Data crucial for new Harlequins head groundsman: Using data and the GrasPro system, Harlequins F.C Head Groundsman Adam Witchell has made a quick start to his first job in rugby.
With decades worth of experience in football, Adam brings extensive turf knowledge to the role, but knew there would be a learning curve with changing sports.
Working on behalf of Nurture Landscapes at The Stoop, Adam started in July 2022. With the grow-in complete and no performance data to reference, he started collating information.
“The first thing I wanted was a data recording platform, and GrasPro is always the one I will go straight to,” he said.
“I’ve always been quite data-driven. If I don’t have the numbers, I can’t just look at the pitch and work it out. Without the numbers, it’s just an opinion.
“I think it’s beneficial straight away. For example, when recording the moisture levels and water, I could look back and think it seemed to get a bit more growth at these times. Using the weather reports, you can see the difference in temperature between the highs and lows and find out the evening temperatures were slightly colder at that time. So, it’s nothing to do with the products you’ve used. You just didn’t have the residual temperature in the evening that will help the grass continue.
“Regardless if there was performance quality data or not, I’d still be doing the same because this was all new to me. Even if there was data, I’d still want to see mine, because what I’m doing in rugby might not have the same outcome as it previously has on a football pitch.
“So, I’ll know the products that have and haven’t worked during the grow-in. Next year, I can look at what I’ve done on the GrasPro system and alter and change. Even if it’s just the amount of product I put down or the regularity of applying it.”
For Adam, an early part of the job is gaining the trust of his new employers, Nurture Landscapes and Harlequins, and a large part of that is his monthly reports, which he sees as vital.
“I write a report to Nurture and Harlequins every month, and it details all the information on what I’ve done, when I’ve done it and the products and maintenance.
“I take that directly from GrasPro because you can download graphs, works and charts and put them in the report. It makes my monthly report writing much easier and much more in-depth.
“I could write a load down and bore them with war and peace and detail. But if you can see graphs and see what’s been done, it makes it easier and quicker for them. I find they are more receptive to visual reports.
“What I have found with rugby is the budgets aren’t quite as big as I’ve had with football. So, I have to get the most out of what I use because there isn’t the option of an unlimited budget.
“There’s always pressure to get it right the first time because I’ve got Nurture Landscapes who have employed me and Harlequins who have taken me on. Their previous groundsman was here for 12 years, and now, this new guy is coming who might do things a bit differently, which people will keep an eye on.
“You’ve got to get results or explain what you’re doing just to get that trust with Nurture and Harlequins.”
Setting Rugby Specific KPIs
Even though he is only six months into the role, Adam is in the early stages of collaboration with the playing and medical staff.
Moisture was one of the most significant learning curves early on, with Adam aiming for the standard 20%-24% used in football. He quickly discovered this caused digging up during scrums and mauls, and by referring back to his data, he was able to see a higher moisture level was required.
Sharing the data to prepare the pitch can also benefit the coaching staff, and eventually, Adam is hoping to benchmark the pitch to reduce injuries.
He explains: “I can look back on what was a good and bad game, then I can start speaking to the coaches about how I’m preparing the pitch.
“I’ll test it before just to let the coaches know the moisture, this is what it was like at this game, and this is how it held together better.
“Then they will find out going forward the more I take the data that they can set their players up slightly differently, maybe. So they are starting to engage a little bit more on the playing side with the data that I’m recording to help them set up for a game.
“Hopefully, moving forward, it will help with player recovery and development. If we find that players are cramping up at a certain time during games, we can start looking at hardness, traction and moisture as well. And when we start putting them together, I think we’ll start seeing data and values. And then working with the medical department and making it a bit safer, and then hopefully working to have a surface which they can use that does cause less injuries.
“That’s far off, and I haven’t got there with them, but I am hoping using GrasPro and all the data I record, I can push that forward and work with the sports scientists a little bit more in how we can set the pitch, so there are fewer injuries.”
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