By Sarah Tone, Communications Coordinator
I’ve been testing athletes as a part of their regular training programs for over 20 years now, and here are my key takeaways from the experience: coaches love it, most athletes dread it, and most of the time, the information gathered from it isn’t used the way it should be used. Let me expand on these thoughts a little further.
Coaches Love It – Sport coaches and strength coaches alike love testing. They watch to see how their athletes respond to it. Do they thrive on the challenge/competition, or do they crumble because of it? It can be very telling to a coach, but is that really a great reason to test athletes?
Athletes Dread It – Most athletes can’t stand testing. They want to train, compete and mostly, play. There is often a fair bit of anxiety associated with testing. Athletes often think that their results could be the difference between them making a team or not making a team. I hope that a coach would look at the athlete as a whole and include their skill, ability, sport sense, work ethic and character in the decision-making process versus just looking at testing results. Being great at testing does not make you a great player, nor does doing poorly at testing make you a bad player. It is part of the selection process and that is all that should be communicated to the athlete(s).
The Testing Data Is Not Used the Way It Should Be – Coaches and athletes alike want to see who ranks the highest and who ranks the lowest thinking that could be a great way to motivate the lower-ranked athletes to improve and work harder and motivate the top scorers to hold onto their rankings. The research in Sport Psychology has proven that internal and not external factors are the keys to motivating people. In other words, an athlete is more likely to be motivated by comparing their current testing results with their previous testing results versus comparing their results with those of their teammates.
Now that we have a little insight into coaches, athletes, and testing data, let’s try and get everyone on the same page when it comes to athlete testing – what to do, why you should do it, and how to use the data most effectively so it becomes part of the process in athlete development and ultimately getting them to the next level in their performance pathway.
Building An Athletic Profile
Before we decide what tests we are going to do, we need to analyze the sport and the key physical qualities required to perform it at a high level. Every sport is a little different so, every testing battery will be slightly different.
Generally, with performance testing, we try to build a profile for various physical qualities including speed, agility, power (jumps), strength, anaerobic and aerobic endurance.
For example, a Speed Profile could include the following tests:
Flying 20m sprint
5-0-5 Change of Direction
With this speed profile we can look at the athlete’s acceleration (10m sprint), absolute (top end) speed (Flying 20m), overall speed from a standstill (30m sprint) and short burst deceleration to acceleration (5-0-5 Change of Direction) abilities. These tests cover all the bases for speed assessment and therefore could be the foundation for developing a speed program for an athlete or a team.
This can be carried out with a (power) Jump Profile as well. We would typically use a:
The broad jump measures the athlete’s ability to produce lower body power horizontally. The squat jump measures the athlete’s ability to produce vertical power from a low (knee and hip bend) position and the counter-movement jump measures the athlete’s ability to use the stretch-shortening cycle (quick drop into an explosive vertical jump). Again, these tests cover a handful of different measurements to develop that jump profile.
A Strength Profile could include:
Isometric Mid Thigh Pull
Depending on the age, training experience and physical requirements of the sport, the amount of load used could vary to elicit one single repetition up to multiple repetitions. The bench press measures upper body pressing strength. The chin-up measures upper body pulling strength and the isometric mid thigh pull (IMTP) measures lower body strength.
Anaerobic and Aerobic assessments are typically dependent on the activity or sport, but it is important to understand that within each of these energy systems we can test not only the power of that system but also its capacity.
An Energy System Profile for example, could be developed by performing a 30 Second Wingate Test and an aerobic test like a Beep Test or a Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test.
A Wingate test is a maximal effort 30s bike test where we will look at the peak power (first 5-6 seconds of effort) and the average power (capacity) over the length of the 30s test. This is a great test for those athletes involved in team sports where short, hard bursts of effort repeated multiple times per game are needed.
Leger’s 20m Shuttle Run (Beep Test) is a common test to measure maximal aerobic power. The Beep Test is a predictive test where an athlete’s VO2 Max (maximal oxygen consumption) is predicted based on the final stage completed. It can be done almost anywhere there is a 20m space and requires minimal equipment. Similarly, a Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test requires only 5 additional metres of length and minimal equipment. The stages in the Yo-Yo test are shorter and more intense but have a 10s recovery between each effort. Both are good field tests that are low-cost, and you can test multiple athletes at one time.
Keep in mind that there are hundreds of different testing protocols, so it is important to choose the tests that work the best for your sport and your situation. Professional teams can afford the most expensive and accurate testing equipment and have staff to work with the data whereas a local training centre or sport organization works on tight budgets and choosing tests that are low cost is the way they need to go.
Once we’ve determined our tests, challenged the athletes, and developed their profiles, what do we do with that information?
Building the Training Program
Testing data is great and dashboards are great, but what we do with that information to help our athletes improve their performance in sport is critical. We don’t get the data for the sake of collecting data, we want to use it to drive our programming by noticing tendencies and building a database of results over years to make sure our programming is working. That is the real benefit to testing and the reason we should do it.
A secondary reason to test is as an education and accountability tool. Monitoring progress year after year can show us if an athlete is training consistently or not. This can be shown to the individual athlete and discussed to see if there are any reasons that may have resulted in a drop in performance (inconsistent training, a family issue, an injury, a growth spurt, or a change of environment). Often it is inconsistent training that comes out as a main reason, and this becomes a great educational tool to discuss the benefits of year-round training and the benefits of it in improving performance over time.
Athlete testing can be very beneficial if done for the right reasons. It can also be motivating to athletes if communicated the right way. Testing can also be of great benefit to coaches and sport scientists alike to help drive their yearly training plans from both a strength and conditioning and a technical/tactical standpoint.