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The athlete "Testing" dilemma

August 21, 2013

 

Our athletes just completed their summer post testing in what has become quite an event. Parents, athletes, and coaches alike are eager to hear the numbers and snap judgement on if the work/time was worth it. While we get great results on the "testing," it has become too much of a focus with all parties involved. We have to ask ourselves - what do these tests show us about an athletes ability to perform or develop in their sport? The standard strength and conditioning test are in a single plane of motion unlike any dymanic sport played on a field or court. After all, what makes athletes so special is thier ability to do unmeasurable things; redirecting your body in the air to get a ball, a quarterback changing his arm slot to throw around defender, transitioning from reaching for a ball to throwing someone out, etc. When we started this company we focused on hitting standard testing numbers. The entire program was geared to perfect and improve the test we ran. In short, we had phenomenal results on the testing numbers but our athletes were not translating to the field which motivated myself to find improved training methods that would transfer to sport. To respect your time, I am going to take three examples in the 40, pro agility, and the vertical jump and give my opinion on the evaluation and the affects of the test on the athlete.

The 40 is a hot button in football, but when football players use their "football speed" to break a game open it's always in transition and never from a standstill. We could argue that the distance the 10-yard dash would be a better assessment for Lineman while a "flying 25" would be most appropriate for skill players. The term flying mean that the athlete would have 5-10 yards to gain momentum before being time for 25 yards. Even still you are talking about putting a dynamic sport where timing, angles, and power have more of an influence than starting from a stance and sprinting straight ahead. Several years ago an east texas football athlete had elite film but was shunned by many Big 12 teams because he was running 4.7 range 40's on the one day camp circuit. Kendall Wright now plays for the Tennessee Titans and  his college coach at Baylor, Art Briles no longer tests the 40 at all his football camps. It's worth mentioning that after college, Kendall trained for the combine and hit 4.4 after his combine prep training.

Kids and parents see the NFL combine and feel like the kids need to train for those events to get ready for football. The NFL combine is it's own sport and our NFL combine athletes have a very specific training program for it. We work on the skills of those test for hours and hours each week leading to the combine / pro day. That program does a very poor job of preparing our athletes for football (or anything else). After the combine we completely change the training focus to preparing for the NFL season. Never again do they work on test techniques or a program aimed at hitting "testing" numbers. Young football players need to focus on Mo-Sta-Bility (mobility, stability, flexibility), Strength, 3D Power, and Multidirectional/Transitional Speed. Instead they spend their time working on bench press and the 40. This emphasis on combine training has an increased effect on injuries and a disassociation between good testing numbers and good players. The psychological limitations athletes tend to put on themselves after hearing their 40 times is damaging enough. For example, kids that think they ran a 4.3 lose motivation to get better and kids that run a 5.0 think they cannot play. We recognize that there are some times of the year for kids to concentrate on testing, therefore, we need to help them master the test. In the Spring we will designate training for combine prep (high school and pro) and separate it from other training classes.

 

The pro agility test has widely been a deemed a valid test for an athlete's ability to change direction. In several studies the 5-10-5(pro agility) has been proven to NOT differentiate between high and lower level athletes. What is missing from the pro agility test? Inclusion of perceptual and decision making components along with the fact that you cannot distinguish a deficit on one side or the other. . Reaction is missing. The ability to compare change of direction to reaction and decision makingcapabilities is what we need to if we want to measure multi-directional speed. To test this we need a testing construct that transfers to sport. The importance of decision making has often been overlooked within the context of agility training. What makes an athlete’s “agility” special is their unique ability to make changes in reaction to changes the see or foresee. An example of two test that would give us valid information for multi-directional speed would be the 5-0-5 and the Y reactive drill. The 5-0-5 is a non-reactive drill that allows you to test an athlete’s ability to cut on one side vs the other. The athlete sprints 10 yards (time starts at 5 yard line) and touches the line with the designated hand / side and sprints back through 5 yards. This gives us objective information on that athlete's ability to cut right vs left. This can help us identify weakness or coordination issues. The Y drill is a reactive drill where an athlete sprints 5 yards and makes an angle break through one gate or another depending on the coaches point, cue, or even a light directing them which way to go. This makes the drill reactive in nature and is great information on how athletes are processing their environment.

The vertical is a huge number for all of our jump sport athletes (among others) yet basketball/volleyball players rarely leap from a complete standstill and it's even more rare for them to jump straight up with no angulation. The ability to get off the ground with speed is precedent to the max height with athletes of comparable athletic ability. The greatest rebounders and playmakers react the fastest, can explode at any angulation, and land loaded to do it again. The best players hardly ever have the highest vertical. In the 2007 NBA combine Greg Oden jumped 34 inches in the vertical leap while Kevin Durant jump 33 1/2 inches, completed the agility drill in 11.67 seconds to Durant's 12.33 seconds, and finished the three-quarter court sprint in 3.27 seconds, ahead of Durant's 3.45 seconds. AND Durant finished with ZERO reps of 185 on bench press according to the report. Those vertical jumps may seem impressive but Oden is a center and Durant is a guard where NBA players average a 36-42 inch vertical jump. All being said, you don't see Durant getting out jumped or outplayed very often.

"If people question his strength, they're stupid," Former Texas' coach Rick Barnes said according to The Dallas Morning News. "If they are looking for professional weight lifters to come out of Texas, that's not what we're producing, we are producing ball players. There are a lot of guys who can bench press 300 pounds in the NBA who couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie. Kevin's the best player in the draft - period, at any position."

Barnes was right. Todd Wright served as the Texas Basketball Head Strength Coach(currently Philidelphia 76ers) and is highly regarded as one of the best jump sport strength coaches in the world. NBA players come from all over every off-season to train with him because his players show the training on the court, not on a silly test. APEC assistant director Kye Heck worked for Todd and we share common philosophies.

 

These are just three examples of testing that can show you the problem in putting too much stock into numbers. We as coaches must emphisize that testing is just part of the training process and does not limit you or make you as a player. On a personal note, I still remember my times from school because they were made very important by our coaches. In particular I remember one of my best friends running a 4.49 in the spring of our sophomore year and when we got a new coaching staff in the summer he ran a 4.81. The difference was the old staff was convinced that he needed to be the focal point of the offense and whether they timed him fast on purpose or subconciously gave him the beneift of the doubt when timing - he ran a bogus time. The new staff knew none of us and timed us all as strangers. My feeling is that it is hard to not be emotionally connected to athletes testing especially if you are the one that has seen them work to improve those test. If you are going to test- I recommend using lasers that take all of the variables out of the equation. For other test use electronic or black and white standards for lifts, jumps, etc. Another way to help accuracy is have one coach test all of a particular test(before and after). Strength and speed qualities can be measured but only games, seasons, and consistency should be glorified. The main reason for testing should be to establish improved training protocals and percentages for strength training, plyometrics, etc.

 

When athletes focus on training for a specific number or test it takes away from the purpose of training. The #1 priority of any training program must be for every athlete to be healthy enough to play in every game. Many of the things that should be trained proprioceptively to guard an athlete against injury are hard or impossible to measure. Strength should be looked at as stability and as a platform for Power. In a good training periodization, the test is the exercise and the exercise is the test. To put it simply, you should see advances every workout by noticing how much better you are performing the lifts with better technique and more weight. Your movement principles for your sport must be mastered and the advancement of these movements in every workout should show off the fluidity of your athleticism and the explosive nature of your speed.

In conclusion, our industry is pigeon holed by the "testing" dilemma. Testing speed and strength quailities can be a good thing but is never the most important thing. Many of our young clients / parents measure their investment by numbers on paper at the end of the program. This forces us to take two full training days away for testing alone(in 8 weeks), and dedicate some valuable hours of our curriculum to the coaching of the tests. In addition, there are many variables in testing athletes such as; testing surface, weather conditions, stress or testing anrest, accumulated fatigue, nutrition, load, travel, stress or testing anxiety. The paradox we face is to train for what our athletes need to perform at a high level or to focus on producing the expected numbers on paper. These emphasis take two different plans of action to get the most out of each. Since we have switched our system focus to performance and not just hitting numbers, feedback and production from our athletes has been remarkable. Currently we sprinkle in test programming and focus primarily on what our athletes need for their sport demands. At APEC we feel that the testing numbers do not an-equate results and that true results are obvious to everyone that knows the athletes including parents, coaches and teammates. While it can be a struggle to convince the general public on how to judge their results, I hope that you will focus on PERFORMANCE.


-Bobby Stroupe

FAFS CSCS FMR PES CES USAW POSE

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