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The Shouting Men column with Gillingham sports scientist James Fuller

By KentOnline reporter

Football is a game of opinions and that is how we like to look at GPS.

It is another opinion for us to go on and a conversation starter for everyone involved.

The technology is all still very new and not just to managers and players but also in terms of research. It is still a learning process for everyone.

Gillingham vs Wimbledon, Priestfield Stadium, 8th September 2018.James the analyst (4048842)
Gillingham vs Wimbledon, Priestfield Stadium, 8th September 2018.James the analyst (4048842)

The units we use work on the same principal of a Sat Nav, but they give you more metrics than what your car would.

Every player wears a unit, quite small and lightweight, which would fit into your hand. There are some rugby teams that now get it sewn into their kit but our players wear them in the black tight-fitting vests, slipping them in the back of them.

There is a live receiver which allows you to track things as they happen, so all training is tracked.

This is the first year that management have been allowed to look at this stuff during games. Previously you were allowed to wear the GPS during a match but only allowed to look at the information it was giving you afterwards. This year the live receivers, which we have been using for training previously, can now be used in games and so we can get live feedback.

During matches I will sit up at the back, getting all the information and make notes and stuff. I see one feed and then there is a live feed to an electronic device on the bench which the sports scientist and physio can look at. If there are any issues that we think need adjusting, it is just a call to each other.

The manager is brilliant and what is key is to having the numbers but then making the right footballing decision based on that and having the right people to make those decisions.

This is my third season at the club. I spent a bit of time learning about the equipment with the Australian national team and went to Maidstone United for a brief spell and came across to Gillingham.

Gillingham players with their vests, fitted with a GPS devise Picture: Ady Kerry
Gillingham players with their vests, fitted with a GPS devise Picture: Ady Kerry

I work under the Sports Science and Medicine team, working for SportsLab at the Canterbury Christchurch University and splitting my time there, where I am doing my GPS tracking in team sports PHD and with the Gills, so they link up quite nicely.

The GPS devices we use measure distances but it also has an acceloromiter inside, that can give you change of direction data and the G-force around that. From the two combined you can then get a load of measurements, from things like the distance they are covering and how many accelerations and decelerations they are doing.

There are a couple of algorithms that tell you about body-load and player-load, which a lot of clubs are using at the moment for injury prevention. There are 40-odd variables you can take from it.

Excel is my life! It is all about getting stuff readable and useable for everyone, that is why, despite being 40 variables, we are trying to hone in on the ones that we think are the key variables for us to use.

A large part of it is about injury prevention, that is where the big gains can be made. Football is a game played as a team but ultimately in that you have different positions and the GPS allows you to manage everyone at an individual level to then be able to perform collectively as a team.

When sessions are put on, there might be one which works the midfield harder than a defender, then you can adjust other stuff later in the week to make sure everyone is working to the same amount.

Elliott List wearing his GPS vest Picture: Ady Kerry
Elliott List wearing his GPS vest Picture: Ady Kerry

With games, that is probably the biggest change week to week, if there is a really tough one you might want to adjust your loads during the week to make sure you are not picking up injuries later on. There is very much a pro-active approach to trying to use it.

Over the last three years, there are more and more players buying into it. It is very much the norm now.

When I first came in, during Justin Edinburgh’s second year, I would say about half the teams in the Football League were using it, then by the end of that season the majority were.

Most players want to know as much about themselves and how they can improve, as everyone else. The buy-in this year has been extremely good.

I think the data is brilliant, there is so much you can do with it. I do think there is still so much to learn, so much to uncover, which is what I love about it. That is what is really exciting.

In a little while from now, I reckon implants will be here not just for sport professionals. If you look at the fitness industry in 2017, wearable technology was the top trending item of the year, that shows how the general public are using them as well, not just in elite sport.

It is a different level to your fitbit but ultimately they are similar, all trying to tell you the same thing, about your training.

GPS isn’t going away, it is only going to get bigger, the devices will get smaller, with more information. That is quite exciting.

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