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"Sports would be easy if you could achieve your best just by training more", says Lasse Kukkonen, Development Manager of Oulun Kärpät


WEBWIRE

There is an away game in Hämeenlinna on Wednesday, in Tampere on Thursday and in Mikkeli on Saturday. The pace of play in the Finnish Ice Hockey League is tough and demanding. In between, the players need time to train and recover. How can data help to optimise the everyday life of top athletes in ice hockey?

Lasse Kukkonen, Development Manager of the professional ice hockey team Oulun Kärpät, is known for his long and successful ice hockey career, which includes seasons in the Finnish League, in North America’s National Hockey League and the international Kontinental Hockey League. He has also played in the Finnish men’s national ice hockey team in numerous tournaments. His career as a professional hockey player ended in 2020. A year and a half ago, Kukkonen returned to Kärpät again, this time to do development work outside the rink.

Kukkonen considers himself first and foremost as a help to the players.

“There’s no shortcut to good results in sports. For those of us working outside the rink, the most important thing is to find the right tools, so that those inside the rink can do their best.”

“It would be easy if sporting results came purely from hard training. It’s not that simple, however, and in addition to training, it’s very important to take care of your recovery. The stress of playing, training and travelling must be balanced with rest and recovery. This may sound easy, but individual differences make it challenging,“ says Kukkonen.

360° Training system as a data platform for Kärpät

To facilitate the balance between training and recovery, the whole team has access to the 360° Training system, developed jointly by Tietoevry and the Finnish Olympic Committee. It brings together in a single view the data on players’ recovery levels collected by the trackers that they wear.

Kukkonen heard about 360° Training from the Director of the Vuokatti-Ruka Olympic Training Centre, Janne Vuorinen.

“Janne and I were discussing how we could improve the performance of the team at the top level of ice hockey. We quickly found common interests and started working together last spring. The cooperation includes coaching, physical training testing and the monitoring of recovery and exertion through 360° Training.”

“The system was comprehensively introduced to us during our summer camp. We’re still in the early stages of using it, but I can already say that it’s very good and provides a lot of factual information about the whole team.”

Kukkonen also praises the services and conditions in Vuokatti-Ruka.

“Many people know Vuokatti-Ruka for its excellence in snow sports, but it’s also a real gem for ice sports. The ice hall is great, as are the training facilities, accommodation and food,” Kukkonen says.

Team sports needs team-level data

Kukkonen says that the team’s players have adapted well to the use of the new system.

“Today’s players are very interested in how they can reach their maximum level and measure up to the qualities needed for elite sports. The 360° Training system is a great tool for this, as recovery and stress levels have a big impact on results.”

“If we can help players to progress as individuals, it’s likely that they’ll do better as a team.”

Kärpät is using team-level data to find out, for example, how travel affects stress levels.

“Normally we travel back to Oulu after the games. After the Hämeenlinna game, this would’ve meant a bus ride to Helsinki and a midnight flight to Oulu. So this time we stayed in Hämeenlinna for the night. After several such trials, we can use the data from 360° Training to see whether it’s better to travel back immediately after the game or the next day. In the past, you could assess the state of alertness mainly from the players’ facial expressions and general demeanour.”

“There are a lot of differences on an individual level and, of course, not everyone always sleeps well. But on the team level, it’s important to know the average length and quality of sleep for all 25 players. Once you’ve done a sufficient number of tests, you start to get closer to the facts and don’t have to judge on the basis of conjecture.”

“Similarly, we want to monitor responses to training in off-ice drills, ice practices and stress during matches on the team level. Throughout the year, we’re interested in how the team reacts to all kinds of stress, fixture congestion or match pressure. I believe that 360° Training will allow us to improve the responses to training and identify recovery needs in time.”

“Without data, it’s hard to know when the body is actually in a state where it can take a hard workout. Our ultimate goal is to feel fresh when we’re on the ice, and to be at our best when the matches are played. Fact-based information helps us to train correctly and at the right time, and to plan optimally for the game" concludes Kukkonen.

“It’s great that, in such a short time, Oulu Kärpät has already gained concrete benefits for the team and its players with 360° Training. The system has been in development for a long time and has benefited from the expertise of top Finnish coaches. The long-term collection and analysis of data contributes to the development of elite sports, benefiting the athlete and their training, as well as the development needs of different sports, says Teemu Ekola from Tietoevry.

Finland’s top athletes and coaches are already using the 360° Training system.


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