This tutorial is guest blogged by Mike Goss,CSCS, and Level II USATF, jumps, throws, and combined events. Mike is also in the Coaches Advisory for USATF-GA.
Click here for all articles written by Mike Goss.
This is Part 2. Click here for Part 1.
Nature, Nurture, and Window of Opportunity
Testing Youth for Athletic Ability
INDEPENDENT TEST CRITERIA
Coaches may develop their own criteria targeting specific abilities of athletes. Testing protocol is determined by the maturation and experience of each participant.
- 3 DBL leg hops for distance
- 3 SGL leg hops for distance (each leg)
- 3 step scissor jump over crossbar
- SGL hops for timed distance (15-20M)
- Flying 30M with 10 meter approach to start
- Standing long jump
CONCERNS FOR TESTING PREPUBESCENTS
Specialization, intensity of training, and pressures to perform are increasing at an alarming rate in the USA. Many studies show that most athletes drop out of programs between 15-16 yrs. of age. The ingredients include more than issues with sports; puberty, mental and emotional changes, social matters, and burnout are key factors. This situation should foster concern to those leading 6-10 year old in sports. Soccer, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, T ball, and even contact football at these ages should be approached conservatively. Athletes who perform moderately well in a variety of sports often demonstrate more potential and longer (specialized) careers. The more critical issue is whether to allow young children to participate in intense activities. There is an alarming trend in the US to develop traveling squads for 8 year olds.9
CONCERNS FOR TESTING PUBESCENTS
Concerns for the development of 12-18 yr. old athletes are about specialization and overuse / burnout. Skill and motor ability assessments are safe and effective for this age group.
Several major factors should be considered for the adolescent:
- Is the individual interested in sport?
- Is the athlete allowed to choose from a variety of activities?
- Is the parent / coach supporting the endeavor? 10
The “child prodigy” & “phenom” – often peaks very young and drops off in competition as others mature and acquire skill.
Test data can be used in a variety of ways:
- Prediction of talent per event
- Evaluate the success of a training cycle
- Determine degree of fatigue or overtraining.
When to conduct testing:
Preseason and In-season testing play important roles in training. Depending upon the time available (club, high school, collegiate, etc.); testing is most valuable beginning or ending a training cycle. Younger athletes usually have shorter cycles – 4 weeks. Older athletes are tested between 6-8 weeks.
It’s important that the tests are aligned with the training. The biomotor abilities evaluated
should be those emphasized in a training cycle.
Results are affected by the order of test battery; it’s important to keep a sequence in evaluatiing each skill. Keep an order of testing procedures and follow the same order in future testing. 11a Specificity of events (sprints, distance) should be considered when conducting the test.
1. Order of exercise has more impact than rest intervals.
- Large muscle groups require longer rest periods
- Body composition (skin fold) precede activities causing sweat
- Explosive activities require 3-5 minutes between trial
- A 30 minute rest interval is recommended before endurance testing 11b
- Power and speed activities precede endurance 12
The National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests similar order for testing:
- 1. non-fatiguing
- A. resting pulse
- B. body composition
- 2. agility
- 3. speed and power
- A. Allow 3-5 minutes between trials
- B. Avoid aerobic activity before strength testing
- 4. local muscle endurance
- 5. anaerobic test – e.g. 300 meter run
- 6. aerobic – e.g. 1.5 mile run 13
Test for success, use pre test and post test, and explain important factors to the athletes.
Below is a sample used in the UK:
*Max Jones (Quadrathlon) Test
- Standing Long Jump
- Three Bunny Hops
- Overhead Shot
- 30 meter sprint
Test protocol and standards are available at the above URL 14
Test areas that determine success for the athlete; use pre and post tests; clearly cover directions and explain test validity to the athlete.
MUSCLE PLASTICITY, GENOME, AND MYELIN
Another piece of the puzzle from science is discovery that “plasticity” is a significant factor in determining muscle fiber type. Plasticity describes the CNS ability to create pathways for motor skill. Activity and age are factors; motor units adapt / conform to the activity. If a child (in developmental years) rides a bike for long periods the body adapts by building slow twitch / endurance fibers. Likewise, if a child participates in activities with short, quick runs and jumping activities – they tend to develop more effecive fast twitch fibers. 15
The human genome project has specified a high number of genetic factors related to motivation, speed, endurance, power, coordination, and growth. For decades research has implied that you must” choose your parents well.” The genetic code plays a vital part; we see (skeptically for some) “nurture” playing an important role. It’s now possible to be tested for genome characteristics relating to sports. This might seem extreme, but can be completed in the US.16 The sports gene research has identified physical, mental and emotional factors related to performance. Future studies will assist in the training of athletes and anti-doping strategies. 17
Myelin, an insulator or sheath surrounding the axon of a nerve, is critical in developing skill. The connections between efficient practice, kinesthetic sense, technique, speed, and rhythm are vital for athletic skill as well as concert violinist. 18
Many countries build their national programs by identifying somatotypes (body types) suited for specific sports. The West isn’t programmed (governmentally) as some nations to “select” its dominant athletes. Youth are especially body conscious, and much of this is a natural transition to self-acceptance. Coaches and parents should remain cautious in directing young athletes. Following a holistic approach provides some assurance that sport isn’t a “be all, end all” venture.
China has research teams seeking potential athletes throughout the country. Athletes are chosen by specific measurements, blood chemistry, and body composition. The Chinese system has been harshly criticized for intense training of very young children. 19
- Is testing athletes for ability the same as testing them for specific sport skills?
- Should our evaluations be on the ones who show promise, but at the earliest age possible?
- When we see young athletes with Division I marks and times, is it a sign of a future Olympian?
- Are there “Outliers” who may defy us all (the coaching community) and break the mold of athletic stereotypes?
- Test for success, use pre test and post test, and explain important factors to the athletes.
Though evaluations of young athletes are practical endeavors; coaches must consider intrinsic, personal, and social factors. Clear direction and purpose are important to validate test results. Motivation to perform is an essential ingredient for successful testing. Standards of measure and performance should be consistent and accurate. Athletes should understand the process and purpose for each activity. Keep the clay pliable; complete the shape before firing in the kiln!
About the Author:
Coach Mike Goss, Sport Performance Coach & Coaches Advisory Board USATF-GA (Georgia), CSCS, NSCA & Level II USATF jumps, throws, combined events
(1) Lloyd, R..; Oliver, Jon..; Faigenbaum, A..; Myer, G..; De Ste Croix, M. (2014). Chronological Age vs. Biological Maturation: Implications for Exercise Programming in Youth. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28 (5), 1454-1464.
(2) Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success [Kindle DX Version]. Retrieved August 14, 2014, fromhttp://www.amazon.com
(3) Fransen, J; Pion, J.; Vandendriessche, J.; Vandorpe, B.; Vaeyens, R.; Lenoir, M.; Philippaerts, R. (2012). Differences in physical fitness and gross motor coordination in boys aged 6–12 years specializing in one versus sampling more than one sport. Journal of Sports Sciences. Retrieved August 13, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22214429
(4) Schexnayder, I. (2003). Level II Curriculum: Jumps. USA Track & Field Coaching Education Program, 75
Retrieved August 14, 2014, from http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/ multilateral-development-versus-specialization
(6) eTID (Talent Identification) Program
Retrieved August 14, 2014, from http://www.topendsports.com/testing/etid.htm
(7) Rohmann, R. (2014) The Average 14-Year-Old Boy’s Vertical Jump
Retrieved August, 14, 2014, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/495312-the-average-vertical-jump-for-14-year-old-boy/
(8) Australian Institute of Sport Fitness Test. (n.d.).
Retrieved from http://www.ais.org.au/talent
(9) Ginsburg, PhD. R. (2013, June). From the games of youth to the big leagues.
Psychology of Sport. Psychology Today.
Retrieved August 14, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychology-sport/201306/tryouts-8-year-olds-really
(10) Lyon, C. (n.d.). Athletic Talent Identification. Unleashed Training and Physical Development. Retrieved from http://www.endlesshumanpotential.com/
(11) Smith, J. (e.g. 2012a, 2012b, 2012c). From the Field: Fitness Test Battery. FitForce. Fitness Readiness Solutions. Retrieved from http://fitforce.typepad.com/fitforce-blog/2012/05/from-the-field-fitness-test-battery-sequence.html#stash.6B19KK4b.dpuf
(12) Leveritt, M. & Abernathy, P. (1999). Acute Effects of High-Intensity Endurance Exercise on Subsequent Resistance Activity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13 (1), 47–51.
(13) Miranda, H.; Sima~O; Dos Santo Viga’, R.; De Salles, B; Pacheco, M., & Willardson, J. (2010, June). EXERCISE ORDER INTERACTS WITH REST INTERVAL DURING UPPER-BODY RESISTANCE EXERCISE. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24 (6), 1573-1577
(14) Testing for Track and Field Performance. (n.d.) in Digital Track and Field. Retrieved August 20, 2014, from http://digitaltrackandfield.com/performance-testing/
(15) Muscle Plasticity. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from
(16) Hansen, D. (2008, December 1). Running Mechanics: Optimal Movement for Peak Performance Retrieved August 14, 2014 from
http://www.runningmechanics.com/sport-talent- identification-and- the-human- genome/
(17) Epstein, D. (2013). The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary
Athletic Performance. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved August 14, 2014.
(18) Coyle, D. (2007, March 7). How to Grow a Super Athlete. The New York Times.
(19) Ransom, I. & McNeil, R. M. (2011). EXPLORING THE WORLD OF CHINESE WEIGHTLIFTING. The Shocking Lengths China Will Go To Win At The Olympics
* Goss, W. (2013). Motivating and Evaluating Jumpers. Jimson Lee. SpeedEndurance.com. Retrieved from http://speedendurance.com/2013/03/18/motivating-and-evaluating- jumpers/#