Why team sports like football should use GPS tracking

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Endurance athletes of all kind of levels track their GPS data to analyze it and share it with their friends. However, when we look at team sports like football, only the elite teams use GPS data. In this article, we are going to discuss why GPS tracking is also important in amateur team sports for both the athlete and for the coach.

What are the benefits of GPS tracking in team sports?

The introduction of GPS technology in football settings has provided a revolutionary tool for recording and assessing the physical workload of the players. GPS systems can be used to track the external load of the athletes. The external load refers to the prescribed activity such as distance covered, a number of accelerations/decelerations to name some of them.

GPS technology has many advantages that every coach should take advantage of. It is easy to use, it measures a variety of training metrics and it can produce real-time feedback based on data. Together this can inform coaches about physical conditioning and appropriate recovery time during intense training.

Additionally, during a match, coaches can design and make decisions about return to play for players who have sustained injuries by tracking their workload and providing the most appropriate intensity according to the player’s stage of recovery.

“GPS technology has many advantages that every coach should take advantage of”

Undoubtedly the features of the GPS have promoted a greater comprehension of the physical activity demands and positional profiling during a match and training sessions. GPS metrics aggregated over a weekly workload can offer workload and temporal guidelines that assist in better workload-recovery practices that seek to reduce injury risk. It is therefore not surprising that the GPS technology is so useful among coaches in elite football.

How team sports should start using GPS data

In the previous paragraphs, I discussed why coaches should use GPS technology. Another important aspect is how coaches should use this technology. GPS can offer great insights in coaches, but for coaches to be able to make meaningful use of the GPS, some factors need to be taken into consideration.

First, a rationale about why monitoring is taking place, what is to be monitored, how often, and how the data should be interpreted and presented need to be clear.

Second, collecting, analyzing, and presenting the data is very laborious, and it requires human resources; hiring a professional who can cope with GPS and who is able to translate theoretical research into practice is significant.

One last element is the lack of buy-in between coaches and practitioners. A study by Akenhead et al showed that only 37% of head coaches rated this technology as effective and, thus, were keen to use this system. So, practitioners need to be able to gain the trust of the coaches regarding GPS technology, and coaches should be educated about GPS. Coaches who can appraise the GPS, can use it more efficiently.

Why team players want their coach to use GPS data

A team player wearing the GPS in training and matches can have benefits too. Most elite players are competitive, and they are striving for optimal performance. GPS metrics can inform the players about their performance in various metrics (e.g., total distance, sprints, etc.). After the end of a training or game, football players are keen on checking their metrics and comparing them with their teammates. This can create a positive and meaningful competition between them which will benefit the club and themselves by forcing the players to achieve the maximum performance.

A second reason for the use of the GPS system by the players is the feeling of justice. Their objective data from the GPS is evaluated daily by the coach. Decisions like do you get to play in the game, in which training group will you participate, what will be your future in the club etc. are now based on objective data. Players will feel that these decisions of the coach are fairer.

Real time performance data during a training using Polar Team Pro, GPS-based athlete tracking system

How come elite football players use GPS data while amateurs still do not?

Both elite and amateur football players are interested in tracking their data. Why elite football players are in more interest of them, while amateur are not there yet, depends on some factors that are more prominent in elite football. Elite football players are relying on their objective GPS data for decision making: signing a new contract, transferring to another club, promotion from the academy to the first team, etc. In contrast, amateur athletes are not relying on GPS data for these kinds of decisions.

Another reason is that elite players are working in a result-driven and data-driven environment and subsequently data from the GPS is important for elite players in order to stay at the elite level. Amateur players are not per se working in a result-driven environment and they are playing mainly to enjoy the game.

Often amateur teams feel like GPS technology and the appropriate staff to analyze the data are expensive. However, recently, cheaper GPS trackers are available designed for amateur football players. They are more affordable than the trackers being used in elite football and less complicated. The aim is to provide a cheap and easy-to-use technology for the amateur coach and for the amateur players. This could stimulate amateur coaches and players to use GPS tracking technology so that they can play and train.

In summary

The GPS technology is a valuable tool in team sports like football. It provides an effective and efficient method of measuring the external workload of the players, allowing coaches to have holistic workload management. Coaches should interpret the information provided by the GPS using non-modifiable variables like previous injury, age, training history, internal responses, and a multidisciplinary team. In this manner, decision-making can be more meaningful than just interpreting the GPS metrics. Increasingly, decisions may be based on this data, and understanding the strengths, limitations and potential further uses are vital to ensure this is adopted in an appropriate way. Players should appraise the GPS and use its data not only to show-off or to compare with fellow teammates but to understand their weak spots and strive for improvement. Amateur athletes are not yet at the same level as elite athletes regarding the tracking of their data, but new and more affordable GPS technologies can be promising and can offer insights that so far only elite athletes can enjoy.

Want to learn more about GPS tracking in team sports? Get in touch with our expert Dimitrios Angelidis

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