Testing Young Athletes for Improvement

Posted: 11/08/2011 in Strength Training

Do you ever ‘test’ your young athletes? Their speed? Strength? Flexibility? If so, why?

You know, most Coaches and Trainers can’t answer that question. They test because they think they’re supposed to. They believe they need to in order to show ‘results’.

When dealing with athletes ages 8-13 do we really need to know how many pushups they can do in a minute? From the stand point of development the answer is “No”.

At the younger ages what is most important is how, not how many. When testing, what trainers and coaches should be looking at is form and competency, not reps.  The push up test is typical in a lot of programs for a lot of different sports. The test itself is viable. But why?  Most coaches and trainers are counting the number of reps instead of things that are really important. Such as posture, pelvic alignment, scapular position, retraction, protraction, elevation, cervical spine etc. All of these things are more important than how many reps can be performed. If the skill aptitude increases so does the performance.

Performance is not the goal it is the result. How a young athlete gets there is so important. Unfortunately too many young athletes, their parents, and their coaches are putting the cart before the horse.

Focusing on proper form and movement will only increase the athletes’ ability to perform. Without this focus it will be detrimental to the athlete in later years if their athletic career.

Some kids become coordinated faster than others and are told their entire young life that they are talented and athletic. They are never really analyzed from a movement proficiency point of view. They go through their young athletic careers feeling and thinking as though they are always going to be great. Typically the day comes when they face a bigger, stronger, well trained opponent and they do not have the ability to compete with that player.

The wrong focus is not only plaguing our elementary and middle school athletes. I was recently at a college prospect camp for the sport of baseball.  The players there were high school seniors and juniors. The coaches were timing the player at the 60 yard dash. This is a very common test for baseball players. There were 58 players being tested that day. The player with the best speed on the day probably had the worst form. He ran with a short stride length, and choppy steps. He stood tall right after he started. He also did not run in a straight line. These are all signs of poor technique.

The 60-Yard Dash is all about technique. Yes, you heard right. It’s about more than pure speed. And by taking the time to learn and practice the proper techniques, an athlete can drastically improve his 60 time.

Step one for success: correct sprint mechanics. Efficient sprint mechanics enable an athlete to fire the proper muscles in the correct sequence, which maximizes speed. By refining their sprinting form for the better, the athlete will improve his stride length and frequency—the defining attributes for running faster.  The head, knees and toes—and everything in between—should be positioned and aligned in order to make the most of your speed potential.

The player I mentioned above impressed not only the coaches with his speed but intimidated the others. That player, as well as any of the others would be best guided if he were taught the right way. Instead of being told he was the best, based on his time. His potential is stunted because he is tested with the wrong application… time.

In closing I am not opposed to testing athletes at any age. I simply believe it is particularly important that young athletes be tested for competency in movement rather than speed time or numbers of reps performed in a certain time. The stop watch does not determine how good of an athlete you are. Your ability to functionally control your body is the key to being your best.

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