During the Fall 2018 season, University of Lynchburg women’s soccer team posted a 20-3-3 record. The season ended just short of their quest for the NCAA Division III national championship with a 1-0 loss in the quarterfinals.
In this blog, Dr. Sean Collins, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University, provides his experience and insight using SPT GPS with the Hornets.
The key metrics that we used were total distance, hard running distance, and Intensity. Total distance (mileage) is a low hanging fruit. As it built up over a week, we saw an inverse relationship with game performance – that is, as mileage increased, especially if it occurred due to a game (perhaps double overtime), we saw drops in performance during subsequent practices and matches.
By monitoring total mileage we were able to make training adjustments, such as cutting back on a few things in practices and increasing the focus on set pieces. The cutting back in practices came in a variety of means depending upon what the coaches wanted and needed to work on. Often, the athlete in question was given a day off, but the coaches would also reorganize practices to reduce the distance and intensity, and focus on various skills that were less intense and incurred a lower distance on the athletes. These changes allowed us to recover physically but still challenged the athletes mentally.
Using GPS data to prepare for next year
Seeing the disconnect between practice loads and game loads also instructed us to review for next year. Since this was our first year using GPS, some of the data we saw were huge differences in the intensity and distances covered in practice versus the games. Instead of making adjustments to intensities to push the athletes more in practices, we instead focused more on recovery.
Although we could have made in-season adjustments to better match practice and game intensities and distances, we decided that it was in our best interest to stay the course and work on enhancing recovery. However, based on our learnings from this past year, we plan on working with the coaches and the strength and conditioning staff to make adjustments to the off-season training and preseason training for next year.
Comments from the coaches
Coach Olsen commented that the SPT system allowed us to add some objectivity to the usual subjective art of coaching. He was pleased that the system provided an immense amount of information that can be used in almost real time as well as providing better data to help plan future practices and training sessions.
The blending of the sports science support to the team allowed the coaches to have concrete information to make decisions. For example, coaches could explain their reasons for giving competitive starters rest periods, because the data was showing that they were becoming fatigued. This helped the coaches and the players psyche alike.
Advice for coaches implementing GPS for the first time
GPS tracking technology for athletes is relatively new in the U.S. and in general, technology can sometimes be intimidating to coaches. So, I think the biggest advice is to not get overwhelmed by all the data.
The best thing to do is choose a one or two metrics to focus on, like total distance or intensity scores, and work your practices around supporting the game demands while allowing for appropriate recovery time. The players have trained for a long time, if you have to pull an athlete back one day per week, it’s not going to decondition them. It will actually help the athlete stay fresh in the long run.
Total distance was an easy variable for us to focus on because it allowed us to see the loads they were experiencing and how various levels of competition impacted the loads. This allowed the coaches to cut back on practice intensity a little more when preparing for a ranked competitor.