“Assessments in High performance Sports”- Part 2
“Assessments in High performance Sports”- Part 2
Knowing your athlete and his physical, mental and physiological make-up is most important for effective preparation for competition. This requires organized, systematic, reliable and consistent evaluation and recording of the performance data.
In continuation to the first part of his article on “Assessments in High performance Sports” brought out in the earlier edition, Commodore Pushpendra Kumar Garg (Retd), CEO TOPS, and alumnus of the inaugural edition of the High Performance Leadership Program dives further into the reasons for assessment tests: what kind of tests should we subject the athletes to, some questions to ask before you select the test for your athletes’ requirements, and finally the sequence of testing.
Assessment tests besides being most important for enhancing the athlete’s performance also serve many other purposes. They help in athlete development in a big way. Christopher Carling, Thomas Reilly and A. Mark Williams, in their book Performance Assessment for Field Sports (Page 9), have listed the following reasons for performance assessment:
To establish a baseline profile for each player and the squad as a whole.
To identify individual strengths (to build on) and weaknesses (to be improved).
To provide timely feedback to the players regarding their own capabilities and influence their motivation to improve through ergogenic means.
To evaluate objectively the effectiveness of a specific training intervention in terms of progress (improvement or failure to improve).
To evaluate objectively the effectiveness of other training-related interventions such as a nutritional or psychological development programme.
To monitor progress during rehabilitation or determine whether an athlete is ready to compete.
To identify a relationship between individual performance capacities and the actual demands of competition.
To monitor the health status of a player.
To assist in identifying talented soccer players.
To attempt to create performance norms according to age category, stage of development, special populations, playing position and sport.
To monitor and evaluate the progression of youth players.
To place players in an appropriate training group.
To examine the development of performance from year to year.
To enable future performance to be predicted.
To provide data for scientific research on the limitations of performance.
As already brought out, assessment protocols for various sports including physical capacities have been designed and are used worldwide. These can be divided into many categories namely:
A Measurement Model for Sports Performance as designed by Lorena Martin, PhD and published in her book, Sports Performance Measurement and Analysis (Page 52), is described below:
Test protocols for the above parameters have been designed and are freely available through open-source resources on the internet as well as in books written on the subject. Websites such as topendsports.com or brianmac.co.uk provide information on various tests for various requirements and also explain how to administer them. I am not covering specific tests for specific requirements as they are largely available as free resources and can be sourced from the internet.
After saying the above I would like to caution that conducting an evaluation process for athletes can be a complicated business for Coaches and Sports Science professionals. In an individual sport it is still easy, however, to devise tests for an entire team needs to be planned with available space and equipment
For team games, devising tests to cover the entire skill sets required from the team is even more difficult. For example, football requires different demands for different positions such as forwards, mid-fielders or defenders. Players (wide receivers, defensive backs, quarterbacks etc.) versus linemen.
Brian Sutton, a 20 year veteran in the health and fitness industry lists down 8 important questions to ask before designing performance tests for an athlete. He says “By answering the following questions you’ll be better equipped to determine which assessments are most applicable and relevant for your athletes”:
Is the sport characterized by high-intensity, intermittent movement or steady-state activity?
Does the sport require high-intensity movement followed by active rest periods?
Is movement initiated from a completely stationary start position (i.e., football) or is it continuous (i.e., rugby)?
Which energy system is predominantly used; aerobic or anaerobic (ATP-PC, glycolytic, or oxidative)?
Does the sport require change of direction moves, including stopping, backwards running, lateral movement, and engaging in physical activity while in a stationary position?
Do players wear heavy equipment adding load to the body (i.e., hockey, football)?
Do players frequently initiate body contact (player to player) adding additional stress to the body?
Does the sport require significant quickness and reaction time?
Once you have determined the needs of the sport, it becomes easier to pick and choose which assessments are the most appropriate for your athletes. Endurance sports such as marathon, triathlon, middle and long-distance running will have different tests compared to power games such as weight-lifting, throwing etc. Further combat sports such as boxing, wrestling, judo etc would have their own test requirements compared to team sports such as football, basketball or hockey.
Therefore designing an assessment process has to be tailored to fit the needs of the sport and athlete, while also providing the information needed to design a sports-specific conditioning program. Coaches and the sports science team have to sit down together to design the right fit for the athletes.
Finally the order of performance testing also plays an important role in assessments. As an athlete undergoes multiple tests a logical sequence should be followed by the examiners. Anthropometrical measurements taken after tests that require field exercise may give incorrect readings as there can be differences after intense exercise. The testing can be on a graduated increase scale starting the first day with medical history followed by biometric measurements such as resting heart rate, blood pressure etc. Postural and anthropometric assessments come next followed by flexibility, endurance, cardio and finally tests for power, speed, agility etc.
When starting the testing for athletes it is also important to keep basic safety factors in mind. The coaches have to ensure that the Athletes conduct a quick, general warm-up before starting with the first test. This might have to be conducted by the coaches themselves or the local PE teacher. To avoid any form of dehydration, the coaches have to ensure that the participants are drinking enough during the time of the test. The coaches have to do a site check before conducting the tests. Sprinting and jumping areas should be even, without any dents. Areas should be marked with cones, no one except the performing athlete and the coaches involved are supposed to enter the sprint area as well as the landing area of the jumps and throws. Sharp edges have to be covered. Equipment, which is not fulfilling the demands, has to be replaced (especially the obstacles and throwing implements).
I will summarise the article by saying that achieving High Performance requires a team with the athlete to test, analyse, derive results, apply interventions and record results. The cycle has to be repeated continuously to achieve higher and better results. Remember it is the data that drives the decision-making. Data provides evidence-based decision-making. In sports, a lot of times, coaches and athletes take emotional decisions. However, data is unemotional and provides an objective approach to the decision-making process. Further, when you are in a group and discussing performance, the availability of data encourages critical discussions and culture of asking “Why” should it be done this way. However, I would like to caution coaches, sports scientists and athletes that data overload can also be harmful; also the quality of data makes a big difference in providing proper outcomes. Low quality and non-insightful data can be counterproductive to enhancing performance. Finally, the data recording and storing of data has to be done correctly, so that it does not get into the hands of people who can use it for negative purposes. Coaches, sports science professionals and administrators have to maintain their athletes’ data and records in order to revisit and build up the necessary athlete profile.
A lot of material on performance assessments and testing is available on the internet. Coaches, sports science professionals and administrators should continually upgrade their knowledge on this most important aspect of training.