GPS and football sounds like an odd combo. I mean, you have to ask; do players really need directions on which way to run?
Yes they do. But surprisingly, the use of GPS in football—whether it be AFL, league, rugby or soccer—isn't exactly a new concept.
AFL teams first trialled the technology back in 2005. Collingwood and the Brisbane Lions were the main adopters. And, with many of their contemporaries following suit, the AFL soon allowed the use of GPS in game situations as well as training. 2006 saw NRL teams Manly and Melbourne take the tech to an entirely new code. Jump to 2009 and not only have rugby and soccer teams jumped on the band wagon, but 14 of the 16 national first grade league teams are using GPS — which leads to the NRL giving sides the green light to wear GPS units in matches.
So why, you ask, use GPS in football? Horrid attempt at humour aside (yay stereotypes!), GPS provides the coaching staff with detailed, accurate and objective feedback on how monitored players are performing. They can measure a wide variety of stats, not least of which are overall distance covered, top speed, heart rate variation, work rate, body load, as well as forces and impacts withstood. The systems provide both real time and retrospective data analysis, which allows coaches to work out not only how players are fairing in a game situation, but compare it to their past performances and training workloads.
So, say Lions coach Michael Voss needs to know how star player Jonathan Brown is travelling; how many kilometres has he run, tackles has he made, bone crunching tackles has he sustained? Voss need only to turn to the stats—and the physios who have studied them—to know whether Brown should be pulled from the field.
Or let’s pretend an unnamed AFL side begins monitoring players during their captains run. It’s Thursday. The coach learns that his players run a staggering 16km, only to back it up with another 16km during the game no more than three days later. Said coach soon realises his players face burnout and brings the captains run back a notch. He lessens the chance of over-training his players — a common occurrence in southern hemisphere sports, which will become telling later in the season as the intensity of the game heightens.
As is often the case, overseas clubs are now adopting the technology and looking Down Under to lead the way. Premier league giant Chelsea has recently found—pun entirely intended—GPS, along with Spanish football club Valencia FC and the Irish rugby union squad.
Of course, GPS does not guarantee a win; after all, it doesn’t actually make a tackle or kick a goal. But it does enable coaches to maximise player performance, making for a more effective and efficient use of player energy. It just has us wondering; what’s next?
Playing With Balls is Gizmodo AU’s week-long look at the technology behind the sports we love, from the jerseys to the balls and everything in between. Up the Bombers!