National team of Iceland: sports science insights with Tom Joel

20 APRIL 2020

The National Team of Iceland (KSI) started using the JOHAN GPS system at the beginning of 2019 for both the men’s and women’s national teams as well as the highest youth teams. The men’s first team would now be battling for one of the last tickets for the European Championship of 2020, wouldn’t there have been a global crisis. But now that the last qualification rounds (and the European Championship) have been postponed, we had time to sit down with the Lead Men’s fitness coach at Iceland National Football Team: Tom Joel. During the interview, we talked about his experiences working with the national team of Iceland (and how it is different from his work as 1st Team Sports Scientist at Premier League Club Leicester City FC), and the way he monitors the player with JOHAN’s GPS system.


Since Tom is working for both a Premier League club and the national team, we asked him about his experiences working on both sides. One of the differences that he immediately noticed was the difference in the amount of data that is available. At the club, a lot of longitudinal data (e.g. information of all players about past weeks, months, or evens season) is available. All this data helps to understand what amount of load the players are used to, and how they react to certain types of load. At the national team, this is limited to the information he gets from the clubs, which mostly focuses on what players usually do in the two weeks leading into the camp. Even though this is very important information, it challenges Tom and the team to provide the optimal schedule for all players with the limited amount of data available.


Another important difference is the time constraint when working with the national team. When meeting up with the national team, there are only 4 to 5 days to prepare the players for the first game. This means that during training sessions there is an increased focus on technical/tactical work, whereas physical preparation is mostly about maintaining fitness and avoiding fatigue.

Another challenge in this short period is to align the match schedules of the players. Some players come to camp when they have played a match the day before, whereas others already played their last match 2 or 3 days before. This entails that, within the limited time available, players also require different types of exercise: some need to focus on recovery during the first session, whereas others can already do exercises with a higher intensity. With the help of the information from a GPS system, Tom and the coaches can choose the right exercises for each player. By using this knowledge, they are able to align the schedules of the players in a short period and prepare them optimally for the next match.


Because of these challenging factors of working at the national team, JOHAN’s business intelligence service (QuickSight), which connects to JOHAN’s database, is an easy-to-use solution for his work at the national team.

With this tool, he can make his reports, create different data visualizations and export the data the way he wants it. Even though he was impressed by the JOHAN Analysis platform the first time he worked with it, he wanted to make an immediate impact when starting to work with the national team (since there were a few very important matches coming up). This meant that he wanted to work with the methods that he was comfortable with (i.e. doing most analysis in Excel)

By using QuickSight, he was able to get the data out of the system easily and use it in his own Excel format. Furthermore, this tool also helped him to get insights into how different parameters interact with each other in a session. One of the things he looked at was how the max velocity of a session interacted with the intensity of a session. By using QuickSight in this way, he was not only able to report back to the coach on what the players had done but also get deeper insights into the data.


When talking about the JOHAN-QuickSight module, Tom’s expertise on the ‘need for speed-approach’ became clear. It wasn’t therefore surprising to see that some of the analyses he does in QuickSight are related to this approach. By exposing players to peak speeds during some training sessions in the week, he aims to specifically activate the neuromuscular system involved in sprinting. This way, he prepares the players to perform maximal sprints in a match and reduces the risk of hamstring injuries. Since he has a lot of knowledge on this topic, we asked him if he had advice for others who want to implement this approach in practice.

GPS analysis in Quicksight (not actual data from Iceland)

His first advice would be to look at the data before starting to implement the approach. If the players are already performing a sufficient amount of peak speed actions, you don’t have to implement an extra exercise. Furthermore, if you need to integrate an extra exercise in your training program (e.g. 30m maximal sprint), he would advise you to plan them at the end of the session. This way, the players are ready to perform maximal sprints (they may not feel comfortable trying to reach peak speeds towards the start of the session) without interfering with the training session that the coach had planned.


In the next part of the interview, Tom will discuss which GPS variables he thinks are the most important ones to analyze, which information he reports back to the coach, and his view on the Advice Module. So keep an eye on our website or social media channels for the second part of the interview!