Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Microtechnology Sensors in Team Sports: A Systematic Review

Cummins, C., Orr, R., O’Connor, H., West, C.

Background: The use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in team sports permits measurement of player position, velocity, and movement patterns. GPS provides scope for better understanding of the specific and positional physiological demands of team sport and can be used to design training programs that adequately prepare athletes for competition with the aim of optimizing on-field performance.

Objective: The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the depth and scope of reported GPS and microtechnology measures used within individual sports in order to present the contemporary and emerging themes of GPS application within team sports.

Methods: A systematic review of the application of GPS technology in team sports was conducted. Electronic databases were systematically searched from the earliest record to June 2012. Permutations of keywords included GPS; male and female; age 12–50 years; able-bodied; and recreational to elite competitive team sports.

Results: The 35 manuscripts meeting the eligibility criteria included 1,276 participants (age 11.2–31.5 years; 95% males; 53.8% elite adult athletes). The majority of manuscripts reported on GPS use in various football codes: Australian Football League (AFL; n = 8), soccer (n = 7), rugby union (n = 6), and rugby league (n = 6), with limited representation in other team sports: cricket (n = 3), hockey (n = 3), lacrosse (n = 1), and netball (n = 1). Of the included manuscripts, 34 (97%) detailed work rate patterns such as distance, relative distance, speed, and accelerations, with only five (14.3%) reporting on impact variables. Activity profiles characterizing positional play and competitive levels were also described. Work rate patterns were typically categorized into six speed zones, ranging from 0 to 36.0 km/h, with descriptors ranging from walking to sprinting used to identify the type of activity mainly performed in each zone. With the exception of cricket, no standardized speed zones or definitions were observed within or between sports. Furthermore, speed zone criteria often varied widely within (e.g., zone 3 of AFL ranged from 7 to 16 km/h) and between sports (e.g., zone 3 of soccer ranged from 3.0 to <13 km/h). Activity descriptors for a zone also varied widely between sports (e.g., zone 4 definitions ranged from jog, run, high velocity, to high-intensity run). Most manuscripts focused on the demands of higher intensity efforts (running and sprint) required by players. Body loads and impacts, also summarized into six zones, showed small variations in descriptions, with zone criteria based upon grading systems provided by GPS manufacturers. Conclusion: This systematic review highlights that GPS technology has been used more often across a range of football codes than across other team sports. Work rate pattern activities are most often reported, whilst impact data, which require the use of microtechnology sensors such as accelerometers, are least reported. There is a lack of consistency in the definition of speed zones and activity descriptors, both within and across team sports, thus underscoring the difficulties encountered in meaningful comparisons of the physiological demands both within and between team sports. A consensus on definitions of speed zones and activity descriptors within sports would facilitate direct comparison of the demands within the same sport. Meta-analysis from systematic review would also be supported. Standardization of speed zones between sports may not be feasible due to disparities in work rate pattern activities.

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