The use of the Global Positioning System (known as GPS) in team sports has become standard and several products have appeared on the market to satisfy the needs of customers ranging from top pro teams to small amateur clubs.
The rise in popularity of wearable technologies has led to the production of high-tech units together with an improvement in functionality which is fundamental in team sports. The main advantage of GPS, and wearable technologies in general, is that they have led to an increase in awareness of the need to understand how an individual, within a team environment, responds to training stimuli.
Dynamic Complex Systems
The application of GPS in team sports should not be considered only as a way to monitor the training load for each individual player as this is a reductionist overview of the dynamic complexity of a team environment.
Football teams are now considered as complex adaptive biological systems where there is a continuous interaction between players. They are a dynamically changing environment (Passos et al, 2008).
It is fundamental to properly understand the way collective behaviour influences overall and individual performance on the pitch. Degeneracy, one of the characteristics of biological systems, is defined as “the ability of elements that are structurally different to perform the same function or yield the same output” (Edelman and Gally, 2001).
Balague et al. (2013) stated that “complex systems in sport consist of structurally and functionally heterogeneous components which interact (generally informationally or/and mechanically) with varying intensities and spanning different spatio-temporal scales. They are also adaptive and goal-directed, changing and fitting their behavior to emerging constraints.”
It is in this dynamic scenario that GPS can give coaches a deeper insight into the complex adaptive nature of players as a collective entity.
Collective Training and Behaviour
GPS monitoring during training sessions can make the analysis of the collective behaviour more efficient. Training sessions on the pitch should emphasize the collective aspects of team organization rather than isolate performance components (Mallo, 2014).
Individual players needs to develop the ability to coordinate with others through a complex environment, leading to what is called collective behavior (Lòpez-Felip et al, 2018). Monitoring training load and performance metrics through GPS can help coaching staff to analyze this dynamic interplay between players and how they act as a coherent unit to create an optimal team synergy (Araujo and Davids, 2016).
Workload metrics such as Player Load (which is the sum of the root mean square of changes in acceleration and deceleration per second) can clearly define the amount of external workload an individual player is exposed to and then they can be compared with other players in the same position, giving a performance insight into the team’s collective behavior. This way, coaches are able to receive direct feedback iand improve their training plans and the overall performance of the team.
Teams as Superorganisms
Duarte et al. in their 2012 paper proposed a socio-biological model of team performance in which teams are defined as Superorganisms acting through the functional integration of individuals players who are part of a system which is “more than the sum of its parts”.
This is where GPS technology differs from other monitoring methods as it records team performance daily and how players behave daily on the field to reach a common goal.
In the second part of this article series, we will discuss how you can practically implement GPS technology in a team environment and how the Team Dashboard can provide coaches with a global picture of team collective behavior.