When it comes to a state-of-art high school football program on the front end of sports science and technology, look no further than IMG Academy in Bradenton, the No. 1 ranked preps team in the state of Florida and the second best nationally according to MaxPreps.
Among the more advanced tools available for athletes with the academy are vision training programs designed to help peripheral vision, Gatorade Sports Science Institute data collecting and muscle-specific examinations to help better improve weaknesses. On the practice field, the Ascenders also employ virtual reality training tools to better equip players.
“We feel like it’s where everything is going, and it’s a great advantage for our kids and coaches to have,” said IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright, in his first year with the Ascenders after extremely successful years with Carmel High in Indiana. “The kids are learning to utilize technology in a way that is allowing them to see the benefits in everyday life.”
While high school programs in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties are quietly dipping their toes into the fast-growing technology market, the Ascenders have been ahead of the curve for years, in no small part to the budget the academy possesses.
Though IMG Academy would not disclose specific financial details about their numerous programs, most of which are built into the cost of attending the school, the reality is that technology does not come cheap. Tuition for boarding students over the course of two semester is $70,800.
The vision training programs IMG Academy utilizes were first developed for the US Air Force Academy, Wright said.
“What it does is that it helps build the muscles around the eyes to encourage better peripheral vision and better reaction times,” Wright said.
The GSI training, which includes tracking blood glucose levels, testing VO2 max and cognitive processes, examines data taken from athletes’ bodies to understand how they best compete under duress. A partnership with EON Sports VR provides 3D software that recreates situational moments from real-life games.
“It creates an experience for kids that they can use as a training tool,” Wright said.
The majority of the high-end programs IMG Academy uses are impractical for Lee County schools with limited budgets. However, North Fort Myers head coach Earnest Graham does see a time, in the not-too-distant future, where technology will become more cost efficient.
Someday, he said, he would like to invest in a technology that would monitor body temperature and oxygen levels — like he experience at the University of Florida as a player in the late 90s.
“You see all these heat-related issues,” Graham said. “So you have a number of things that can monitor core body temperature and the impact athletes are taking. You kind of want to see those things readily available. They’re things that can better assess a kids’ overall well-being.