By: Sean Kupiec, Luis Alberto Ramirez Torres, and Pablo Chung - LAFC
The Use of GPS Units for the Prevention of Injuries Among Soccer Players
Based on the high anaerobic and aerobic demands of soccer, the human body may be forced to withstand various stressors during activity. In general, soccer involves linear and multidirectional tasks in which players may be required to accelerate, decelerate, change direction, sprint, pass, shoot, etc. Nevertheless, injuries may arise from improper load management and/or a lack of readiness for soccer-based movements. A lack of training periodization and the eagerness to boost performance, could hinder a player’s musculoskeletal system. Across the board, overuse lower limb injuries are prevalent among soccer players (Bacon & Mauger, 2016). On average, a soccer player may sustain two injuries per season, which could keep them sidelined for approximately 37 days (Jaspers et al., 2018). As a result, teams may question whether new and upcoming performance concepts/devices may mitigate a player’s injury risk.
Based on the prevalence of injuries within soccer, teams may resort to real time analysis devices when looking to mitigate injury risk. For example, global positioning system (GPS) units are capable of capturing external load metrics pertinent to training and game performance. In more detail, GPS units may generate multiple external load measures, such as, distance covered (at various speeds), high-speed efforts, accelerations, and decelerations (Butcheit et al., 2015). The data provided may render if a player has met, surpassed, or came short of training/competition expectations. A rapid spike in training load (intensity, volume, and frequency), minimal recovery time in between activity, and a lack of preparation could bring about various injuries (hamstring strains, quadriceps strains, joint/ligamentous injuries, etc.) (Jaspers et al., 2018). As stated before, injuries may sideline a player for more than a month, which could hinder their physical, physiological, and mental well-being. Through the implementation and analysis of GPS data (external load), teams may retrospectively assess the basis for an injury (increase in distance covered, elevated body load, peaked high speed efforts, etc.) and prospectively, periodize trainings to mitigate over-training induced injuries and/or the lack of preparation going into competition. In theory, GPS units may populate vital information relevant to an injury. External load markers, GPS derived, may dictate if damage was caused by underexposure or overexposure to a training stimulus.
Evidence Based Outcomes
There is moderate evidence supporting the use of GPS units for the prevention of injuries among soccer players. GPS units may grant players, coaches, and health and fitness professionals vital external load metrics correlated to contact and non-contact injuries. In more detail, underexposure in low-intensity distance (LID: < 19,222m), accelerations (ACC: < 1,881), decelerations (DEC: < 1,731), high speed running (HSR: 351m – 455m), sprint running (SR: 75m – 105m), and body load increased non-contact injury risk, while moderate to high DEC, LID, and total distance (TD) were correlated to contact injuries (Bowen, 2020; Ehrmann, 2016; Malone, 2018). On the contrary, moderate HSR (701m – 750m), adequate SR (201m – 350m), an elevated total workload (³ 2,584), and optimal aerobic fitness reduced the likelihood of soccer-based injuries (Malone et al., 2018). Through proper external load dosing (GPS indicative), teams may minimize the risk of injury caused by under/overexposure to a stimulus. All in all, GPS units may populate valuable external load metrics which may help optimize performance and prevent soccer-related injuries.
In the practical setting, GPS units may serve as an additional tool for the prevention of injuries among soccer players. Through data acquired, teams, players, and health and fitness professionals may retrospectively assess the cause of an injury, and prospectively, prevent future conditions through the optimal external load programming. Nevertheless, GPS data will need to be interpreted by a qualified professional. Sports scientist generally take charge of quantifying and planning a team’s internal and external load metrics. They may be responsible for all duties relevant to GPS units, which may include, fitting of vests, placement of units, turning on/off the units, collection of units, and download/upload of session data. For some, hiring a sport scientist will be of no issue, on the other hand, small budget teams may struggle to add a sports scientist and/or purchase the equipment needed. In addition, GPS units may malfunction. GPS units may turn off during a session, weather could impede the syncing of data, players may toss their units giving elevated speeds, etc. The discrepancies will need to be accounted for and adjusted promptly to avoid variances in a session’s analysis. While GPS units come at a monetary cost and may hold slight malfunctions, the wearable performance device allowed researchers (Bowen, 2020; Ehrmann, 2016; Malone, 2018) to quantify various external load variables correlated to injuries. Moreover, GPS units may help with the planification and tracking of future sessions. To sum up, external loads (daily/weekly) may be prescribed and tracked via GPS units with intent to diminish injury risk and simultaneously, optimize player performance.
LAFC Medical Staff
Head Athletic Trainer
Luis Alberto Ramirez Torres
Assistant Athletic Trainer
Assistant Athletic Trainer
Bacon, C. S., & Mauger, A. R. (2017). Prediction of overuse injuries in professional U18-U21 footballers using metrics of training distance and intensity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(11), 3067–3076.
Bowen, L., Gross, A. S., Gimpel, M., Bruce-Low, S., & Li, F. X. (2020). Spikes in acute:chronic workload ratio (ACWR) associated with a 5–7 times greater injury rate in English Premier League football players: A comprehensive 3-year study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54, 731-738.
Ehrmann, F. E., Duncan, C. S., Sindhusake, D., Franzsen, W. N., & Greene, D. A. (2016). GPS and injury prevention in professional soccer. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(2), 360–367.
Jaspers, A., Kuyvenhoven, J. P., Staes, F., Frencken, W. G. P., Helsen, W. F., & Brink, M. S. (2018). Examination of the external and internal load indicators’ association with overuse injuries in professional soccer players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21(6), 579–585.
Malone, S., Owen, A., Mendes, B., Hughes, B., Collins, K., & Gabbett, T. J. (2018) High-speed running and sprinting as an injury risk factor in soccer: Can well developed physical qualities reduce the risk? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21(3), 257- 262.