GPS technology has long been a staple at the highest levels of sport.
Pro teams around the globe have spent small fortunes on equipment designed to track player movement. This data has proved invaluable, as they allow coaches to tweak training and tactics for peak game day performance and monitor who might be on the fast track to burnout.
GPS tracking can help any team at any level play and train smarter. Yet both the prohibitive cost and the need to sort through mountains of data have long been a barrier of entry for amateur sports clubs. Sports Performance Tracking has changed that. The Australian-based company has created what they call the simplest team sports GPS tracking device available today, and at a fraction the cost of many previous devices.
At about the weight of a single AA battery, the SPT2 is the smallest and lightest team device on the market. The device features a GPS which records 10 data points per second as well as an internal measurement unit that samples at 100 points a second. "GPS is really good at capturing actions that occur over long distance, while the IMU is really good at capturing things like short, sharp accelerations, bumps and tackles," says Ben Sharpe, Sports Scientist at SPT.
The device links to the company's software, GameTraka, and much of the data can be streamed in realtime to your iOS or Android device. SPT prides themselves on making the data actionable for the average coach who doesn't have time to scrutinize spreadsheets. "We strip away the fat, and we take away the information that is ambiguous. We take away the information that doesn't have any robust evidence behind it, and we just give the users what they need to know and when they need to know it so they're not paralyzed with this giant amount of information," Sharpe says.
The most straightforward application of GPS tracking is making sure players are physically peaking at the perfect time—game day. A gradually decreasing average speed and work rate are telltale signs of overtraining, allowing coaches to respond with measures like lighter sessions or unscheduled off days. The "grind" has long been mythologized in sports, but tech like the SPT2 can help teams work smarter instead of harder. But by also assigning numbers to metrics that previously could not be quantified, competitiveness among teammates during training and practice increases.
Beyond the obvious, a little more creativity with the data can produce something brilliant. By athletes wearing the devices over the course of several games, coaches can get hard data on their players' key performance indicators (KPIs) during the rigors of competition. They can then tweak their training to better mimic game-like conditions.
"The No. 1 use case for GPS technology, in my opinion, is being able to actually replicate what's going on in a game during training," Sharpe says. "(You can) design drills that match those KPIs for specific periods of the match."
These drills don't necessarily need to be full ground training drills, they could be small-sided games in which you modify field size and/or introduce different rules. The goal is matching the KPI's you're getting in-game inside the drill.
One easy area for improvement would be conditioning drills. Most conditioning drills are exceedingly linear and involve very few cuts and changes in direction. Players rarely move like this during competition. After several games worth of data are loaded inside GameTraka, a coach can get an idea of how much distance and how many changes of direction a player typically makes in an intense 5-minute period of a game. They can then look to create conditioning drills that better reflect that demand.
Or say a soccer team has trouble closing out matches. GameTraka can reveal what physical state the team's players are typically in when they enter the final 10 minutes—how far they've run, their average speed, etc. The coach can then figure out ways to mimic that level of fatigue and have his team practice executing the game plan during that state. Another example would be an American football team being able to see how long they typically take between plays during a game and how winded players get on long drives, then finding ways to replicate those KPIs during certain practice periods.
The possibilities really are endless and can get quite specific, as different positions face different rigors during competition, and certain opponents demand different styles of play. "The old saying is 'practice makes perfect.' I think what it should be is 'perfect practice makes perfect.' And it's deliberate practice, it's not just practice for the sake of it. It's not just more for the sake of it. Better is better, not more is better," Sharpe says.
After over 230,000 user sessions tracked in GameTraka, Sharpe is seeing some clear differences emerge between winning and losing performances in field-based team sports. "When you lose, you tend to run more, but when you win, you tend to run faster. So when you've got the ball, you're running faster. When you don't have the ball, you tend to be running more," Sharpe says. "More often than not, we see larger high-speed running totals in teams that are winning."
Learn more about the SPT2 and get a quote for a team rate at SPTGPS.com.