GPS data and its integration into player management ecosystem

Mechanics used within sports analysis have come a long way since the use of traditional methods such as the simple stopwatch and heart rate monitors, and have drastically developed in line with the evolution of technology over recent years. In today’s industry, intelligence from a solely cardiovascular point of view (whilst still being particularly useful) does not provide the full picture of an athlete’s overall performance levels about their workload. Collecting, storing, and analysing GPS data is a phenomenon that is transforming the way football clubs are managing and monitoring the physical capacity of their players. 

Applied within the sports industry to introduce ‘real-time tracking’, the performance tracking device or commonly known as GPS is a small device (made of a GPS unit, accelerometer, gyroscope) that is applied in the middle of a player’s scapula and allows every movement performed by a player to be observed. GPS data relates specifically to the physical aspects of their game, such as distance covered in a particular session, the intensity of different phases of the game or training, and various parameters including speed, accelerations, decelerations, and energy expenditure. Numerous algorithms already in use throughout sports science, and physiology in general, can be applied within GPS and used to generate valuable performance KPIs. 

Prior to the introduction of GPS, there were often large discrepancies between the technical and tactical sides of training, as coaches would work with players and complete training without any knowledge surrounding various parameters, such as the intensity of drills completed and the level of energy expenditure required. This led to difficulties in creating a correlation between what was being asked of players by the coach, to the direct implications such activities were having on their physical well-being and capabilities. 

GPS devices have opened a brand-new door for the football coaching staff by providing them with a revolutionary way to work with their players by taking their individual abilities and requirements into account. The introduction of GPS data and analysis has allowed us to understand what happens during technical actions so unlike in the past, now we can finally track the entire training session, which is usually mostly made of technical and tactical drills managed by the technical staff. For this reason, the role of fitness coaches and sports scientists has changed over time, who now work collaboratively as more of an internal consultancy team with the aim of providing educational information to the coaching staff to assist with the continuous development of players.

Educating coaches on the best way to train their particular group of players is a large advantage of integrating GPS within a football club, as the data collected indicates the external workload generated by training sessions/matches. This then theoretically helps the coaches to understand the most appropriate drills and sessions to carry out on a particular day with the right level of intensity, without causing or provoking any damage to the players. Understanding what has been asked of a group of players during a training session and identifying the impacts allows any relevant or corrective action to be taken that can assist in optimizing the performance, injury prevention and, therefore, increases on one side the players’ availability on short-term and the other side the longevity of a player’s professional career. 

GPS systems alone, however, are arguably not enough to monitor the entirety of a player’s performance as they solely focus on monitoring the external workload generated during on-field sessions and do not take the bigger picture into consideration. The efforts of both sports science and support staff should be concentrated on understanding how players respond physiologically to the actions they perform on the pitch, as individual performance is a phenomenon that requires a much larger dataset to be analysed and variables that are not directly related to training, such as mood, stress levels, sleep, fatigue, medical history, and current injuries. This is a fundamental approach to quantifying the training load of a player, setting appropriate recovery activities, and improving risk management to have a positive impact throughout the coaching process. 

Allowing coaches and analysts to qualify and quantify the workload of individual players, GPS data integration is particularly important in football as it clearly outlines any alterations to training schedules that need to take place. A data management solution allows data to be interconnected with other crucial information relating to performance, medical status, technical attributes, and tactical strategies. Whilst each data set varies in its method of collection, it can all be combined to provide an overall image of a player’s well-being that can be analysed and assessed. Once collated, all data sets can be accessed in one place and stored in a logical format, providing easy access for all relevant parties as and when the information is required, alongside other information such as game performance analysis, required treatments, and appropriate medication that should be taken by an individual. 

Implementing a system that allows you to track every aspect of a player’s overall well-being allows you to take each element of their preparation into consideration and manage their workload accordingly. Understanding the bigger picture in terms of player performance in relation to their workload allows you to create individualised programmes based on the requirements and characteristics of players, including relevant recovery strategies and therapies that can be introduced to ensure they remain in peak physical condition and better manage their injury risk.

Whilst it is not essential for football clubs, integrating and maximising the use of GPS data in the correct way can provide access to valuable and exclusive information that can be deployed and communicated throughout all relevant departments.