B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 25
Part II: Proper drill selection
by Mike Mejia, CSCS
In the first installment of this article, I filled you in on why I’m not necessarily a fan of some of the more commonly used tests to assess young athletes. This time around, I’ll give you a little more insight as to why, as well as show you some of the preferred drills I use when conducting physical evaluations. Whether done in either an individual, or team setting, they’ll give you some great information on your athletes’ physical ability, as well as identify any areas that may be more susceptible to injury.
1. Overhead Squat: If you only have time to perform one test on an athlete, this is the one to choose. There’s a reason the overhead squat is such a favorite among strength coaches and that’s because it provides a tremendous amount of information in a very short period of time. Imagine, one simple test that can assess an athlete’s coordination, ankle, hip and shoulder mobility, upper back strength, as well as alert you to a number of strength/ flexibility imbalances that can serve as precursors to injury, all in under a minute! And the best part is, you don’t need any specialized equipment to do it- just a simple stick will suffice (hmm, wonder where you can find one of those). The following video will show you exactly how to do it, as well as how to interpret the results.
2. Shuttle run: If you’ll recall from part one of this article, this is one of the tests that I mentioned as being somewhat problematic. The main issue being the use of poor sprinting and change of direction mechanics in trying to get a good score. So, what I propose here instead is that you still run the test and even time your athletes if you like, but try to focus more on body mechanics. For instance, pay close attention to what their sprinting form looks like. Are they using a good arm swing and pushing the ground away with each stride? Or, are they flailing their arms all over the place and seemingly taking a million steps between cones?
What about their foot spacing on direction changes? Do they have nice spacing between their feet and good shin angles, such as in the picture below? Or instead are they too close together, essentially disallowing an effective push-off in the other direction? Another potential red flag is if the athlete turns his, or her body so that they’re always decelerating with the same side as they pick up and put down the cones. This clearly indicates a dominant side and could spell trouble when they’re forced to rapidly change direction with their other leg in a game situation. Finally, be on the lookout for kids that don’t get down into their hips and bend over with a rounded back, as this put a lot of unnecessary strain on the lower back. Not to mention the fact that it will dramatically cut down on their speed and explosiveness. The bottom line, coaches: ignore the stop watch and focus on what your eyes are telling you.
3. Push-ups: Not just any old push-up mind you. I have no interest in finding out how many push ups a kid can give me by doing things like only going half way down, allowing their hips to sag so that there’s a huge arch in their lower back and/ or letting their head hang down like a bowling ball. What I would like to see, though, is how effectively they can hold a neutral spine position, while lowering themselves down for a controlled tempo and pausing in the bottom position, before pressing back up. When done in this manner, the push-up becomes a true test of both core and upper body strength. Just a heads up, though, expect your athletes’ numbers to be way down from what they’d normally do. The following video will show you exactly what to look for.
4. Broad Jump: Here’s another test that I warned about in part one. While I do like it better than the vertical jump- predominantly because it offers less chance for injuring an ankle during the landing portion- there’s still plenty to be careful of here. Once again, try and look past the score and more at what the athlete’s body is telling you. Upon take-off, if you notice that a kid rounds their back and doesn’t flex their hips and knees enough, you’re probably dealing with someone who lacks strength through the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors). If you see knees that buckle inwards, you’re probably dealing with some strength and flexibility imbalances that could be predictors of future injury.
If these same issues present themselves on the landing (and they probably will), the level of concern only increases, as it means that the athlete can generate the power for an explosive jump, but is unable to effectively decelerate their momentum and land efficiently. So, what should you be stressing to your athletes when running this test? Dropping back slightly into their hips and not just driving their knees forward to load up for take-off. Keeping their chest up as their arms swing back past their hips and then following through with their arms as they jump. And finally, being able to “stick” the landing with the torso held fairly upright, the knees aligned with the feet (not pinching in, or bowing out) and the hips held at about the same depth as they were on take-off, i.e. their butt isn’t way down past their knees.
5. Seated thoracic rotation: The final test that I recommend including is the seated thoracic rotation. I like this test because it is once again a quick, efficient way to gather information about an athlete’s potential for injury that other assessments may not reveal. You can have athlete’s do this test in pairs, or you can just test each one individually, as it’s a fairly simple test to administer. It’s really a great way to measure an athlete’s range of motion in thoracic rotation; or the ability to rotate the upper back, independent of the hips.
Begin by having the athlete sit down “Indian style” on the ground with a lacrosse stick held across the collarbone with their finger tips. In this position their arms should crossed and held up parallel to the ground. Next, position another stick in front of them right between their knees with the head pointed up. On your command, the athlete is to slowly turn in one direction as they attempt to have their stick, make light contact with the one in front of them. Once they’ve made contact with the stick, or gone as far as their range of motion will allow, make note of their position and do the same to the other side.
You may have noticed several things going on. First off, an athlete that can’t even adopt a sufficient starting position (and it happens quite often), because their knees point upwards due to tightness in the hips and groin area, or one that can’t sit upright and maintain a flat back, are prime candidates for injury as they’re just way too tight. Assuming they can maintain the position though, you might also notice more range of motion to one side than the other. This would indicate an obvious flexibility difference that needs to be addressed.
The great thing about a test like this is that it gives you an excellent measure of active range of motion that also has a lot of application to the sport of lacrosse, due to all of the rotating and shooting involved. It’s not a complete waste of time like the ever popular sit and reach test; which essentially just measures static flexibility in a completely non-functional position.
In the end, effectively assessing an athlete comes down to a lot more that just focusing on what the “numbers” tell you. There are legions of athletes out there who can score very well on some of the more performance related tests mentioned above, who’s bodies are in anything but optimal condition from an injury prevention standpoint. So, start stressing to your kids the importance of getting themselves in good working order now, so that they don’t have to pay a potentially hefty price down the road.