If you are like me, August is the most exciting month of the entire year. Football, soccer, volleyball and cross country athletes are returning to campus for the pre-season camp. There is always the mix of freshmen that are overwhelmed and walking around wide eyed. The seniors grizzled with their years of experience are anxiously waiting to begin the countdown of their precious few remaining competitions. With athletes coming back to campus with all of their hopes and dreams, their sport and strength coaches have a tough question to wrestle with.
Should you test the athletes at the start of camp?
Believe it or not, this is a much bigger question than you might initially think. I've wrestled with both of sides of the arguments, and at the heart of the matter is a discussion about injuries. The people that oppose testing at the start of camp, simply don’t want to see anyone injured in non-sport related activity. And that is a difficult argument to get around. No one wants to see people get hurt, but it is especially heart-wrenching to see someone go down before they even get to the first practice.
On the other hand, some coaches believe that if an athlete is going to get hurt in testing, that just means they will get hurt within the first few practices anyway. I’m lucky because the head coaches I work with usually fall into this mindset, so they want to do some sort of pre-season testing. With that said, let me ask you the big picture question. What’s the point of testing your athletes anyway? Really, what information are you looking for after putting athletes through your testing battery?
In a previous post, I talked about the best conditioning test that I know of. There is a lot of very helpful information to unpack when you complete the 220 or any performance test, so let's dissect the information.
When you get down to the nuts and bolts of doing performance testing, you are really conducting a mini experiment with your athletes. Think about it for a second. In either situation their subjects or your athletes complete a baseline test so see where their skills are at. Then they are exposed to some sort of stimulus be it a lifting program, supplement or placebo, sprint or agility program, or anything else. At the end of a time period the subjects or athletes come back and complete the same tests so their pre and post test results can be compared. other workout , re-test the subjects, and then look to see if there was any difference. All of this is done to answer the age old question coaches wrestle with: “Will doing this make any difference?”
I do understand that there is almost a century or research that gives all of us solid foundation of scientific principle and a baseline for what what is appropriate training methods. While I am certain that the General Adaptation Syndrome from Dr. Hans Selye or the Fitness-Fatigue Model credited to Dr. Mel Siff will fit almost every situation, there is one glaring omission that you need to be aware of concerning all the training programs out there:They were not using your athletes. It might be trite, but there are so many differences between what I am able to do with athletes and what other can do, is it a fair comparison to look at the results I get and automatically assume you’ll get the same? Personally there is a lot from the late Charlie Francis’ programs that I like and use with athletes, but there is always an asterisk when looking at results his athletes had. Many of his former athletes tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, and we all can agree that those drugs help training a lot. So should I blindly follow the High-Low training idea that Charlie Francis publicized? Of course not. He worked with the top sprinters in the world, I do not. Some of his athletes were taking drugs, none of mine (I hope) do. Looking at his work is a good start, but it can't end there. I look at the results from what my groups have historically done, compared those results to what I’ve changed with their programs, and then follow the advice of Bruce Lee, “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless.” Doing this style of test-analyse-compare for years I am very confident that when someone goes through one of our 8-8 week off-season training programs I can predict the expected outcomes they will have.
Squat Improvement Bench ImprovementVertical Jump ImprovementAcceleration ImprovementChange of Direction ImprovementFreshmen (APRE Style)6%-9%6%-9%3%-5%3%-5%3%-5%Sophomore (High-Low Style)7%-11%6%-8%4%-6%3%-5%3%-5%Junior (TriPhasic Style)3%-4%2%-4%5%-7%5%-6%4%-6%Senior (TriPhasic & Velocity Based Training)4%-7%3%-5%6%-8%5%-7%4%-6%
All of this information is really helpful to have a very honest conversation with everyone involved in your program. Having records of what results you’ve had in the past is the only way to see if you are really helping athletes get better or need to try something different. This sort of review can be very helpful for all of us who are in the strength and conditioning profession who want to confirm that our mesocycles are working and we get an appropriate transfer of training. But what about those people who don’t have our background and education, like sport coaches? Do they really care about the incremental changes their athletes are getting, or do they care about how these changes can impact they way they can play the game?
With all team sports, isn’t that the real question we should be trying to answer? Don’t get me wrong, I have a track and field background and have competed in powerlifting, strongman, and weightlifting but those competitions are different than team sports. With team sports, many factors that can’t be quantified come together to determine a winner. We’ve all seen it before: being the strongest, or fastest, or most conditioned team does not necessarily mean that you are going to win. You have a better chance but it doesn't mean the victory is in the bag. So you might be asking yourself, “What can I do to help out sport coaches then?” In that case, I’m glad you asked.
When it comes time to have the hard conversation about keeping or cutting people from the team roster, I’m usually invited to attend those meetings. For years, I had made the mistake of using too many terms that only strength coaches would understand or charts that were too difficult understand quickly. Well that changed. While I’m not going to show you what I used to bring to the meetings, this is what our coaches see now. This is one of our athletes’ profile.
Thanks to the magic of Excel, each player has their own graph which gets created by clicking the up or down arrows. I know there is a lot of information to unpack, so let's take a closer look. Starting from left to right it reads Explosiveness, Change of Direction, Acceleration, Top Speed, Stamina, Power, Strength, Body Weight, and Body Fat. Here are the tests associated with these: Vertical Jump, 5-10-5 Pro Agility, 10 yard sprint, 10-20 yard split, 220 fatigue resistance, power clean pull via GymAware, back squat 1 rep max, a calibrated scale, and a three-site skinfold pinch. Through some really basic statistical breakdowns, I made this chart which compares our current players to the historical average in their position group. If they score a 50 in any category that is average, a 100 is really good and a 0 is not. This player is pretty average for their position, except in their stamina and slightly above average with their strength and body weight. It looks purposely similar to the way video games displays players ability. Don’t you think?
The real beauty of testing is find out the truth: The truth about your program. The truth about the players. The truth about what are realistic expectations. If you are already testing your athletes regularly, then you have this information already, you just need to spend some time upfront and get everything formatted. If you don’t test your athletes, then this article gave you some points to think about. Either way, reach out when you need help. The truth is out there.