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James CollinsMay 1, 2024 12:17:25 PM5 min read

An Introduction to Utilizing Force Plates in Soccer Training

Having worked in elite soccer for 10 years, you get inundated with different tech that is presented to you to help your athletes. Early in my career in soccer (football), force plates started to become more popular. The tech wasn’t as nice as what we have today. They were big and heavy and had all sorts of cords and wires hanging out of them. They were also paired with terrible software that would confuse the best data scientists. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by force plates and all the capabilities they possessed to help my athletes. My interest started with athlete profiling but then developed into fatigue monitoring and return to play as I moved up to 1st teams.

I spent the early part of my career working with MLS academies and second teams. For context, these athletes span anywhere from 15-22 years old. The goal is not necessarily about winning but more development. It is about developing a player’s technical, tactical, psychological, and (most importantly!) physical attributes to eventually contribute to a respective club’s 1st team. This is where force plates became a huge asset. I was working at an MLS academy and second team, and I was responsible for over 100 athletes. We had a break in games for about 2 months, so I felt there was no better time to start collecting some data. I decided to keep it simple and stick with the CMJ and set on my way to test all my athletes. The testing was grueling which generally consisted of me getting tangled up in wires coming from the plates to the laptop or vice versa. After I collected all of my data, it was time for the analysis. I was left overwhelmed with all the different metrics, and I had no real way to properly visualize/analyze any of the data. I was able to narrow down what I felt was important and then started pairing athletes with similar jump profiles.

I kept the bucket of my athletes essentially into 3 different groups and programs specifically to their needs:

  • Group 1 - Well balanced – General S&C programs
  • Group 2 - Focus on increasing strength
  • Group 3 - Focus on increasing power/explosiveness

If an athlete scored poorly (ie. Didn’t jump high or fast), they could do with working on both strength and power. Given, that they were generally youth athletes, the main focus was on strength as it would give us the greatest bang for our buck. Therefore, they would be bucketed into group 2. Given the population (soccer players with a low training age), we had most of our athletes in group 2. So, we set on our way with our 3 different programs to help improve our athletes. Little did I realize that the 3 different programs gave 3 different stimuli’ which combined with our training/training load – gave me different outcomes and not always a positive one! For example, If group 2 were lifting post-training on an MD-2 and the focus was on increasing strength, this stimulus may affect their performance on match day, while group 3 on the other hand, might benefit from performing power/explosiveness on this day. For group 2, the day you perform small-sided games (SSG) may be a more optimum day to perform lower body strength as it compliments the neuromuscular demands of SSG. Having that understanding of your athletes' ‘global load’ is important as how each different stimulus they receive (lifting, plyometrics, running volume, and intensity) can interact with one another.

As my career progressed and I moved up to a 1st team environment, the priorities changed ever so slightly. It’s all about winning! While athlete profiling did take place with the force plates, we started to use HD plates for neuromuscular fatigue testing and for return to play (R2P). As anyone who has worked in soccer knows, time is of the essence, so we decided to go with a CMJ (hands on hips) for our test. We mostly focused on mRSI and its parts (jump height and time to take off). We typically did our testing on MD+2 and MD-2. Testing on these days gave us an idea of how the players were recovering post-match before our training week commenced (MD+2) and then how our players were recovering from the most difficult training sessions during the week (MD-2). The HD software and cloud gave us real-time feedback which allowed us to have conversations with our coaching staff to chat about individual changes to the respective players training.


Image: Example of fatigue testing at Salford Red Devils 

Neuromuscular fatigue testing became a staple for our players as we ran into issues where when we analyzed individual GPS data, it became difficult to know how our players would respond to the external load. By no means am I bashing GPS technology, but pairing GPS monitoring with some response testing such as Force Plates is vitally important. This gives you an accurate and objective way to measure the dose-response of your athletes. 

Unfortunately, injuries are inevitable in soccer. While the most common are hamstring injuries, I’ve sadly been a part of R2P for everything from ACL repairs to Achilles ruptures. Regardless of the injury and its severity, force plate technology played a major role in the R2P process. Given our criteria-based approach to R2P, along with utilizing elements of Matt Taberner’s control-chaos continuum, we wanted to ensure the injured athletes return to their baseline on some key metrics that we set forth. The metrics and tests sometimes changed based on the specifics of the injury but the premise of trying to return to our baseline scores (or exceed them!) stayed the same. We would try to retest as much as possible on the force plates not just to check our progression but also to see the players' response to maybe a difficult training session the day or two days prior. The plates then give us instant feedback to help us make quick decisions that can impact the session for that day.

This blog is just how I got into force plates and used them. The true uses are endless but can make a big impact on performance and medical teams at clubs. Winning in soccer comes down to fine margins and here at Hawkin Dynamics, we believe we can provide practitioners with the tools to help them win!


Join us on the 8th of May, 2024 from 2-5 PM BST (9 AM - 12 PM EST) for a FREE webinar in partnership with Football Fitness Federation.

Hear from industry experts from Hawkin Dynamics and Sporting Kansas City discussing football performance and force measurement. 




James Collins

James Collins is the Special Markets Accounts Manager for Football (Soccer) at Hawkin Dynamics. James comes to Hawkin with an extensive background in elite soccer training, most notably working in Major League Soccer. James worked with Sporting Kansas City for two seasons with their Academy and Second team before moving to Minnesota United FC as the Head S&C Coach. After a season with Minnesota, he became the Head of Sport Science with New England Revolution. James was a part of NE Revolution when they won the Supporters Shield in 2021 and broke the all-time regular season points record. He moved into the Director of Performance role in 2022 where he managed all S&C, sports science, nutrition, and end-stage rehab for the entire club. In 2023, James started a PhD from TU Dublin in Sport Science focusing on training load in elite soccer.