Over the years I have researched many, tried a few and heard all about impact sensors, and for the time the blog has been going you have all known I have had a “standoffish” approach to them. That is not because I don’t think they may have a place but it is because of what they can actually do and how reliable they actually are.
I have made it well-known that the “most applicable” system I have seen is the HITs system that is exclusive to Riddell helmets. It is not the best because of factors that include: cost, helmet exclusivity, and it – like all other sensor systems – is not without scientific flaws. However, what makes HITs near the top is the information that can be gained as well as the feedback/real-time information. There are other types of impact sensors you will see “certified this, certified that” but many of them attach to the helmet making the NOCSAE warranty invalid as well as some helmet manufacturer warranties. Most, if not all do not take center of mass into effect either, making some of the objective numbers askew. As you can see I have had issue trying to adapt to one or the other, enough so that I would be willing to try it out on our teams.
I and our school cannot afford the HITs system and we promote the use of any helmet that fits properly on each kid, because of that I have been looking for other sensors and complete systems that may actually be of help to me as an athletic trainer. I did remember that I have always been intrigued by a mouthguard sensor and when the Vector Mouthguard started making its debut in colleges I started doing more and more research about it. That led me to a conversation – a very honest and blunt one – with CEO Jesse Harper.
After that conversation I did even more dirt digging on what I could and asked many people about the system and what it purportedly could do and all the scientific and mechanical engineering stuff I could comprehend. I came away satisfied, satisfied enough to invest some time and resources to try to procure this system for use in the Fall. Basically, I am ready to dive into this sensor phenomena head-on (pun not intended), finally.
Before getting this event set in motion, school administration needed to be apprised of the plan and they would ultimately have to say yes. That conversation occurred in May when I approached the Principal and Athletic Director about this.
It did not take long to explain the benefits of this, not only from a player safety issue but from a coaching aspect as well. They both liked the idea of us looking out for player safety and showing it by being innovative, if nothing else than in perception.
They only had one statement/question for me, “there are not any drawbacks to this, unless we are missing something?”
With most any product, good ones, the biggest barrier for most is going to be cost; that was no different here. Starting in early May I started to ask around for donations and support for this system. Although I really only had to get enough for the computer and relay system, because the mouthguards could be purchased by each individual, I felt that if we to get real results and I were to completely grasp the Vector system I need to have most if not all of the varsity players in it. I would have to be the one to get the 35-40 mouthguards and the system, not an easy number to get when you have zero for a budget.
Even with all the ways I could tell people that they would benefit from being part of cutting edge player monitoring and telling them I would use them or their business as a reason we could pull this off, no one was biting. Even the very good i1biometric reps and company did what they could to help me out and for the most part it was “maybe”.
After losing hope I had a discussion with Jesse expressing I did not want to add a cost to the players this season, we decided to make a plan. Jesse is motivated to get this in the hand of a trusted and honest athletic trainer, because like me believes that if we (athletic trainers) don’t support this or want to use this then the high schools may be a rough market for them. After some hand wringing on his part we had figured out a way to get everything we/I needed for a cost that may be doable.
Solution and Resolution: Head Coach
Once again we ran this by possible sponsors, yet no one was willing to step up… So, step in my football head coach. He has always been welcoming to new ideas and thinks player safety is paramount and worth bragging about as well. Coach takes pride in having healthy athletes and being on the cutting edge for ALL athletes not just football players; he shows that in the research he does about fitness and nutrition and implementing the workouts for every sport in his weight room.
I had already discussed this system with him and he naturally was excited to get it for the player safety aspect but what he is really interested in seeing in the “heat map” if you will of the contact players are taking and is being registered by the mouthguard. He wants to know if specific drills are an issue and wants to be able to use this back up what he and other coaches have told kids about lowering their head. Full disclaimer, it appears the system may be able to provide this for us, and we will be finding out.
After telling him all the issues I was having from May until late July trying to get this up and going he finally just told me “the program will take care of it, this year.”
This was a huge ask and even bigger gesture from our head football coach. This system is completely unproven in the wild outside of colleges as far as I understand; this is the first football season this has been available. I believe we will be the first in Illinois for high schools to be using this, he has nothing but faith in me as an athletic trainer to put up the money. I am so grateful for him and his willingness to give it a shot.
#Realtalk and Full Disclosure
I don’t believe this to be the panacea of sensors, in fact, I would imagine this will fall short of some expectations I have in my mind. I am wary of any device that may take away the most important part of concussion assessment, clinical observation. What I am interested in is to see if this system will correlate what I observe and evaluate with actual injuries and will it help identify any that I may have been missing over the years. Basically, will this be a second set of eyes for me, that is reliable.
Even with the help from Harper and the company (to reduce cost – we are basically renting the system/computer) I have made him zero promises in terms of coverage, he wants to know an honest opinion and he will get one. You all will get one. I am sure there will be progress notes on the blog about it.
We are both benefiting from this relationship, the company and Vector gets the exposure and product review they want, from a key sector in the allied healthcare field and we get a system that may bring player safety to a whole new level for football at this school.
I actually encourage anyone out there that could make this possible for their football teams, THIS YEAR, to do it and work with me to discover if this is going to be a help for all of us: athletic trainers, players, parents and even coaches.
It may not be the best solution we have, or even ‘a’ solution, but the Vector Mouthguard is the first impact sensor that I am prepared to use for an entire team and season, that should tell you all something.