GPS Validity & Reliability – A Collection of Independent Research Findings
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
GPS technology provides coaches, sport scientists and athletes the opportunity to collect individual physical data that has not previously been available and on a time efficient, relatively low cost, non-invasive and potentially real time basis. As well as the practical benefits, there has been a surge in uptake through the elite sport setting probably due to those in the elite setting wanting to gain a competitive advantage and/or not fall behind their opposition. Although it first became available to the sports industry in 2003, little validation research was published until 6-7 years later. Given the increase in popularity, GPS technology has been exposed to the High Performance team sport environment before thorough research has been conducted into data accuracy and global definitions of metrics. This pattern endures as manufacturers release new models and firmware updates ahead of academic research.
I was surprised to struggle to find a collection of the independent findings from the literature readily available on the internet (published literature reviews aside), so here is my selection of some of the research:
The complexity of validity and reliability of the technology to quantify movement demands is significant and stating an across-the-board conclusion is impossible due to the variation of manufacturers, models, sampling frequency and algorithms, plus the different parameters, task designs, criterion measures and statistical analysis employed in the research. Consequently, practitioners working with GPS must take steps to understand the validity and reliability of their own devices within their own setting and usage. Caution is strongly advised if using models and systems interchangeably.
As well as sampling frequency we have to consider the variation between manufacturers, models, hardware, software etc. I find it really interesting to see that the manufacturers covered in this sample of literature are limited to only two of the leading manufacturers; I would certainly be interested to read the independent findings into the others (if these even exist?!). Martin Buchheit’s study showed substantial differences in outputs from the same data files using different software versions so care must be given in the applied world to if, when and how we run the updates. Finally there are also environmental factors that can affect the quality of data (see my previous post: Inside the GPS Unit for more detail).
Whilst the research moves on to explore new ventures; small sided games, metabolic power, accelerometer data for collision sports to name but a few, it is essential we do not forget the foundation of accuracy of the technology.
As well as the research cited above there are a number of review papers that further summarise the findings of GPS validity plus the potential applications of the technology:
Aughey RJ. (2011) Applications of GPS technologies to field sports. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 6: 295-310.
Cummins C, Orr R, O’Connor H, et al. (2013) Global positioning systems (GPS) and microtechnology sensors in team sports: a systematic review. Sports Med 43: 1025-1042.
Dellaserra CL, Gao Y and Ransdell, L. (2014) Use of integrated technology in team sports: a review of opportunities, challenges, and future directions for athletes. J Strength Cond Res 28: 556-573.