Relationships Between the External and Internal Training Load in Professional Soccer: What Can We Learn From Machine Learning?

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: Machine learning may contribute to understanding the relationship between the external load and internal load in professional soccer. Therefore, the relationship between external load indicators (ELIs) and the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) was examined using machine learning techniques on a group and individual level. Methods: Training data were collected from 38 professional soccer players over 2 seasons. The external load was measured using global positioning system technology and accelerometry. The internal load was obtained using the RPE. Predictive models were constructed using 2 machine learning techniques, artificial neural networks and least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) models, and 1 naive baseline method. The predictions were based on a large set of ELIs. Using each technique, 1 group model involving all players and 1 individual model for each player were constructed. These models’ performance on predicting the reported RPE values for future training sessions was compared with the naive baseline’s performance. Results: Both the artificial neural network and LASSO models outperformed the baseline. In addition, the LASSO model made more accurate predictions for the RPE than did the artificial neural network model. Furthermore, decelerations were identified as important ELIs. Regardless of the applied machine learning technique, the group models resulted in equivalent or better predictions for the reported RPE values than the individual models. Conclusions: Machine learning techniques may have added value in predicting RPE for future sessions to optimize training design and evaluation. These techniques may also be used in conjunction with expert knowledge to select key ELIs for load monitoring.

Jaspers and Helsen are with the Movement Control & Neuroplasticity Research Group, Dept of Movement Sciences; De Beéck and Davis, the Dept of Computer Science; and Staes, the Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Research Group, Dept of Rehabilitation Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. Brink and Frencken are with the Center for Human Movement Sciences, University Medical Center, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands. Jaspers and De Beéck share first authorship, and Davis and Helsen share last authorship.

Jaspers (arne.jaspers@kuleuven.be) is corresponding author.
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