Big brother is watching….GPS in sport

Posted: October 12, 2015 in Tech in coaching

GPS – Big Brother is watching you!

We now have technology that allows us to monitor our athletes in every way! Via the use of GPS technology coupled with a heart rate band we can monitor their average speed, maximum speed, distance run, altitude and heart rate. VX Sport is a New Zealand company who produce GPS technology used by many of the major sports teams around the world. This technology is commonplace now for professional sports and contributes hugely to the televisual experience when watching sports. It is now within the reach of coaches and athletes throughout all levels of sport and can make a real positive difference to the information you have on your athletes.


More accurate information for the coach should mean that you can design sessions to be specific to your players. The aim of a training session often is to replicate the demands of the game or race that your athlete is engaging in – even in some cases to make training more difficult than that game situation. However, particularly in team sports it is often easier for athletes to coast within sessions and this can go unnoticed by a conditioning coach dealing with a number of athletes. GPS units ensure that the coasting athlete is spotted and can then be provided with accurate data as to what level they are achieving at.  The players certainly get the sensation of there being no hiding place, while conditioning coaches are able to scientifically monitor workloads. Have a look at the video below to see how the Hurricanes are using GPS in their training and in their games. In particular they monitor total distance and total distance at speed, players are even running extra shuttles to get their weekly distance up!


The two field reports below are taken from two First XV rugby players performing exactly the same session, a half-back and a prop. Heart rate monitors were not added to the athletes for this session. However, we can see the top and average speeds of each player and also tackle the prop as to why he only managed 4195 metres compared to the other player! As the season progresses I will be able to compare these training figures with in game stats and adjust the training loads accordingly.



Perhaps a more useful view uses google earth imagery and is excellent to pass to the athlete for a visual representation of the speeds and distance he has achieved – this view relates to Tony Lochhead when he was playing for the Wellington Phoenix. The use of Google Earth means the image is taken from whenever they last took a satellite shot – he wasn’t running around a cricket pitch! The lines on the pitch denote where the player ran during the game and the colour of the line indicates the speed which he ran. By using the zoom buttons located at the top of the screen you can further isolate specific periods within the game for instance in a goal scoring move and investigate solely the speed and location of the athletes movement at that stage of the game.


As well as being able to adjust training loads and make training more relevant a vital factor in GPS use is the motivation aspect. There is literally no hiding place and no room for players to coast when they are being monitored by GPS – the results can be shared on a Facebook team page or posted on a noticeboard if appropriate. They can also be used as the foundation for a performance conversation with an athlete, particularly if there is a drop off in match day statistics achieved. They may also be an early warning signal of an injury to an athlete who may not want to share with you that he is injured.

When coupled with a heart rate monitor the statistics become even more powerful. In the diagram below you can see the heart rate rise as the athlete’s speed has risen. From a coaches point of view, particularly in some of the endurance sports, this is a very powerful indicator of an athletes fitness and a measurement of the effectiveness of a session. It can also be used as a starter to begin a coaching conversation with athletes able to gain knowledge and physically see the effects that their session has.



Gps units have opened up a whole new area of information from a whole range of different sports. The Go Pro view of this mountain biker includes speed and altitude – information taken from the unit. It gives the viewer a unique perspective and presents the sport at it’s most exciting, it is a superb advert for the sport and would surely attract new participants.


Video Link

GPS units are at a realistic enough price not to be out of reach to amateur clubs and schools in New Zealand, buying a whole set remains the preserve of professional teams but if you are able to get your organisation to make the investment then the dividend will be in more engaged, motivated athletes and coaches with accurate information on which to devise their sessions. As well as these advantages you can also use the unit to review the effectiveness of your own sessions as a coach and reduce the amount of time players may be standing around. In the amateur environment we often have only 3 hours a week training time, how much of that time is spent working meaningfully? Hopefully, with the addition of GPS units to your training sessions you can make a real difference to your players and athletes and be able to judge your own effectiveness, as well as theirs, by critically reviewing the results.


Jim Dickin





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s