FORCE-VELOCITY PROFILING WITH GPS IN FOOTBALL

By Marcus Colby

The margins between victory and defeat in top-level football are becoming increasingly slim, as shown by the English Premier League title race coming down to one final dramatic day last season. Clubs are looking to data analytics to evaluate their players’ current capabilities and find opportunities to develop them so that their teams are as well prepared for match day as possible. Force-Velocity Profiling is a type of player assessment that’s becoming increasingly widespread in football.

Football today still requires the same kind of endurance that the sport has always necessitated to excel for a full 90 minutes, but many players are faster, stronger, and more powerful than ever before. Force-Velocity Profiling (FVP) is a way for performance staff to evaluate their ability to generate speed (velocity) and dynamic strength (force) during explosive actions like sprinting and jumping. In the past, other assessments focused solely on the expression of peak or maximal power. While this is a valid consideration, it’s also useful to evaluate the two elements of power production – force and velocity – independently of a maximum effort, which is where Force-Velocity Profiling is beneficial.

Complementing Formalized Testing with Invisible Monitoring

In a previous article, my colleague listed force plates as a top athlete management system (AMS) integration for performance testing in football. This technology is one way that strength and conditioning (S+C) coaches and other performance staff evaluate players’ capability to produce power. FVP can be conducted on plates from VALD or Hawkin Dynamics via various kinds of vertical leap, such as an unweighted squat jump or countermovement jump. Some teams complement this method with testing conducted with a velocity-based training (VBT) system like GymAware. Clubs are also exploring  GPS systems from the likes of Catapult and STATSports to create Force-Velocity Profiles while they’re sprinting during practice. This could be accomplished with a timing gate system such as SmartSpeed as well.

The use of force plates and timing gates to create Force-Velocity Profiling is well established and highly accurate. But one limitation is that both are conducted during formalized, testing situations. These require football players to line up and go through the assessment protocol one by one. Sometimes this environment can be conducive to solid performances, as there’s an element of competition between squad members. But others might not put in full effort because they think of it as just testing that the manager won’t care about and will have little to no bearing on their playing time or on-field output.

In contrast, using GPS to create Force-Velocity Profiles that are then analyzed in an AMS such as Smartabase offers the advantages of invisible monitoring that doesn’t require a test day and takes place in the natural flow of practice. In an article for HIIT Science, Jace Delaney wrote, “The concept of ‘invisible monitoring’ is a simple one – gather as much information about the athlete, their performance and their current training status, without them even knowing you’re doing it.”[1] He went on to state that tracking players’ output – with FVP being just one example – using GPS during practice gives coaches more time to focus on skill development and working with the squad on technical and tactical considerations.

The Validity and Efficiency of Using GPS for FVPs

While there is still room for improvement with Force-Velocity Profiles using GPS, including factoring in environmental conditions like heat, humidity, and windspeed, current technology still allows for accurate measurements to be collected. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance concluded that using GPS for FVP profiling when players are sprinting is a reliable method that’s comparable to the previous industry standard of utilizing radar guns.[2] Choosing GPS instead is arguably more efficient for football clubs too, as radar gun testing involves a member of the performance team taking each player through a series of sprints outside the normal context of a team practice. These typically require completing multiple reps of various distances from five to 40 meters. According to leading researcher Mathieu Lacome, it takes around 90 minutes to test a 25-person squad in this way and around the same amount of time to process the data.[3]

Whereas when using GPS for Force-Velocity Profiles, the information is already being captured by wearable units without the need for additional staff intervention, and longer sprint efforts can be broken down into smaller sections if necessary. The accuracy of FVPs can be increased by evaluating the data from four to six sprints conducted as part of a team’s standard warmup or sprinting drills regularly performed during practice by groups or individuals, according to the authors of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance study. This won’t require any additional setup by staff when GPS is used. Another study conducted by a French and British group found that Force-Velocity Profiling is most accurate if conducted in an open field, although they noted that reliability is still high enough in a stadium. Their results showed that the GPS units tested did best capturing data from sprints of between five and 30 meters.[4] Previous recommendations for further boosting Force-Velocity Profile accuracy include turning on the GPS units before in-practice testing and using those that sample data at 10 Hz or above.[5]

Automating and Expediting Force-Velocity Profiling

To create an FVP profile, sports scientists previously used manual calculations and factored in a combination of player body mass and height with speed-time and/or distance-time data. More detailed analysis could then be performed to pinpoint specific force and velocity characteristics. Per a Science for Sport post, one example is that “a coach is able to calculate the ratio of force (RF) between vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces. During a sprint, this is calculated by dividing the horizontal force by the vertical force and measuring the slope at which the horizontal force decreases.”[6]

Fortunately, advances in sports technology have simplified the complicated and time-intensive data analysis process that includes such calculations and made it easier for football clubs to measure and interpret the interplay between force and velocity. For jumping FVP, systems like VALD ForceDecks have a preset function for creating a Force-Velocity Profile. There are several options available for the human performance analytics team to do the same with sprinting data captured via GPS, ranging from using spreadsheet functions to several ways of utilizing R Studio (which can be integrated with Smartabase with a convenient connector). These reduce the total time needed to assess a squad and create FVPs to a total of 15 minutes, according to Lacome’s article. Here’s a brief list of additional resources that explain these methods:

 

Applying FVP to Realistic Match Situations

Another benefit of measuring Force-Velocity Profiling using GPS outside of gym-based testing or speed gate sessions is that it can be directly applied to realistic scenarios that require sprinting in actual practices and matches. Soccer often requires players to go from a standing start or slow run into a fast, short sprint. This involves acceleration, the ability to generate speed, and sometimes a power endurance element to keep moving quickly for longer than your opponent. In-game applications could include a winger racing down the sideline to cross the ball into the box, a defender trying to chase them down, and a goalkeeper charging off the line to narrow a striker’s shooting angle.

Each example requires the production of horizontal force at a rapid rate, which is assessed with FVP. A 2012 study found that 83 percent of goals scored in the German Bundesliga involved at least one powerful action in the buildup, with straight-line sprinting being the most common at 45 percent, with another six percent featuring a change-of-direction sprint. As Pauline Clavel, data analyst for Paris St. Germain put it in an interview with Sportsmith, “to enable the development of more targeted training programs and improve sprint performance, it’s crucial to determine individual players’ sprint capabilities.”[7] The fact that jumping was the next most common action at 16 percent shows the need to obtain FVPs for both jumps and sprints, and then use both to inform individualized player preparation.[8]

 

Identifying Deficiencies in Force or Velocity Output

FVP doesn’t merely measure peak velocity or force output. It also enables sports scientists, S+C coaches, athletic trainers, and other staff to identify if a player is deficient in either or both. They can see if there is a discrepancy or imbalance between these two qualities and if so, build exercises into a player’s individualized training plan to help them move their force-velocity (F-V) curve closer to the ideal arc for their position or individual development targets. As a general rule, an ideal F-V curve represents what Clavel describes in the Sportsmith article: “At the beginning of a maximal sprint, the athlete generates high amounts of force at a low velocity to accelerate the body forwards. As running velocity increases over time, the force output decreases.”

At a basic level, one player whose force production is lacking could incorporate low-rep, high-weight lifting exercises such as deadlifts to make them more powerful. Perhaps this individual is a wispy, nimble forward who is very fast but not that strong. Whereas a teammate who is powerful but lacks top end speed (aka velocity)– such as a tall, solidly-built central defender – might be given higher reps with lighter resistance in an exercise like jump squats to help them develop speed more rapidly.

Using an AMS like Smartabase allows staff to go beyond such simplistic interventions, perform a more detailed evaluation of each player’s Force-Velocity Profile and add greater context with the results of FVP jump tests conducted on force plates, data from S+C sessions, on-field capacities and more. Combining FVP data obtained from players sprinting during practice with their force and velocity values during vertical leaping in the gym seems to offer a potent assessment opportunity. A team of Spanish and French researchers asserted that “we recommend the assessment of the FVP profile both in jumping and sprinting to gain a deeper insight into the maximal mechanical capacities of lower-body muscles.”[9]

This kind of comprehensive evaluation provides greater nuance in future training prescriptions in modalities like sprinting, plyometrics, and VBT, all of which can help develop force and velocity production capabilities. It also allows sports scientists to create a team overview so that they can see how a player’s force and velocity capabilities stack up against their teammates and identify trends among position groups or on a squad-wide basis. Presenting this to coaches in a simple, graphical way using visualization tools in Smartabase can help them understand why power and velocity-related drills could be beneficial, both in the gym and on the practice pitch. 

Informing Player Comparisons and Individualized Training Plans

A more granular analysis is beneficial when face-value results don’t reveal the full story about force and velocity production. In a post about how to improve football players’ acceleration, JB Morin, head of the Sport Sciences and Physical Education department at Université Jean Monnet, noted that “We have heaps of examples of players with similar 30-m sprint performance and very different (sometimes opposite) Force-Velocity Profiles.” He stated that sprinting FVP shows its true worth when this is the case by illustrating how much force a player generates “throughout their entire, individual running velocity spectrum (from zero to their individual maximal speed).”[10] Doing so allows the performance staff to make more revealing side-by-side comparisons between players with similar testing results. They can then identify the profile element that needs improvement for each one and develop it through targeted training that becomes part of an ongoing regimen.

Morin gave the example of using heavy sled work to boost force production and high speed or overspeed drills to increase velocity. In addition to gym training, staff could also have players do sprints with and without the ball in training, monitoring their workload with a combination of GPS and Smartabase’s analysis engine to ensure they’re getting a sufficient training stimulus without doing too many high-intensity efforts. Although FVP profiling might not be repeated as regularly as certain physical screening metrics that football clubs utilize (like monitoring left-to-right asymmetry with force plates, for example), the daily capture of GPS data enables staff to reassess players’ sprinting after a training block that’s designed to improve either force or velocity characteristics. This lets the S&C coach and others see if a player is responding as intended to the new exercises. If so, the intervention could continue, and if not, they can make a programming adjustment to see if this leads to greater improvement.

Using GPS data processed in R in conjunction with Smartabase to develop football players’ force and velocity will start to manifest itself in changes to the F-V curve and improvements in testing measurements, both in invisible monitoring conducted using GPS in practice and formalized screening in the gym. More importantly, guiding training with FVPs can translate into accelerating quicker, jumping higher, sprinting faster, and maintaining speed for longer on the pitch – all of which can have a significant impact on individual players’ performance and the team as a whole.  

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[1] Jace Delaney, “The Paradox of ‘Invisible’ Monitoring: The Less You Do, The More You Do!” HIIT Science, September 8, 2018, available online at https://hiitscience.com/the-paradox-of-invisible-monitoring-the-less-you-do-the-more-you-do

[2] Pauline Clavel et al, “Concurrent Validity and Reliability of Sprinting Force–Velocity Profile Assessed with GPS Devices in Elite Athletes,” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, May 2022, available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/360727556_Concurrent_validity_and_reliability_of_sprinting_force-velocity_profile_assessed_with_GPS_devices_in_Elite_athletes

[3] Mathieu Lacome, “Calculating Force-Velocity Profile Assess Through GPS Devices in Soccer: From Labouring to Automatic Process,” mathlacome.com, July 20, 2022, available online at https://www.mathlacome.com/blog/fvp-easy

[4] Mathieu Lacome et al, “Force Velocity Profiling with GPS: Is It Reliable?” Sports Performance Science, available online at https://sportperfsci.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/SPSR113_Lacome_final.pdf, 2020

[5] JJ Malone et al, “Unpacking the Black Box: Applications and Considerations for Using GPS Devices in Sport,”  International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2017, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27736244/

[6] Ian Dobbs, “Force-Velocity Profiling,” Science for Sport, December 10, 2017, available online at https://www.scienceforsport.com/force-velocity-profiling/#toggle-id-1

[7] Pauline Clavel, “Using GPS to Conduct Force-Velocity Profiles,” Sportsmith, available online at https://www.sportsmith.co/articles/using-gps-to-conduct-force-velocity-profiles/

[8] Oliver Faude, Thorsten Koch, and Tim Meyer, “Straight Sprinting is the Most Frequent Action in Goal Situations in Professional Football,” Journal of Sports Sciences, 2012, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22394328

[9] Pedro Jiménez-Reyes et al, “Relationship Between Vertical and Horizontal Force-Velocity-Power Profiles in Various Sports and Levels of Practice,” PeerJ, November 2018, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30479900

[10] JB Morin, “Improving Acceleration Performance in Football Players,” JB Morin.net, August 11, 2018, available online at https://jbmorin.net/2018/08/11/improving-acceleration-performance-in-football-players

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