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GPS Technology in Sport - Barry Watters

Barry Watters is the head of sport science in STATSports, a global leader in the flourishing sports technology market. Having worked with some of the world’s top sports teams including Manchester United and Juventus, Barry gives us an insight into the important role of technology in sport and how it can be best utilised to aid performance.

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has been used in professional field and team sports since its first applications in 2006. Since then the technology has developed at a rapid pace with devices now being more accurate, reliable, cost effective and commercially available to the consumer and amateur level sports like GAA. At STATSports we work across all those domains working with the likes of Liverpool, Man United, Juventus, IRFU, Leinster, Munster, and more recently closer to home with Dundalk FC, Shamrock Rovers, Donegal GAA, Cavan GAA, Monaghan GAA, Dublin GAA, Kilkenny GAA to name a few among our 18 GAA teams across both codes.

The technology itself is used in both training sessions and during competition to allow coaches, performance staff and players alike to understand physical outputs with the end goal of allowing the player to perform optimally in every game and training session. Using GPS devices, teams can track player’s movement on the pitch and key performance indicators such as total distance covered, maximum speed, high speed running, sprints, accelerations, decelerations, heart rate, and dynamic stress load.

I would state at this point GPS technology isn’t the answer to all performance questions but it is an extremely important aspect of the much bigger picture and works in conjunction with areas such as, nutrition, hydration, recovery, psychological wellbeing and performance analysis to allow the coach/athlete put context on what they are seeing and perform optimally.

What technology is in the device?

The STATSports Apex device contains four main sensors namely a GNSS/GPS chipset, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer which allow the collection of 4.5 million data points across a 60-minute game. These data points are intuitively analysed through onboard processors running all metric calculations allowing you to get this data both live and post session via a syncing process. Alongside these sensors the device contains a magnetic and Bluetooth heart rate chip which allows the simultaneous collection of internal cardiovascular and external performance parameters.

Why use GPS technology in sport?

As always, the overwhelming questions are;

  • Why should I or my team use this technology?

  • What can it tell us that we don’t already know?

Firstly, the aim of the technology is to aid coaches and players to make the most appropriate decisions to enhance performance and not to replace or diminish years of game understanding/knowledge that players and coaches instinctively have. The players and the coaches are the most important aspects of any team and they dictate things like tactics, playing style, and positional demands which in turn effect the physiological outputs.

The number one mistake with the usage of GPS technology is when it is utilised without any context to the sport being played for instance, “Who ran the fastest?”, “Who ran the furthest?”, “Who had the highest number of sprints?” These may all be very valid questions depending on the tactics, playing style or position played. However, to simply look for the player who covered the most distance without any context is unfair as the first question should always be how effective was that player at carrying out your game plan? Player 1 who runs 14km a game and touches the ball 5 times is far less effective than Player 2 who covers 9km and touches the ball 32 times and creates or scores 1-05 in a GAA game. In the first instance if the player who ran 14km’s job was to man mark and track the opposing teams best player then possibly they have done a good job but if not then it’s more likely they are just running for the sake of running with very poor positional or game sense and in that case give me player 2 any day.

I just wanted to provide that example as at times that can be the biggest misconception of GPS, that more is always better and that just shows why it isn’t and context is key. To go one step further the data being analysed is only as good as the person analysing it as you can have all the data in the world but without an end goal/context in mind such as are we a team who press high up the field or a team that revert into a defensive shape? Without knowing this first you won’t be able to conclude what the physiological outputs are that you expect for players in certain positions. At STATSports all our products and applications are designed to be as intuitive as possible to allow the end user to put as much context on the data they are viewing as possible.

How does GPS technology aid performance?

With the above in mind GPS technology can aid individual and team performance in number of ways listed below:

  • Monitor training and game load.

  • Monitor individual and team responses to said load.

  • Plan Periodisation (Macro, Meso, Micro cycles).

  • Using games as your “Gold Standard” quantify how training load meets games demands. (Is this training at game intensity? Is the recovery sufficient?).

  • Understand position specific game demands and ensure these players are conditioned and exposed in a controlled and progressive manner within training to cope with these demands.

  • Calculation of “Max Intensity Periods” or “Worst Case Scenarios” in a physical sense so players can be exposed in training in order to mitigate risk of injury in game.

  • Reduction in injury risk via load monitoring, preparing for game demands or simply making sure your athlete has 1-2 max speed exposures per week which reduces the risk of injury.

  • Aid players “Return to Play” following injury and progressively load to ensure they can cope with game demands before being thrown back into the thick of it.

  • Aid tactics adherence and feedback using positional maps.

  • Guide recovery and nutritional protocols following training and games.

Take Home message

There is a misconception that GPS analysis when used can be to protective of the player meaning that when load gets to high players are pulled or stopped from playing or training (wrapped in cotton wool), but the complete opposite is the truth. The aim is to allow coaches and performance staff to push their athletes to their limits in a controlled manner allowing continuous physiological gains taking out as much risk as possible.

GPS performance tracking is only one piece of a much larger and complex puzzle but tracked and interpreted correctly with context it allows teams and athletes across the world to achieve their physical performance goals.

I have tried to give a high level introduction to GPS technology what it is and how it can be applied but if you do have any further queries please do visit our website where you can see how STATSports provide a range of products from consumer to professional level.

If you still have some further questions please don’t hesitate to contact me through LinkedIn or by email on


About The Author

Barry Watters - Head of Sport Science, STATSports.

BSC Sports Science and Health

Barry has been with STATSports since 2013, helping to establish the company as a global leader in the sports tech industry. Barry has worked closely with elite level coaches and athletes who use STATSports to monitor performance levels and aid their decision-making processes.

Barry also works in product development and is currently developing more cost-effective solutions for amateur teams. A successful athlete in his own right, Barry is a former inter county player with Cavan and currently plays with Dundalk Gaels in Louth.


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