports scientists.
In 2015, the Philadelphia 76ers hired Dr. David Martin of the Australian Institute of Sport to take on a performance research role, a role which imbues in Martin authority over all things sports science. Shortly after, the Celtics followed suit and hired an Australian sports scientist by the name of Johann Bilsborough to head their training operations.
In making this staffing decision, the Celtics began dabbling in what Mark Murphy aptly called biological analytics, an expression which automatically alludes to the idea that training programs might be improved by gathering biological and physiological data, analyzing it, and then drawing relevant conclusions pertaining to the individual.
Bilsborough, by monitoring players for stress stimuli, has been able to discern appropriate amounts of playing time on a case by case basis, so as to ensure a perfect balance between players being practiced and being fatigued. Brad Stevens mentioned in an interview with Jay King that this work essentially allows the team to scientifically allocate minutes, an invaluable perk with a roster as deep as the Celtics.
With Lacerte and Doo out of the picture, it seems likely that the Celtics will go all in on Bilsborough and his work with biological analytics. Accordingly, any future training program that the Celtics sign off on will likely be largely predicated on some sort of individual, stimulus-response testing.
These tests are typically, and will probably, be broad in nature. One test might measure the force created when a player propels off the ground and the subsequent strain placed on their joints and muscles, while another test might monitor sleeping habits to try and mitigate back problems while also enhancing convalescence.
By committing to biological analytics, or sports science more broadly, the Celtics may be able to foster players that are both resilient to injury and high-performance, thus giving the team a competitive advantage over all the teams that still prescribe to the ‘just rub some dirt on it’ philosophy.
Let’s just hope that Bilsborough and his sports science philosophy can aid Isaiah Thomas with his labral tear.