Using the GPS System In Soccer: Planning, Periodization, Load Distribution

Nowadays, GPS systems are widely used worldwide as one more tool to help the coaching staff organize, plan and distribute the load better. As that, there are different products available on the market. Many clubs have it, but do they use it properly, and does the proper way of using the GPS system exist? That’s maybe the better question, and I will try to answer on this in the article.

Without giving too many scientific references, I will try to answer it more from the coaching perspective and the real problems that we are facing with it on the pitch and in the office.

First, serious analysis of the GPS data can’t be done by the fitness or strength and conditioning coaches. This must be done by a sports scientist who understands at least the basics of sports science, statistics, different machine learning techniques, visualization programs, etc. That’s not a case in a lot of clubs. Most S&C coaches can give information like: oh, we run good, 11km, 800m HSR, these are high-level values etc. Is that the purpose of the GPS use in the club? I am sure those things can be read by the guy from the street who loves to watch soccer. We just need to teach him to load the data into the system.

Some of the following questions I will try to answer in this article:

  1. How should we distribute the load during the week with 1 game?
  2. Distributing the load withing the microcycle with 2 games?
  3. What variable to look?
  4. Deload / Maintain / Overload week – how to target and what?
  5. What to look on individual level?
  6. Absolute and Relative zones?
  7. What calculations to use?

In sports science literature, we cannot find many research papers that suggest how to distribute the load properly during the week. A few papers you can look at will be listed at the end of this article.

Problems of these papers are next:

  1. Suggestions can’t be used as some “extraordinary” information and guide for your players and your club. If you read the paper and immediately try to implement that to your team, then you are in big problems.
  2. Most of the papers are not from elite clubs, unfortunately, most are from semi-professional clubs.
  3. Very often, authors lack information about the head coach periodization model, style of play (is the head coach playing low zone mostly (defensive organization), or is he focusing more on attacking pressing most of the time. Playing in 3-5-2 and, for example, 4-2-3-1 formation is a big difference for most players when we look from the physical perspective.

Here I will give you an example of the way how I worked, and please, do not take this as a model that you must use, take it as information with potentially new ideas on how you can manipulate your load.

Load distributions during the week

Let go first with a problem:

If the Head Coach is “lost in the universe” and doesn’t know how to distribute the load during the week, then our primary job is not ACWR, EWMA, Machine Learning, etc., than to teach him how to distribute the load properly. Otherwise, it will “break” our spine working all the time with injured players. In the end, working is not the problem, the problem is when poor results take you to the end of the contract. Why is it all that simple and complex at the same time?

First, doesn’t mean that if you distribute the load properly, you will win the weekend game. Second, doesn’t mean that you will lose the game if you do not distribute the load properly in one week. The result in soccer is affected by, I would say, many more things that distribute the load properly, but poor load distribution cannot lead to good results in the long term.

Periodization models

Saturday / Saturday game

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Perform Day Off Recovery/Intro Load Load Taper Taper Perform

Table 1 – Periodization during the microcycle with one game

Model 1: Day Off after the game

I personally love to use this model mostly because of a few reasons:

If we play the home game at 9 pm, the game will end around 11 pm, until the players finish the shower, eating, recovery protocols, etc., it will come to 12 am. It’s already midnight, they are exhausted from the game, and the first recovery tool in my box is sleep.

Most of the players can’t sleep the night after the game (it doesn’t matter if it’s good or poor performance, they just can’t sleep – try to speak with your players and to get this information about the sleep after the match. That also can give you more insights on periodizing your training load. Away games are even later, and if we play at 9 pm, we will come home, in a lot of cases, around 3-4 am.

Training load distribution:

If we give a day off after the game and players sleep a minimum 8h, and we give the training on Monday afternoon, they will have more than 36h of recovery. Enough time to recover and sleep well and enough time to start with low-load activity on Monday.

Monday Load can be distributed in a next way:

Except of individual recovery protocols, different programs, etc., the load on the pitch should be carefully selected.

In Table 2. you will have an example of my work experience for an MD+2 on the field for a different position presented as a % of volume compared to the maximum game value:

Position: Defenders Midfielders Wingers Strikers
Training Recovery Training Recovery Training Recovery Training Recovery
TD 50-55% 25-30% 50-60% 25-30% 50-55% ~30% ~50% 30-35%
HSR 20-25% 0-5% 20-25% 0-10% 25-30% 5-15% 20-25% 0-10%
Sprint 0-5% 0% 0-5% 0% 0-5% 0% 0-5% 0%
Acc 45-50% 5-10% 45-50% 10-15% 40-45% 10-15% 35-40% 10-15%
Dec 15-20% 0-5% 15-20% 0-5% 10-15% 0-5% 10-15% 0-5%

Table 2: Load Distribution on MD+2 by positions

Two possible training types we have in the table Table 2:

Option 1

When we have normal training (targeting mostly aerobic capacity). As can be seen above, there is no Sprint and Decelerations on MD+2 because of prolonged fatigue and possible injury risk during the sprinting. Of course, some players have some work done in Decelerations >3m/s/s and Sprint, but that’s usually not a target on that day.

Usually, when I give suggestions to the Head Coach on MD+2 when he requires to work on the pitch, that day is wider space with full control during the training.

Option 2

Second option is complete recovery training, where usually we have only recovery training with some corrections from the game. If we take two or more laps only jogging on that day, we are coming to approximately 1000m in TD or, let’s say, around 7-10%. % in HSR can be taken as an example where the Head Coach is showing the wrong decision of the player and requires him to do it properly, but again, it’s not meaningful distance, and on that day, we are focusing mostly on recovery.

It’s important to note that these are absolute values for the players who played >60 mins.

Distribution of the load during the whole week, targets (if perfect):

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
MD MD+1 MD+2 MD+3 MD-3 MD-2 MD-1 MD
TD +++++ ++(+) ++ ++++ +++(+) +(+) +++++
HSR +++++ + +(+) +++(+) ++(+) + +++++
Sprint +++++ / +(+) ++(+) ++++ + +++++
Acc +++++ +(+) ++++ +++ ++(+) +(+) +++++
Dec +++++ (+) ++++ +++ ++(+) + +++++

Table 3: Load Distribution on MD+2 by positions

But will every microcycle be like this? The answer is simple but complex – no.

Let’s split the microcycle Load in 3 ways.

Weekly Targeted Load:

  • Deload Week – Our players get fatigued and tired after a certain period, and we need to rest them, but at the same time, we need to train)
  • Maintaining Week – We will go later about the load and parameters, but let’s say this in the load from Table 4.
  • Overload Week – Getting the load in all (or certain) variables more than usual.

Percentage based In-Season Weekly Load from the maximal Game Values (Game is not included)
Total Distance HSR Distance Sprint Distance Accelerations Decelerations
Deload Week 120-150% 60-100% 60-100% 200% 200%
Maintaining Week 200-250% 100-150% 100-150% 300% 300%
Overload Week 250-300% 200% 200% 350-400% 300-400%

Table 4: Weekly Load Distribution based on Maximal Game Values exposed in %

Let’s take the Athlete who have 11000m, 800m HSR Distance, 400m Sprint Distance, 120 Accelerations, and 110 Decelerations

Translated to the metric
Total Distance HSR Distance Sprint Distance Accelerations Decelerations
Deload Week 13.200 – 16.500m 480-800m 320-400m 240 220
Maintaining Week 22.000-27.500m 800-1200m 400-600m 360 330
Overload Week 27.500m-33.000m 1600m 800m 420-480 385-440

Table 5: Weekly Load Distribution based on Maximal Game Values exposed in meters

Deload and Maintaining Week can be modified based on the team’s needs, but the question is for the Overload Week. Can we load all the variables? In Table 4, I put for all the variables additional load, but in case we are following all these variables at the end of the week, we can potentially open a hospital.

Besides loading all the variables, I would focus more on specific variables like HSR, Sprint, or Mechanical Load (Acc+Dec) if we need to put Overload Week. The example can be next:

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