B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 24

Testing, Testing…1, 2, 3?

Assessing young athletes is not as simple as it seems.

by Mike Mejia, CSCS

As summer winds down and travel programs all across the country turn their attention towards tryouts for next season, legions of young athletes are anxiously awaiting their opportunity to showcase their talents. In addition to their lacrosse skills, for many this will undoubtedly involve some type of assessment of such physical abilities as speed, strength and power.

While I can certainly understand and appreciate a coaching staff’s desire to have some type of quantifiable way to measure their athletes’ physical performance, I often find myself questioning the validity of exactly what is being tested. Sure, knowing things such as how high, and/ or far a kid can jump, or how fast they run, can serve as a good indicators of their overall athleticism. The real question is, however, are coaches solely focusing on the outcomes of these types of performance based tests? Or, are they taking a closer look at what’s going on from a movement efficiency/ injury prevention standpoint?

I ask this because regardless of what kind of “numbers” an athlete is capable of putting up, it’s the manner in which they’re able to achieve those scores that often yields more relevant information than what the test was supposed to measure in the first place!Keeping this simple fact in mind can mean the difference between short-term success and being recognized as a program that builds its reputation on churning out healthier, more injury resistant players over the long haul.

Take tests like the vertical jump and broad jump for instance- both of which are widely recognized as excellent ways to assess overall power production. If an athlete gets a great score for their vertical, but you notice that their knees buckle together as they load up for the jump and/ or immediately upon landing, do you just chart the score? Or, are you making it a point to address what appear to be some obvious strength imbalances that could serve as precursors to potential injury?

The same holds true for the broad jump; an excellent result should not make you blind to the fact that an athlete couldn’t effectively decelerate his, or her momentum to “stick” the landing and instead, allowed their hips to descend down towards their calves. Either of the situtations just described should send up huge red flags, as they help to identify athletes who are capable of tremendous power production, despite bodies that are obviously way out of balance.

Similar problems can also be observed when administering speed and agility assessments. A basic shuttle run for instance, which is designed to test an athlete’s agility, can yield plenty of information about their ability to effectively change directions. Here, once again a good score should not supersede things like improper foot placement (leading to poor shin angles), rounding the back during direction changes and jumping into decelerations. All of which contribute to engraining bad movement habits that increase the risk for injuries like knee and ankle sprains, as well as lower back strains.

Even a relatively “simple” speed assessment like the 40 yard dash can tell you a lot about an athlete’s potential for future injury. Kids who are fast but run with faulty movement mechanics, such as a short, choppy stride, or a cross body arm swing are getting away with things right now that could come back to bite them later on down the line if left uncorrected.

Overusing their quads and hip flexors, for example and failing to tap into the powerful hip extensor muscles can lead to a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the knees. Just as the constant rotation caused by swinging the arms across the body when sprinting (instead of forwards and backwards), can place unnecessary strain on the lower back over time.  

So, what kind of assessments should you be putting your athletes through during tryouts? Stay tuned for my next article where I’ll show you a couple of my favorite drills for gathering information about an athlete’s current level of physical ability. I’ll also clue you in a couple of staple tests that in my opinion, are a complete waste of time.

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