At Athletic Lab, we use GPS tracking as part of our player monitoring toolkit with multiple teams to assess player readiness, manage training load, and reduce injuries.
[Vanessa Batchelor, MS is a coach at Athletic Lab and the Director of Sports Science for NC Courage Academy]
Connecting the Dots
Sports coaches, performance coaches, and sports medicine professionals often work directly with athletes to ensure safe, effective training methods. In many circumstances, having great success can push the boundaries of performing in ideal, safe conditions. GPS technology provides further understanding of the relationship between internal and external loads for use according to each profession’s obligations. Having access to an objective source of information, such as GPS data, can keep those calling the shots on the same page.
Common goals of athletic teams typically include improving sport-related physical capabilities, decreasing the likelihood of injury, and maximizing the length and productivity of athletic careers (Valle, 2018). Although these commonalities unite the team’s staff, the process of achieving success isn’t so easily agreed upon. GPS data creates an opportunity for succinct training plans according to the importance of each goal, as the hierarchy shifts throughout the season.
Using GPS Data as a Sports Coach
Although the responsibilities of a sports coach revolve around analyzing relevant skill and developing athletic potential, proper team management is often the bone structure of any successful squad. GPS is a tool designed to collect and organize player output, so the coach produces competent, informed decisions with evidence of intensity and capacity in mind. The ability to accurately monitor and manipulate the fluctuations of daily practice intensities can efficiently increase the likelihood of players being in top condition (mentally and physically) for the upcoming competition.
The feedback acquired from GPS can ensure proper tapering each session in preparation for big games. The concept of tapering is described as a progressive nonlinear reduction of training load over time, in attempt to reduce physiological and psychological stress of daily training while optimizing performance. Tapered training based on games, travel, and heat acclimation have been associated with a performance improvement of nearly 3% (Le Meur, Hausswirth, Mujika, 2012). Additionally, the added stress of travel, especially across time zones, and heat acclimation should be highly considered when deciding how much or how little a team should gradually decrease training load. While the commonly used technique called rate of perceived exertion can be helpful, it is not as reliable and not as objective for translating feedback.
Furthermore, many team sports compete in tournaments resulting in multiple games per week, and sometimes, per day. Former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s head coach Jill Ellis relied heavily on GPS data to convey which players needed to be rested and which obtained adequate recovery for the high level of play required in the 2019 Women’s World Cup (Carroll, 2019). Having the information provided from GPS technology assists with moving out of the mindset of being a starter or playing a full 90 minutes, shifting the attention towards the athlete’s health and maximizing each players’ productivity.
The role of a sports performance coach shifts from teaching sport specific strategy to maximizing athletic ability based on the physical and mental requirements of the sport. It can also include monitoring the well-being of athletes, and assisting in return-to-play strategies after an injury. Performance coaches will likely be responsible for editing GPS data each training session and game, creating comprehendible reports as a resource for the coaching staff.
Trimming transition periods or rest time out of GPS data is vital for producing accurate trends in the statistics. Including inactive time periods of the session will skew team averages and work loads. Occasionally, creating specific groups in reports will ease their translation from field to paper. Common groupings can include playing position, recovery, rehabilitation, or conditioning. Observing players based on the specific activity they are performing assists in the explanation of the numbers produced.
Individualized thresholds also provide an increased comprehensibility to the coaching staff. This method accounts for differences in individual physical capabilities. While team-sport matches are contested at an absolute level, the external load of a high velocity movement could represent different internal loads between athletes (Sweeting, Cormack, Morgans, Aughey, 2017). Obtaining training maximums through testing, such as maximum speed during a sprint test, can serve as reliable sources for individualized thresholds.
Sports Medicine Staff and GPS
The sports medicine staff ordinarily interacts with players during physical rehabilitation; however, they can also be involved with monitoring the status of player well-being and ensuring a safe environment for training. GPS technology can come into play to provide additional information before and after injury in attempt to decrease the likelihood that those set of circumstances will reoccur. As mentioned in part one, managing individual player thresholds can help to prevent training past tolerances that increase the chance of injury. Forming these types of training “zones” will better ensure the safety of athletes, without compromising the quality of training.
Athletic trainers could also use GPS to set maximum intensities or taper off when returning to normalcy from an injury or period of inactivity. When returning to play, it is important to gradually increase intensity and load based on the individual’s current capacities. Training too hard, too quickly can easily lead to regression. By setting these lowered thresholds, or even monitoring players “live” can improve the precision of the rehabilitation/return-to-play process. Furthermore, having individualized thresholds provide a pre-established baseline to work towards when tapering off lower work loads.
The Bottom Line
GPS technology can be a useful tool for all staff members working directly with athletes. It does not necessarily lighten the workload, but can increase the quality and validity in which decisions are made by each profession, as well as decisions that must be made unanimously. By utilizing techniques such as individualized thresholds, adequate tapering, and workload management, player health and well-being is prioritized. Considering both internal and external load during training is critical when balancing intensity and fatigue, ensuring minimal risk and maximal training efficiency.
- Carroll, C. (2019) Women’s World Cup 2019: How the USWNT Are Using GPS Trackers in France. STATSports. https://statsports.com/womens-world-cup-2019-how-the-uswnt-are-using-gps-trackers-in-france/
- Le Meur, Y., Hausswirth, C., Mujika, I. (2012). Tapering for Competition: a review. Science & Sports, Elsevier 2012, 27 (2), pp. 77-87.
- Valle, C. (2018). How to Build Athletes with GPS and Player Tracking Technology. Simplifaster. https://simplifaster.com/articles/building-athletes-with-gps/