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How GPS trackers have changed athletes

If you’re reading this, chances are you watch quite a bit of sport.

If you do watch quite a bit of sport, you probably know that coaches and fitness staff use GPS technology to track all sorts of details about players’ performance.

But what you might not know is just how much information you can get about a player from those little devices, or how much they have changed the day-to-day experience of being an elite athlete.

Incredibly, it was only a decade ago that GPS began to be introduced into the world of sport, but everyone has certainly gotten on board in a hurry. Its first uses were obvious ones – mapping routes for cross country skiing, measuring how far athletes were running during football matches, that sort of thing. But as the technology has become more sophisticated and GPS units have shrunk to the size of a box of matches, the amount of information you can get out of one of these bad boys has increased exponentially.


 Gone are the days of training being a light jog and a bit of a kick around before heading to the pub. Nowadays players have their routines mapped out for them down to the minute. GPS data enables teams to tailor training programmes to individual players, because of course the player with a hamstring injury needs to be treated differently to the one with broken ribs. GPS data will tell you how far someone has run, the intensity of that run, how much force their knees had to bear and so much more.

Another cool thing about GPS data is that it allows you to train in the same conditions as you play games. By comparing training data to match data, you can replicate match conditions almost exactly, and for example run ‘last minute of a game’ scenarios in conditions similar to the last minute of a game – with all the exhaustion and lactic acid that comes with it.

GPS data also allows teams to tailor training programmes to specific positions, and establish performance benchmarks that players in those positions should meet. So now you know how much force your scrum needs to exert, how fast your wingers need to be, and how high your full-forward needs to jump to be the world’s best.


 So with all that information helping you prepare for the big game, you also have to do the review afterwards. Players will sit and watch the tape back, armed with all their personal GPS data that they can compare to other matches throughout their career. But it’s in the recovery rooms where the real magic is happening. When you combine GPS data with other medical tests and measurements, you can do extraordinary things. Dr. Chris McLellan from Bond University, discovered a way to measure the impact of collision injuries by combining data about the force involved in the clash with levels of certain proteins and hormones in players’ blood! This microscopic level of detail allows medical staff to tailor specific recovery programs for every single one of their players, and no doubt plays a huge part in getting your favourite stars out on the park every week.

Essentially, GPS trackers and the incredible amounts of data they produce allow both teams and individual athletes to take the ‘guess’ out of their ‘guesswork’. Every coach in the world has their own favourite drills, their preferred methods of teaching players what they need to know. But with GPS data these same coaches now have facts to back up their hunches – giving weekend warriors the ability to train like superstars.