GPS - the tech that's changing the sports industry

Although many professional teams have used GPS devices during training to monitor training loads and the fitness levels of their players, the sport will now join a host of others including rugby, Australian and American football, allowing teams to collect pin-point performance data during competitive matches. So how does it work?

 

It doesn’t take an expert to figure FIFA has done far more harm than good to the game it’s supposed to nurture. The scale of corruption exposed within its ranks has destroyed the integrity of the sport and has people worrying that it may never be the same again.

But amongst the tumultuous whirlwind of scandals, arrests and resignations, one decision was made by the governing body that will certainly change football for the better.

Up until the beginning of this season, FIFA had prohibited the use of GPS devices to be used during matches. This has since been reversed, under the proviso that the electronic performance and tracking systems do not pose a threat to the players and officials, and the data collected is not received or used in the technical area.

It was a story that received very little media traction for obvious reasons, despite being a big development for footballing sport science.

Although many professional teams have used GPS devices during training to monitor training loads and the fitness levels of their players, the sport will now join a host of others including rugby, Australian and American football, allowing teams to collect pin-point performance data during competitive matches.

So how does it work? Companies are providing professional sports teams with small devices that are placed between the shoulder blades in a pouch nicknamed a ‘bro’ due to its similarity to a female sports bra.

These units can record everything from individual movement patterns and bursts of intensity to heart rate, allowing coaches to see precisely the distances covered, the top speeds and the accelerations of each of his players.

The data collected from competitive games has proved, as expected, that player intensity is increased during games versus training sessions and that the physical output of players in various positions is very different.

This enables coaches to accurately tailor training to best suit the sort of work each individual will undergo during competition. And, by monitoring the levels of fatigue throughout his squad, he can adjust the length of sessions to make sure they are fresh for matches.

For example, in professional rugby, a club will know how many high intensity metres each player runs during a match and will choose specific exercises to try and replicate that distance in fitness sessions.

The physical demands of a rugby player exist on a very wide spectrum and there is often a big disparity between the metres run by an outside back compared to a front row forward. Subsequently, wingers and centres may have their schedule adjusted so that they are given an off-feet stimulus once a week to prevent overwork.

From a medical stance, physios and doctors can utilize the data to prevent injuries when players are about to exceed their physical stamina thresholds.

This is particularly important when a player is returning from injury. Protocol varies from club to club, but most involve the steady build up of training volume and intensity before the player is allowed to join the rest of the team. Even then, meterage is capped to prevent overexertion and risk of further injury.

From an athlete’s perspective, there really is no hiding in modern sport. Statistics are regularly used to aid selection in a team sport and nowadays the best player for each position can be assigned based on factors like endurance and speed. Data streams are monitored from the touchline in real time giving the coaches invaluable information to pick the optimal performing team at any given time.

GPS technology has replaced the need for semi-automated camera systems used previously.  Its introduction to professional sport is giving us a more informed understanding of physical performance and is not only improving the welfare of players, but the quality of sport in general. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Sam Jones

 

@SF_Jones

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