Case Study: Academic Research with Nacsport at the University of Calgary

By Duncan Ritchie

13-September-2022 on Users

17 minute read

Over the years, we’ve brought you many articles about how Nacsport, and video analysis in general, is used in the world of professional sport to improve team and individual performances. But performance analysis is not the only application of video analysis.


It can also be put to use in the world of academia. There are many institutions around the world that specialise in sports science and research, aiming to push the boundaries of our understanding of topics such as injury prevention, sports psychology, and kinesiology, to name but a few. Institutions such as the University of Calgary, where groundbreaking sports research is carried out daily.


And it’s precisely at the University of Calgary where you can find the subject of today’s article, Dr. Stephen West, who has kindly agreed to talk to us about his research and research methods, and the impact that his studies have on the world of sport.


So, let’s meet him, shall we…?


Introducing Dr. Stephen West


Stephen West


Stephen West is a postdoctoral associate in the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre (SIPRC) in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. Chaired by Dr. Carolyn Emery, the SIPRC is one of 11 International Olympic Committee research centres for the prevention of injury and protection of athlete health. The goal of the SIPRC is to reduce injury in youth and recreational sport by 25%. Dr. West and Dr.Emery, alongside PhD candidate Isla Shill and MSc student Taylor Price, head up the research into rugby, and are also involved in the study of other sports.


Stephen graduated from Dublin City University in 2014 with a BSc in Sports Science and Health before moving on to complete a PhD on Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Bath in the UK where his work focused on professional mens rugby.


Although he describes himself as a field hockey player, Stephen has dedicated his academic career to research into rugby union. Stephen has already published papers based on the men’s game including research on match and training injury trends. Here is a list of some of his published work with links:


•    Concussion trends. Trends in match concussion incidence and return-to-play time in male professional Rugby Union: A 16-season prospective cohort study

•    Match trends. Trends in match injury risk in professional male rugby union: a 16-season review of 10 851 match injuries in the English Premiership (2002-2019): the Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project 

•    Training trends. Patterns of training volume and injury risk in elite rugby union: An analysis of 1.5 million hours of training exposure over eleven seasons


At the moment, he is concentrating on women’s rugby and the youth game. The SIPRC team is conscious that there is a lack of research in these particular areas of the sport and wish to remedy this situation.


Let’s take a closer look at some of their work…



Same Name, Same Game. But Is It Different?


Nations Championship


The first study that Dr. West headed up as a postdoctoral associate at the University of Calgary was titled Same name, same game, but is it different? An investigation of female rugby union match events in Canadian Varsity players and took a pioneering look into the world of Canadian Varsity level women’s rugby.


As there is so little information about the women’s game outside of international games, this study aimed to be one the first to provide an analysis of the women’s game at varsity level, studying the frequency and distribution of events such as tackles, scrums, lineouts and passes. It also sought to record how long the ball actually remained in play during a match.


As well as adding a significant contribution to the tiny pool of scientific literature surrounding women’s rugby, there were several key aims of this study. The first was a comparison of game events with the women’s game at varsity level and the women’s game at international level. The second was a comparison between varsity women’s rugby and the men’s game. The third was to record a series of baseline figures on which further study could be built in the future.


So, why are these findings deemed important?


Well, principally, Stephen’s hope is that establishing these base parameter readings for women’s rugby at the varsity level will give coaches a better understanding of the training and conditioning routines needed for each athlete. In turn, this will allow for players to be better prepared for the demands of match play, therefore lowering the risk of injuries in matches.


There’s also an emphasis put on the tackle, which Stephen acknowledges as being the main cause of game injuries at all levels of rugby. We’ll talk more about this later in the article when we look at his conclusions.


But let’s talk a little about how the research team collected data for his study.



How Data Was Collected for the Study


For this particular study, the research team collected data from the Canada West Women’s Rugby 15s league, a varsity league with 5 participating teams. They obtained video footage from 49 games over three seasons which served as a basis for their study, although, in the end, one game was excluded due to poor video quality, leaving a total of 48 games.


An analysis of every game was completed with Nacsport Scout using an analysis template which included all of the main events that were to be studied as categories on the template.


These categories were:


•    Tackle
•    Ruck
•    Scrum
•    Lineout
•    Maul
•    Ball in Play Time
•    Passes
•    Offload


In addition, the template contained various descriptors which added additional details to the main tagged events. For example, the descriptors for a scrum were:


•    Won
•    Lost
•    Collapsed
•    Reset


Manual buttons were also used to measure the length of certain plays and to get an overall idea of the ball in play times.


As Stephen pointed out, this process is very similar to that undertaken by professional video analysts in sports leagues around the world.


The analysis of the 48 games was split between the team of researchers, so how did they ensure objectivity and the scientific integrity of their analysis?


To put it simply, they enlisted an expert analyst to tag the events of a game chosen randomly from the pool of 48. Each researcher then tagged the same game individually. The original analysis was then used as a benchmark against which the others were compared.


We won’t go too much into detail about how this was assessed, but needless to say that the level of reliability was deemed to be very high, which is key for a scientific study such as this.


Data was collected using Nacsport over the course of several weeks before the analysis of this data took place. So, what results did they obtain? What were the conclusions of their study?


Academic research template



Conclusions of Dr. West’s Study


As this was a pioneering study into women’s rugby at varsity level, all the information gleaned from this investigation can be regarded as unique. A baseline figure for rugby match events in the women’s game has been established by the team, a jump-off point for future studies which will allow for meaningful comparisons and conclusions to be made. Stephen himself is currently involved in two such studies, which we’ll talk about later in this article.


As for this study, the only similar data came from the men’s game and international women’s rugby competitions which, whilst useful, cannot be said to be comparable due to the standard of play and physicality of these competitions.


However, here are some notable conclusions from Dr. West’s paper:


Ball in play. At varsity level, the average time of each play was 2 minutes 14 seconds. There is a substantial difference between this and the 2 minutes 45 seconds in women’s international matches, and a maximum of 2 minutes 41 seconds in the men’s game. This shows that physical demands in this context are, unsurprisingly, less. But, again, this information is useful for coaches who are preparing their players physically for games.


The tackle. The tackle is the area of rugby where the majority of injuries stem from, so it’s useful to have a baseline figure of how many tackles actually happen in the women’s game at this level. Remarkably, Dr. West’s study found that there was very little difference in the number of tackles in the varsity level women’s game compared to the men’s game (no data was available for international women’s rugby). In the 2018/19 men’s season, there was an average of 284 tackles per game for both teams. In this study, 280 tackles per game was the average.


Kicks. This study found that kicks at varsity level were more than two times as frequent as at the international level with an average of 56 and 26 respectively.


Lineouts. The average number of lineouts was higher at international level, 21 per game vs 17. The conclusion drawn here is that kicks to touch are less successful at varsity level. Again, useful information for coaches.


Scrums. There were a higher number of scrums at the varsity level than international. 25 per game vs 18. A possible reason for this may be the lower skill level at varsity level leading to more infringements such as knock ons and forward passes.


Passes and rucks and mauls. There were fewer passes recorded in Dr. West’s study, 323 compared to 341 in the international women’s game. Likewise, rucks and mauls were lower at varsity level, 205 vs 230. The researchers speculate that this could be due to lower speed levels at lower levels of the game.


As you can see, there are a few interesting statistics revealed by this study, and all of this is useful information for coaches and trainers who are preparing players for games and gives a more thorough understanding of some of the possible injury risk points, such as tackles and scrums.


Although these findings are true in the context of this particular study, and other female leagues and study conditions may differ, this research provides some great baseline figures for future researchers to build upon.


Although we’ve highlighted some of the key findings of Stephen’s study, we recommend that you have a read of the published paper to get a thorough understanding of the findings.



Further Studies


University of Calgary filming setup


As we said earlier, this is just the first of the SIPRC teams published papers on the subject of women’s rugby. Building on Dr.West’s own research, he is currently involved in various studies on the subject of concussion in both women’s and youth rugby. 


According to Dr. West, the work led by his colleague Isla Shill had shown that youth females are at a particularly high risk of concussion in rugby. The reasons for this are currently being studied by the SIPRC team in the hope of understanding the risk factors a little bit more.


The use of Nacsport and video analysis in general is a common thread throughout his research. For example, the SIPRC team have tagged over 150 youth games from last season as part of Taylor Price’s MSc research, looking for commonalities and differences between players by age and sex, with a further 100 games recorded during the most recent high school and club youth season.


For concussion research, they use video analysis to compare tackles, the area of the game where the highest risk of concussion comes from. To do this, they have gathered a library of control clips - tackles which don’t lead to concussion - and compare them to tackles that do lead to concussion.


The hope here is to find out why so many players are being concussed and devise strategies to prevent this.


The areas they hope to influence are:


Law / policy. For example, the introduction of a tackle height rule in the game.


Training strategies. Developing neuromuscular training warm ups which reduce the risk of injury.


Equipment use. Whether the use of equipment such as headgear and shoulder pads would reduce injuries in the game.


Dr. West currently has two further papers in the pipeline regarding the risk of concussion in rugby, one of which, Caught on camera: a video assessment of suspected concussion and other injury events in women's rugby union, was actually published during the writing of this article. Click the link to read it hot off the press. 


The other study is at an advanced stage and will be published at a later date.





The work that the SIPRC team is conducting is extremely valuable to the world of sport. It provides a scientific basis for the prevention of injury, especially in groups of athletes that haven’t previously been studied in great detail, making the practice of sport safer for everyone.


At Nacsport, we’re extremely proud that Dr. West has chosen our software as one of the tools for his research, and we’re also proud that Nacsport is contributing, in a small way, to the safety of athletes around the world.


If you have any questions about Stephen West’s work and research, please get in touch with us through our website or any of our social media channels. You can also get in touch with Dr. West directly by email.


If you are a sports scientist and are interested in how Nacsport can aid your research, again, please get in contact and we’ll talk through your needs and show you how video analysis can be used in the world of academia.


We’d like to say a massive thank you to Dr. West for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his research. This has been a fascinating insight that has been our pleasure to share. We look forward to reading your future papers.


For everybody else…


Thanks for reading.

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