The football world evolves rapidly. Methodologies that were useful yesterday, aren’t useful today. This forces the coaching staff to be constantly learning. In the last decade, elements such as athletes’ physical fitness and position with best performance are not only assessed with the coach’s subjective interpretation, but with a thorough quantification of any element with a direct or indirect incidence on physical activity. In this way, FC Barcelona, always at the cutting edge of science applied to sport, started tracking training sessions and matches of U16, U18, U19, Barça B and the first team. The club uses WIMU PRO, a GPS device developed by RealTrack Systems with Barça Innovation Hub support. This device offers uncountable advantages for football players.
Thanks to the device, which is integrated in a comfortable GPS vest, coaching staff can track and analyse different variables in the external workload, such as high metabolic load distance (HMLD), high speed running (HSR), player load (PL) and total distance (TD) to obtain objective information that allows the optimisation of the daily balance between training and recovery. At the end of each training session, the data is gathered and projected in an analysis platform using ETPS, a performance electronic tracking device, and in calculus programs that receive the information collected in the devices. Its emergence and later implementation respond to the indefeasible transformation of sports in general and of football in particular in a scientific discipline where anything can be quantified and analysed.
External Workload and Its Incidence on Muscle Injuries
During 2017/2018 season, Guitart and team (read a reference below 1) carried out a descriptive research published in Plos One journal which sample was all the activities of the first male team (46 weeks, 222 training sessions and 45 official matches), the U18 team (45 weeks, 206 training sessions and 54 matches), and the U19 team (44 weeks, 203 training sessions and 55 official matches).
The data gathered with the GPS WIMU PRO device and analysed by SPROTM Software provided information about each of the four variables with incidence on external workload. These parameters showed similar load distributions according to position (centre back, full back, midfielder and forward), and category (U18, U19 or professional), observing that loads were higher on the game day, and in training sessions three days prior the match.
In the 631 training sessions (12.340 hours), and 154 official matches (2077 hours) covered by the research, 34 muscle injuries were recorded of which 19 were time-loss injuries. The overall incidence per exposure hour was 2.57 injuries per 1000 hours (103h), with the highest values on game days (4.55/103h), followed by training sessions three days prior to the match (4.07/103h).
The relationship between the hours of exposure and muscle injury ratio doesn’t show big differences in the four parameters of external workload (HMDL, HRS, PL, and TD) calculated through the tracking of sessions with GPS devices and muscle injury ratio. Both variables concur in that external workload and muscle injuries are directly proportional but, different to what the exposure hour analysis indicates, the metrics obtained from GPS devices determine that injury incidence is higher in training sessions three days prior the match, followed by the match itself.
The big difference between each analysis is that the information obtained about the exposure hours is general while the four parameters obtained from the GPS devices give specific answers to the football players’ physical demands. In other words, trainers have individualised information of each football player to design suitable training programs and to adapt individual needs to the physical training of the group.
Practical Application of the Data Obtained from the GPS Devices
The use of GPS devices in the day-to-day of football players is an inexhaustible source of individualised data on which the coaching and medical staff can work. Its appearance responds to the increasing need to detect and fight muscle injuries which are the most common among youth and professional football players. Besides, we can not only understand external load patterns and their incidence in this kind of injuries, but also, we can evaluate players’ response to possible workload variations.
In this way, the research determines that there are no obvious differences in the injury ratio between youth and professional players. Both groups share the dynamics and methodologies in their training sessions, so the coaching staff can call youth players to train with professional players knowing that they will respond positively. The clearest example of this chance is Gavi, who this season could leap from U19 to the first team in an organic way. The use of GPS devices also allows the evaluation of the response of a specific football player in different positions. The coaching staff can evaluate the ability of this football player to modify their physical behaviour according to the demands in each position.
Guitart M, Casals M, Casamichana D, Corte´s J, Valle FX, McCall A, et al. (2022) Use of GPS to measure external load and estimate the incidence of muscle injuries in men’s football: A novel descriptive study. PLoS ONE 17(2): e0263494. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0263494
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