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Begin conditioning with testing and evaluating

By Michael Arthur, Bryan Bailey

Every conditioning program should begin with the coach’s testing and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each player. By learning their strengths and weaknesses it is much easier to achieve maximum results. This chapter outlines step-by-step procedures on how to safely test and evaluate athletes’ fitness and athletic abilities so you can develop the objectives and specifics of your conditioning program. Once you have tested and evaluated each player, you can set goals to give the conditioning program direction.

Coaches and athletes often misconstrue the purpose of sports conditioning performance tests, believing that the results measure or predict future athletic success. While tests can’t predict the future, conducting the right tests at the proper time can give the coach and athlete the following important data:

  • Is the current program effectively achieving the goals desired?
  • Does the athlete have obvious physical weaknesses that could lead to injury?
  • If injured, has the athlete reconditioned himself to safely participate in games again?
  • And most importantly, how is the athlete progressing?

By testing throughout the season and recording the results each time, you’ll have concrete proof that following a strength and conditioning program results in bigger and faster football players.

Ensuring Control
Unless testing is done properly, the results are meaningless to the coach and athlete. In order to ensure control, the strength coach must do an accurate job of taking measurements. Accurate measurements are not a problem if you are conscious of validity, reliability, and objectivity.

Validity concerns whether the test used to measure performance potential is specific to the sport in which the athlete participates. Some research (see chapter 1) found the following tests to have a high direct correlation with a player’s ability to perform well in football. The tests are ranked according to which test correlates highest with performance levels in football.

1. 10-yard dash - to test acceleration
2. 40-yard dash - to test speed and acceleration
3. Pro agility run - to test agility
4. Vertical jump - to test anaerobic power

We do not have a field test to measure football endurance that is valid and easy to administer; therefore we use the 300-yard shuttle run test to give some idea of the player’s endurance level. However, this test does not correlate well with the player’s ability to play football.

Reliability means making sure the testing conditions and results are consistent each time you test. There are several factors to take into consideration here.

Environment. The testing results will be different if you test outside in the grass one time and test inside on the basketball court another time. The condition of the field, the time of day, wind, rain, temperature, etc., all can affect test results. Thus, it is best to stick with the same testing environment each time you test. If available, a football field is the best environment in which to test the agility run and 10- and 40-yard dashes, since these are the tests most applicable to game situations. The vertical jump can be tested in a weight room or on a basketball court, as long as there is a firm surface from which to jump.

Testing order. The order in which the tests are given is something you can control that will affect the results. For example, if athletes run a 40-yard dash followed by a 300-yard shuttle run during one testing period, but run the 300-yard shuttle run before the 40-yard dash during another period, the results of the 40-yard dash are guaranteed to be different. Be sure the testing order is the same each and every time. Here is a suggested testing order:

  • Height
  • Body weight
  • Body composition
  • Vertical jump
  • Pro agility run
  • 10-yard dash
  • 40-yard dash
  • 300-yard shuttle run

Testing equipment. Some tests can be administered with different equipment, which can give you different results. For example, the 40-yard dash can be done with electronic timers or with stopwatches. An electronically-timed 40-yard dash is usually about .2 second slower than a hand-held time with a stopwatch (e.g., 5.0 electronic is comparable to 4.8 hand-held). Always use the same testing equipment for each test; we recommend an electronic timing system if possible.

Individual differences. There may be a lack of consistency each time you test due to the athlete’s frame of mind, lack of sleep, personal problems, minor injuries, anxiety, or a lack of motivation during each test. These factors may be difficult to detect or prevent. Players should treat the night before the test like the night before a game, getting plenty of rest, giving themselves some time to get mentally motivated, and eating an easy-to-digest meal.

A good rule of thumb is to have the same person administer the same test each time if possible. If this is not possible, different people should be able to administer the same test and end up with the same results. To do this, each must follow the instructions given for each test as closely as possible.

Annual Test Cycle
The combination of your testing periods forms an "annual test cycle." We recommend that you hold tests the week before the conditioning period starts. Testing establishes initial performance levels and determines the level of progress attained during the previous conditioning period.

In order to get the best effort each time you test, do not test too often. Athletes testing every couple of weeks won’t be able to give their best effort. The chance of making progress over just a few weeks or one month is not that great. If you make a big deal out of testing and do it only three or four times a year, the chance of having best efforts is magnified. For football your annual test cycle may be scheduled as follows:

  • Test 1 - early January. The football season usually ends in November or December. Allow your players some time, until early in January, so that they can let their bodies recover from the rigors of the season. Encourage them to remain active by participating in other activities that are relaxing and fun and at the same time keep them in reasonable shape. This first testing period is the start of the postseason conditioning period.
  • Test 2 - mid-March. Conduct this test after an eight-week off-season cycle to give you some important information on how your players are doing and to give you some data before they start the next off-season cycle.
  • Test 3 - late May. Conduct this test after the second eight-week off-season cycle to again evaluate how your players are doing.
  • Test 4 - mid-August. This testing period allows you to evaluate how your players did over the summer and gives you some important information on their conditioning levels before the season starts.

This is an excerpt from Complete Conditioning for Football.

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