Louisville City FC recently began using PlayerTek harnesses and GPS devices to optimize its training. | Courtesy of LouCity

As Louisville’s pro soccer club approaches Saturday’s clash with Charlotte, it may have a little high-tech advantage: For the last few weeks, Louisville City FC has been employing some gadgetry — and data analysis from Baptist Health — to fine-tune the strenuousness of its practices and to protect its players’ health.

On a recent hot Thursday morning, Louisville City FC players ran drills while wearing PlayerTek harnesses that carry GPS pods that collect data including how far the player runs, how fast he runs and where on the pitch he moves.

James O’Connor

“It’s a great teaching tool for us,” coach James O’Connor told Insider after the practice had ended with corner kick drills.

The devices are synced daily in the locker room, and Baptist Health Performance Training sends an analysis the same day back to the club, so that O’Connor and athletic trainer Scott Ritter can figure out how hard the team practiced.

Ritter told Insider that the device also could provide information about average and top speeds, generate a “heat map” that indicates where players spent the most time and give a score that indicates overall stress on the player’s body.

Ritter and O’Connor said that rather than using the data to chide players who don’t work as hard as their teammates, the club wants to use the data to optimize the squad’s training.

For example, the team wants to avoid running strenuous drills the day after or before a match, and if an individual player is working very hard in practice early in the week, the coach may tell him to take it easier on the following day so that he avoids exhaustion for game day.

“It’s been a really helpful tool to plan,” O’Connor said.

The data also can provide insights for health and safety: If some players or the team as a whole work very hard during high temperatures, the coach or athletic trainer may remind them about proper hydration and nutrition.

Scott Ritter, left. | Courtesy of Baptist Health

However, the coach and the athletic trainer also warned that the data has its limits: Analyzing the data is tricky when it comes to individual player performance: For example, when a player runs a lot, it may mean he’s working hard — or that he is constantly out of position and has to run more to get back into his proper place on the field.

Also, the performance of the squad as a whole — and the opponent — can make a big difference in how much players run. If LouCity dominates possession, players likely will run less than if the opponent dominates the match, and LouCity players constantly have to chase the ball. Or, O’Connor said, a player could be carrying the ball up the field frequently — only to turn the ball over to the opposing team, in which case a lot of the running would be for naught.

The coach also said that a player’s overall practice stress level may reveal to team officials how that player is doing by comparing the exertion to prior practices. If a player was moderately active during certain drills in the first five weeks, but his performance differs materially in week six during the same drills, it may at least prompt coaching staff to make some inquiries.

Brian Ownby

Midfielder Brian Ownby said in a press release that the data is helpful, specially in game situations.

“You can see how much you’re running, what type of movements you’re making, whether it’s longer strides or sprints — little shuffles — so it helps you know what you’re getting,” he said.

Ownby said that while the harnesses may be a little restricting for the players with a bigger chest circumference, they get used to it once they’re moving out on the field.

While the club only recently began the process, O’Connor said that it ultimately could have a significant impact. Once the club has collected a lot of data to establish the players’ baseline,  additional data will be more meaningful.

Optimizing practice sessions also will be helpful as the team plays more matches per season: In the 2015, each United Soccer League Club played 30 regular season games. This year, they’re playing 32 games, and the second-division league just announced another expansion that will have clubs playing 34 matches next year.

LouCity, currently in third place in the Eastern Conference, will need its full strength Saturday, when it clashes with second-place Charlotte Independence. The winner could move into first place, as both are within striking distance of conference-leading Charleston Battery.  The contest will take place in North Carolina. Local fans who aren’t making the trip can follow the action on WBNA TV-21 and NewsRadio 840 WHAS.

Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.