Should Everyone Wear a GPS Tracking Pod? We Review the Statsports Apex Athlete

We go hands-on with the pro-level Apex Athlete GPS tracking pod to see what the hype is all about.

Anyone who has paid attention to professional team sport in recent years would’ve undoubtedly noticed the little bumps players have on their upper backs; or asked “why are they wearing bras?”. Well, the answer is that those ‘bras’ are actually vests that feature a little GPS pod on the back, hence the ‘hump’. These are used to track, evaluate, and improve an athlete’s performance based on the statistics received from the GPS, and one company has made a huge impact in the industry: StatSports.

Statsports is used and endorsed by the likes of the Springboks, England Rugby Union, All Blacks, Liverpool, Arsenal, PSG, Juventus — and the list goes on. Essentially, these GPS tracking pods have become the de-facto way to assess your own performance on the field, and further gives coaches the tools they need to see where to improve.

Of course, while this technology has seemed somewhat unattainable for the average Joe, leaving them to rather opt for the usual fitness bands and tracking watches (which have their limitations), Statsport has made the GPS tracking pod and vest available for the general audience, allowing you to utilise and access the wealth of stats and infographics that pros usually do. So, whether you’re a club rugby player, park soccer enthusiast, or just want to take your training to a new level, you can now grab yourself a GPS pod of your own. We got our hands on Statsports Apex Athlete model to find out if having such a metric-monitoring device is worth investing in.

From the get-go, the real appeal of having a GPS pod as opposed to a watch is that, well, you don’t need to wear a watch. Playing a rugby match or intense game of football with a couple-thousand-rand watch isn’t the best idea, so having something that’s safe, durable, and snuggly sitting on your back is the best option. It’s unobtrusive and won’t distract you from what you’re doing on the pitch, which is a huge plus.

Using the pod is also an easy and convenient process. After pairing it and setting it up with your Android or iOS device using the Apex Athlete app, you have the option of calibrating it to your chosen sport. This is one of the better features which elevates it way above other trackers, allowing you to put your metrics into a rugby, football, hockey, or cricket-tracking context. This will alter the UI slightly, allowing you to choose your position (flyhalf in rugby, or centre-back in football, for example) which will change the benchmarks of what you’re comparing to. One of StatSport’s biggest selling points is also its global tracking database, where you can compare your game stats to professionals and other community members, so seeing how your sprint time racks up against the likes of Harry Kane or Cheslin Kolbe is always an interesting (and often sobering) moment.

The actual act of using the pod is easy too. Once charged, a simple press of the main button (it literally has one rubberised button) turns the device on and begins its GPS-acquisition and tracking process. After a few signifying beeps, tracking has begun. Once you’ve completed your game, you simply hold the button for a few seconds until it switches off, and then you can pair and sync with your phone at a later stage. This is another great benefit of the pod, as it has its own internal memory, so you don’t need to be in range or connected via Bluetooth during the tracking process (something some other devices require). All the data for your training session or game (the pod can even store multiple sessions at a time) is available until you connect to your device, which will then ask which sessions from which dates you’d like to sync. This is great because you don’t even need your phone at the field — it’s a simple one-button tracking process, with no fiddling with settings and trying to get on the appropriate ‘mode’ with your fitness watch.

Within the app, you’re given a host of metrics that really do provide some valuable insight into any on-field performance. There are 16 metrics, including max speed, total distance, sprints, intensity, and fatigue, along with heat maps and even field territory percentages to give you an idea of where on the pitch you spend most of your energy and time. The pod also includes additional sensors, one of which is an accelerometer, which tracks force across three axes; vertical (y-axis), medial-lateral (x-axis) and anterior-posterior (z-axis), known as a tri-axial accelerometer.

Having access to this type of data can allow measurement of force (G) exerted by or acting on the body, which has added another dimension to player monitoring and led to the creation of accelerometer derived metrics, such as Statsports’ Dynamic Stress Load metric (DSL). This DSL is one of the most interesting metrics, as it essentially encapsulates your ‘work rate’, so to speak. So, rather than trying to gauge how you feel from various other info and stats, it clearly shows you the amount of force and strain your body has experienced, taking into account your distance, high-speed running, cutting, angle changes, decelerations, accelerations, and everything in between. You can use this metric to either push yourself in your next session, or slow down if you’re overdoing it, which is great to have as a reference point.

Having all these stats might initially feel overwhelming, but if you focus on the insights or metrics you’re trying to improve (say top speed and work rate), it can be truly beneficial, especially given the fact that you have real-world stats from pros and other players to compare yourself to. As they say: competition really does bring out the best in people.

As for the vest itself, which really isn’t the main focus, but is a pivotal feature in the whole experience, it’s extremely well made. Its soft, thin and stretchy material allows it to be snug but flexible, and a rubberised band at the bottom stops it from sliding up and keeps it on your chest area. It’s easy to throw into the washing machine (after you take the pod out) and becomes part of your game-day equipment without being a hassle at all.

So, should you buy a GPS tracking pod like Statsports’ Apex Athlete? If you’re considering spending a similar budget on a smartwatch or fitness tracker purely to deliver stats from your workouts, then the Apex Athlete is a far more comprehensive choice. Of course, some people aren’t too interested in motion-based metrics and would rather just see their heart-rate. Thankfully, the Apex also features a heart-rate monitor which you can pair with it too (but must be bought separately). Despite one or two small bugs in the app on the odd occasion, using the Apex Athlete GPS pod is a fantastic companion that puts the magnifying glass over your training and performances; and if you’re looking to improve, it’s hard to beat that.

The Statsports Apex Athlete is priced at $299.99 (around R4,450) and is available on the official Statsports website.

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