Republic FC's science chief puts GPS to work for team training
As an outside defender with a forward’s mindset, Emrah Klimenta sprints dozens of times from one end of the field to the other during a 90-minute match.
He’ll accelerate and decelerate and make quick-cutting feints left or right while dribbling in close quarters and delivering crosses or taking shots when on the attack. He’ll backpedal hard to try to strip balls in one-on-one duels with quick-footed forwards or wingers.
But until this season, the third-year Republic FC player had no idea how much ground he covered or the pounding his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame endured during a game.
Now, because of advances in technology, he’s learning more about how far he can physically stretch his fine-tuned body.
Republic FC players are wearing an electronic performance system called Playertek in training sessions and matches that analyzes performance. It features a cloud-based, palm-sized GPS tracker worn on the upper back of a player using a sports bra-type vest to hold it in place.
As a player, it provides us with a different perspective. We’re usually so focused on playing. Now we can look back at how fast we were running, how much ground we covered and see such things as, ‘Was I using my energy well?’
Republic FC midfielder Matt LaGrassa, on the Playertek performance-monitoring system
“It records the amount of miles you run, the amount of sprints you run, your fastest sprint, how many times you have made a tackle,” Klimenta said. “It even records collisions, which is pretty cool. It lets you know how hard you are pushing yourself on the field, and if you should push harder or take it easier the next day.”
Playertek can record 10 metrics. Software translates the device’s data into reports that can be read and compared by the training staff, then passed to players.
Most top soccer clubs, including those in Major League Soccer, use GPS monitoring. Republic FC is believed to be one of the first independent USL teams to employ the system.
“We use it to determine if we can work the players a little harder or if we can pull off the throttle a little bit,” said Jesse Saenz, who leads Republic FC’s sports and science staff. “It’s a technology that’s being used in the top flight of soccer, and we think it provides us a pretty good advantage. Not everybody in the USL is using the technology. For a club with aspirations to MLS, it’s just another piece of that puzzle.”
While the data help set up training sessions, Saenz said it also benefits players returning from injury.
“After a player has been rehabilitated, we can now plan special training rehab fitness sessions,” he said. “The baseline information we have on that player lets us know how close we are getting them back to their healthy self. We know that once we get a player ready for first-team training, we know he won’t hinder it.”
Saenz said the data also can alert the training staff to a potentially more serious injury when a player tweaks a muscle or comes up limping.
“The data is just as much or more valuable by looking at it backwards,” Saenz said. “So if a player develops a muscular injury during the season, we can look back and see if he trained more than normal, made more sprints than normal, covered more distance than normal that day. It creates an early warning system. Now maybe we hold him out a day, or give him a lighter training session the next day to try to bulletproof a player.”
It records the amount of miles you run, the amount of sprints you run, your fastest sprint, how many times you have made a tackle. It even records collisions, which is pretty cool. It lets you know how hard you are pushing yourself on the field, and if you should push harder or take it easier the next day.
Republic FC defender Emrah Klimenta, on the Playertek performance-monitoring system
Saenz learned of the Irish company that makes Playertek while working in England for Hull City FC. He said unlike the six-figure price tag on systems used by most top international clubs, Playertek is far less expensive and easier to use. All that’s needed is trackers, vests, a computer and a good Wi-Fi connection.
Players see the data as another tool that “helps us to become the best we can be,” midfielder Matt LaGrassa said.
“As a player, it provides us with a different perspective,” said LaGrassa, who majored in kinesiology at Cal Poly. “We’re usually so focused on playing. Now we can look back at how fast we were running, how much ground we covered and see such things as, ‘Was I using my energy well?’ It kind of backs up what we’re doing, and it gives the coach a chance to analyze what a player brings to the table.”
LaGrassa said the system also is practical because it’s nonintrusive.
“When you are wearing something that you are not used to as a player, you always want it to be something that you can forget about,” LaGrassa said. “These are really comfortable. You slide the pod in, turn it on and you forget it’s there.”
Republic FC has used the system less than two months, and Klimenta is already amazed by what he has learned.
“I knew I ran a lot but after getting that information back I was like, ‘Wow! I really do run a lot during games,’ ” Klimenta said. “A couple of games I played 90 minutes and recorded something like (9 to 10 miles).
“When I’m up for it and feeling good, I’m constantly up and down. To see those figures come back to me makes me want to push even more because, ultimately, it’s going to help our team out.”