The Three Types of Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems in Football

What are they, how are they different, and why they are improving the game?

I think it is fair to say that over the last few years we have become more than used to seeing player stats bombarded at us from every analysis show going. We see everything from the distance that a player ran in a game to the time they spent in different parts of the pitch, and this is just a tiny fraction of the information that the clubs themselves have access to. What people may not be quite so aware of (or just not bother thinking about!) though, is just how this information is gathered.

In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking it is just a bunch of analysts in a room watching screens and making notes of where players are all the time. The truth however, is a little more complicated and a lot more interesting than that.

The reality is that this is all done automatically using Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTSs) that digitally monitor precise player movements at all times. How they do this, and to what level of precision they are able to operate with though, depends very much on what type of EPTS is being used. To give an overview of the topic, and let you know exactly what you are looking at and how that information is gathered, we’ll break down the three main EPTS categories here.

Optical-Based Tracking System

The first EPTS we will discuss, and possibly the most straight forward to think about, is an optical-based tracking system (OBTS). These are systems that work using regular cameras set up around a pitch to track the players. They aren’t quite that simple though, as they have tracking algorithms to ensure they automatically identify players and the ball; effectively a more advanced, accurate and precise version of how your phone identifies faces when you are taking photos.

Optical-Based Tracking Systems are by far the most common type of tracking used in football and were introduced far earlier because they don’t require the players themselves to wear any tracking devices. Initially, FIFA strictly prohibited these tracking devices to be worn, and although following a rule change in 2015 players are not allowed to wear them, optical-based tracking has remained popular in the sport, and with good reason.

Able to take a near-constant stream of data, OBTSs are a fantastic way to track players and provide excellent analysis for coaching teams. With a high degree of precision, you can be confident in their final results and are a great way to push your team to the next level.

There are some downsides though. Most significantly, a good OBTS system takes a significant investment to set up with a number of cameras required, and then analysts to sort through and correct data. This manual correcting is required because OBTS does not rely on tracking devices attached to players, and so can lose or swap players in collisions or tight play, requiring someone to go through and ensure this hasn’t happened, or reverse it if it has. If you can afford it though, an optical-based tracking system is undoubtedly a fantastic option and provide invaluable information on where your players are, and what they are doing, throughout each and every game.

The other thing that sets OBTS apart from the other options, and really takes its level of analysis to the next level, is the fact that because it is visual it shows more than just where players are and how fast they are going, but what they are doing as well. Want to see which of your players are looking at the space while everyone else is watching the ball? How your defenders are dealing with a crowded box? How your strikers may be telegraphing their movements with their bodies? OBTS is the one for you.

Local Positioning System

Next up, we have local positioning systems (LPS), which work very similar to OBTSs with one very key difference. Instead of tracking the players optically, they instead track LPS transmitters that players wear which emit high-frequency signals. This means that while the setup is very similar to an OBTS in that you need to surround the pitch with sensors (instead of cameras this time), the end result is data that can automatically be used without the need for editing as it is impossible to ‘lose’ a player.

This not only cuts running costs dramatically but also allows for the data an LPS gathers to be used instantly and provide in-game analysis, which naturally gives it a huge advantage both for pundits and coaches looking to make real-time decisions and affect the result. These systems are also the most precise tracking systems available, being typically accurate to within just 50mm of where each player actually is. In fact, the only real downside to an LPS are the initial startup costs, with the sensors and transmitters eclipsing even the OBTS above.

It is also worth pointing out that despite FIFA’s concerns, the transmitters players wear on their backs have shown to be barely noticeable by players and fans alike on the field, and LPSs have become widely adopted by almost all top-tier teams.

Global Positioning System 

Finally, we have the most well known, although maybe not for football, tracking systems, global positioning systems (GPSs). These are significantly different to the previous systems in that rather than data being gathered by pitchside cameras or sensors, players wear GPS units that send information all the way up to satellites in low orbit above us, which then record this data and allow the user back down by the pitch make good use of it.

The upsides of this system are obvious: you no longer need lengthy and expensive setups by the pitch, or even a technical operator to work them. All players need to do is put on their GPS units, and you are good to go.

Naturally, this has huge upsides, but it is not all good news. Because the data is being transmitted all the way to the edge of space, it is not nearly so precise as the other two methods, and while it definitely works a lot better than Google Maps on your phone, it is not the most reliable when doing deep analysis such as the exact position your striker compared to the offside line at the moment a ball is played for example. The GPS devices are also a lot bulkier than their LPS counterparts, as they need to provide a far more powerful signal.

This does not mean that GPSs are not incredibly useful however, and can be used not only on match days by lower league clubs who may not have the budgets for other options, but also top teams during training sessions in order to keep a keen eye on how much and how fast players are running, to ensure peak performance come match day.

In Summary 

So, there we have it, the three main types of electronic performance and tracking systems in football today, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Here at Vision Sports, we specialise in OBTS as we believe this offers the most complete analysis and gives you the chance to really see what is going on to take your players to the next level. If you want more information and to learn about our project here as Vision Sports, get in touch with out team today.

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