In the modern world of team sports, monitoring and managing players’ training loads is essential for optimising performance and reducing the risk of injury. One of the most effective tools for this purpose is the Global Positioning System (GPS). This article provides practical insights for coaches on utilising GPS technology to monitor and manage players’ physical running loads in training sessions.

Understanding Training Load

Training load in sport is broadly categorised into two types: external and internal. External training load refers to the physical activities performed by the players, which include distances covered, the speed of the distance covered, and number of accelerations and decelerations to name a few. Internal training load encompasses the physiological stress imposed on the players, often measured through heart rate or perceived exertion.

The Role of GPS in Monitoring External Training Load

GPS devices, worn by players during training sessions and matches, are valuable for tracking external training load. These devices record numerous metrics. One can get lost in the amount of data that GPS can provide. However, focusing on several key metrics you have identified as valuable for your sport is essential. For example, metrics such as:

  • Total Distance Covered: The overall distance a player runs during a session.
  • High-Speed Running (HSR): Distance covered at speeds above a certain speed threshold. Depending on the sport, the thresholds can vary. For example, a common HSR threshold is distance covered over 5.5 metres per second. It is essential to check the thresholds used in your sport.
  • Sprint Running: Similar to HSR, sprint distance is the distance covered over a speed threshold. For example, a common sprint threshold is distance covered greater than 7 metres per second.
  • Accelerations and Decelerations: The number of efforts where players rapidly increase or decrease their speed.

The above metrics show the amount of physical activity players have performed during training sessions and matches. If you calculate these metrics relative to time, like meters covered per minute, you can measure the intensity of the physical activity.

Practical Suggestions for Coaches

Setting Up GPS Monitoring:

    • Ensure each player is equipped with a reliable GPS device.
    • Maintain consistency by having players use the same device throughout the season.

Collecting Data:

    • Record GPS data during all training sessions and matches.
    • Monitor metrics such as total distance, HSR, SPR, and the number of accelerations and decelerations.

Analysing GPS Data:

    • Collect data over a period of time to monitor trends.
    • Compare the data collected against match reference values to determine the training load.
    • You could use the average of the five best performances from recent matches as a benchmark.

Planning Training Sessions:

    • Develop a monthly, weekly, and daily training plan based on GPS data.
    • Gradually increase the training load to avoid sudden spikes, reducing the risk of injuries. Build in recovery sessions.
    • For example, during the first three weeks, progressively increase the external training load by up to 10% each week, followed by a reduction in the fourth week to allow recovery.

Adjusting Training Loads:

    • Continuously adjust training loads based on the difference between the planned and actual training loads performed.
    • Use specific exercises or modify training drills to ensure players reach their target loads.
    • For example, if a player did not achieve the planned high-speed running distance, incorporate additional high-speed drills in the following session, or if you have access to live GPS feedback, you could get the player(s) to complete the required distances before the end of the session.

Individualising Training Loads

Using GPS can be a highly effective way to monitor training load. However, there are several key strategies to consider. First, it’s important to recognise position-specific demands. For instance, midfielders generally cover more distances and perform more high-speed runs compared to defenders and attackers. Midfielders are often involved in offensive and defensive actions, requiring them to cover large pitch areas continuously. Therefore, their training loads should account for these higher running actions. In contrast, defenders could focus more on short sprints and accelerations to improve their ability to respond quickly to attacking threats. Tailoring training loads to reflect these positional demands ensures that each player develops the specific physical attributes necessary for their role on the team.

Second, physical conditioning and injury history must be factored into the training load management. Players with a history of injuries or those at different stages of fitness need adjusted training loads to prevent further injuries and ensure gradual, safe progression. For example, a player recovering from a hamstring injury could use GPS information to monitor their training load. Initially, high-speed running loads may need to be reduced and progressively increased over time.

Finally, training age and experience are crucial in determining appropriate training loads. Younger players, who are still developing physically, may require different training loads compared to players of a greater training age. Collecting the physical activity with GPS can help customise the training content to suit the player’s developmental needs and ensure that all players are training effectively, maximising their potential while minimising the risk of injury.

Incorporating these strategies, coaches can use GPS data to optimise training loads for each player. This individualised approach enhances performance and plays a crucial role in injury prevention. By recognizing the unique demands of each position, considering the physical condition and injury history of players, and adapting to the age and experience levels within the team, coaches can ensure that their athletes are well-prepared, resilient, and capable of performing at their best throughout the season. This comprehensive management of training loads, guided by precise GPS data, can help foster a more effective training environment that benefits both the players and the team.

Practical Examples

The following examples can vary depending on the stage of the season and the match schedule.

Monthly Plan:

    • Week 1: Propose HSR at 80% of match load.
    • Week 2: Increase HSR by 5%.
    • Week 3: Further increase HSR by 5%
    • Week 4: Reduce HSR by 15% for recovery.

Weekly Plan:

    • Game Day +3: High training load with a focus on high-speed running and sprinting.
    • Game Day -1: Reduced load to allow recovery before the match.
    • Adjust loads daily based on GPS data to ensure players reach their targets.

Daily Training Adjustments:

    • Before training, set goals for each player based on GPS data.
    • During training, use real-time feedback to adjust drills and exercises.
    • After training, review GPS data to ensure targets were met and plan adjustments for the next session.


By integrating GPS technology into the training regime, coaches can make informed decisions that enhance player performance and reduce injury risks. Monitoring and adjusting training loads based on GPS data allows for a scientific approach to training, ensuring each player is optimally prepared for the demands of team sport. With consistent application and careful analysis, GPS monitoring can be a game-changer for coaches aiming to bring out the best in their teams.

Would you like to find out how you can maximise the use of GPS in training? Learn more about our new short course, the Certificate in Applied GPS in Sport here.