How do you evaluate an athlete when they first enter your program?
This question is part of my new book coming out titled, Sprinter’s Compendium: a “one stop shop” for theory and practical information for any coach looking for real world strategies to improve sprint training for any type of athlete. Look for it soon!
This question is answered by 14 people… 13 coaches and 1 athlete to be exact. The responses from real coaches, real experience will become apparent.
In no particular order… Enjoy!
After an initial conditioning period, I would do a standard testing protocol for all athletes in my group. Normally my group would consist of sprints / hurdlers / jumpers. Everyone would do the same test even if it doesn’t specifically relate to their known event. The testing is done for two reasons:
- The potential to discover other related talents are available. A sprinter who never long jumped or long jumped poorly, in high school may have natural abilities to jump that shows up in testing and can be awakened with proper coaching
- The potential to discover combined event athletes comes from seeing “what else they can do” besides their known abilities.
– Mike Cunningham, USATF instructor and DI coach
The first thing must be on what direction we can take the athlete to maximize his full potential in an event. We then evaluate what his strengths and weaknesses are and distribute them in order to not put too much emphasis on one thing. We will also spend time looking at recovery aspects like nutrition, sleep and lifestyle aspects that can determine one’s progress.
To evaluate during long prep cycles we will use video feedback in order to progress technique throughout the session, a lot of times athletes just see video after a workout and almost seem to forget it come the next session, so the key will be to get the athlete to actually see the thing they need to improve and actively do it within the session. Another key evaluator is how the athlete is responding to the training stimulus put in place; some athletes may only be able to perform 2 sprint sessions a week, when others might be able to perform 3 sprint sessions a week. Every athlete varies so we must assess properly and make sure the athlete is progressing throughout the training cycle.
Testing for a 100m sprinter during the preseason would be some more general stuff, a parallel squat, bench press, standing broad jump, 30m start. Things like that as with a short to long program would contain. Testing is rarely done as the workouts are your tests in the fact that we can get sprint times in the workout, measure a standing broad jump or see what our five rep max is on squat. Midseason and Championship phase, the meets become our tests. Again along the way we might have a five bound that is measured throughout the workout and a PR in that five bound could be a good indicator of a good upcoming performance.
-Seth Boomsma, NAIA All-American Sprinter
We usually will watch practice and make evaluations in the initial stages of training. We also will do extensive testing during the general prep and specific prep to get ideas of their strengths and weakness.
Also, It’s probably important to state that the majority of our evaluation in normal training sessions. During these times, we can see the day to day differences and get a sense of how things are going.
We do a series of formal tests throughout our initial training cycles — once competition begins formal testing is gradually phased out. During the competition, we are doing posturally and gait evaluations throughout all of training to make sure the athlete can perform and making appropriate interventions.
So in these cases we really evaluate the warm-up and make sure the athletes is in a state to perform. In terms of formal testing we do several traditional test like jump tests (SLJ, STJ, 5 Bound, 10 Bound); speed tests (30m, 10m fly, 30m fly); Specific Work Capacity (120m, 150m, 250m, 300m, 450m, 500m, 600m); Weight Room (Clean, Snatch, Squat, Bench).
–Kebba Tolbert, Harvard Track Coach
NOTE: Read his Friday Five Interview with Kebba Tolbert for more insight.
I evaluate each athlete after 2-3 weeks of very general preparation and teaching of some basic skill sets. In considering workload and training groups, I consider the athletes chronological age, training age, body type, past injuries, and the desires of the individual athlete.
When a new athlete enters my program I try to get some as much background on them as possible; I.E., age, how long they have been involved in sports, past injuries or current health issues.
With athletes that I have a chance to have a longer prep phase with I base volume, density and intensity on an individual basis more so than in the pre-competitive and comp phases. I typically will have a target in mind but will make constant changes during each cycle and often during the actual training sessions based on the adaptation. In the pre-season I test new athletes to see what events best suit them while also taking into consideration what events they want to do with returning athletes I do some testing to evaluate fitness and to gain training reference point. In order to get more meaningful results from the testing, I have found it best to refrain from testing until each athlete as completed at least 20-30 training sessions at that point I will test athletes for events ranging from a flying 30m all the way to a 12 minute run. I also like to test all athletes in multi-throws and to standing vertical and horizontal jumps/ response.
-Sean Burris, Record Breaking AAU, USATF Coach, and my mentor
My situation is a little different being a collegiate coach. I get to have a lot of opportunities to see the kids in action before he or she arrives on campus. When I coached at the high school level and with younger children, I had them do seven basic drills that showed me motor learning skills. I paired them into groups by age not athletic ability.
-Vince Bingham, NAIA National Championship Coach and Recruiting Guru
We allow all kids to choose their event groups as they show up. If they want to try something new, we allow it but remind them that after the first week, coaches will not be going back to reteach first-week skills unless the time allows. Throughout the week, all athletes go through hurdle mobility drills and relay exchange drills. We test every athlete on the first week. Every kid does the Standing LJ, Standing 3 Hop, Overhead backward shot, Fly 30m and 300m. We video tape everyone running the fly 30 and 300m. After coaches have had a chance to look at the test results, we talk to the kids about strength and weaknesses and try to work from there.
-Mark Ward, Elite High School coach and Jack of All Trades
I typically split up the kids whose first year is the current season and then everyone else. Then I split up into event groups like 100m/200m and will never run 400m, and then the 200m/400m, then the 100m/200m/400m runners. I try to have everyone run in the 400m, but some of them just aren’t cut out for it that year so they will typically only run on a B or C or D 4x400m relay team in the meets as their only 400m training. After dividing up the kids into these groups, the first half of the season is pretty much the exact same plan for everyone except for those new kids where I will mess with their rest or maybe cut a set or two off based off of feel. During the middle of the season, I start doing more race specific modeling, and the new kids typically will do less of this type of workout. The new kids will also not workout on our Saturday practices, so they get an extra day off. I have learned that with the new ones (80% of them) less is more.
We run a testing program the first week of the season where we test kids in various activities to try to determine their strengths and weaknesses. This provides some interesting data for us to evaluate, but ultimately, we leave the choice of event group to the kid. If we see a kid who wants to do something not quite having the success they want, then we use the data from the first week to guide them but it is their choice. During the first week, we run the following tests:
- 50m sprint test with timing gates at 20m, 40m, and 50m. This single run allows us to get their 20m acceleration time; 10m fly, 20m fly, and 30m fly in just one test run. We have found that 50m sprints can be handled by 100% of the athletes regardless of fitness level at this point in the year.
- Standing Long Jump,
- Vertical Jump,
- 150m sprint,
- 300m sprint,
- Overhead Back Shot throw,
- Between the legs forward shot throw.
We have everyone do all of these tests. Through collaboration with our distance coach, we are exploring adding a longer test this coming season and after our experience with some injuries the past couple seasons, we will probably get rid of the 150m and 300m sprint that first week and move those to our “Intrasquad” meet on the 2nd or 3rd week of the season. Personally, based on these test scores I group kids together. Typically it winds up being the first year HURDLES track athletes are together and everyone else is together.
-Cody Vandermyn, Record-Breaking High School Sprint Coach
I assume this is mostly aimed at high school level or younger. Determining workload for rookies in early season is pretty much a matter of talking with the athlete’s before they start to have some idea about their fitness level and then constant observation. I always try to err on the side of not quite enough rather than too much. A kid on crutches usually doesn’t score many points. This is mostly for distance kids and I’ve used a 12 min. run, Harvard step test, or some other evaluation tool to start with them. Rookies in sprints, jumps, throws, hurdles, etc. have less chance of being overloaded early due to the amount of time spent just on teaching drills and techniques in the first few weeks.
Regarding event group selection: I let the kids go where they choose early. I also do some testing sometime during the first week. Things like Standing Vertical Jump, Standing Long Jump, either Standing Triple Jump or TJ with a 3 or 4 step run up, med ball throw, possibly some flexibility evaluation and either a flying 40 or flying 50 just the check top end speed. With some testing data and having watched the athletes see how they move, how aggressive are they, etc. I may then approach them about either changing event groups or adding another event to their schedule.
-Jim Cary, Missouri High School Hall of Fame Coach, Master Motivator, and Program Builder
The baseline assessment we use for the athletes (primarily horizontal jumpers, vertical jumpers, and multi-event athletes) at the Olympic Training Center is, first a general physical with blood work. We also go through a comprehensive Functional Movement Screening Assessment (FMS), but don’t limit it to just scores; we take leg length, measure deviations in the spinal cord curvature, muscle imbalance, general kinesthetic awareness, proprioception, as well as all the things the FMS measures. As far as functional assessment we do a max jones plus two, which includes a 30m sprint, standing long jump, three jumps, overhead shot, underhand forward shot, and flying 20m. For the flying 20m, we use the Optojump that assess stride length, frequency, ground contact times, and the resultant force. We test our athletes three times during the year, two weeks into fall training, before our winter break in December, and after our indoor season. Concurrently during the season we take saliva readings for cortisol levels to check the catabolic hormone levels of our athletes and their ability to deal with stress. We do this about monthly and before major championships. In the weight room, I have gone away from testing for maximal strength and monitor perceived output by using Tendo machines and our Kaiser machines for different times throughout the year. I also monitor daily and weekly and give an estimated level of exertion always making sure form is the key derivative.
– Jeremy Fischer, Jumps Coach Olympic Training Center Chula Vista Level 1, 2, 3 Instructor, IAAF Instructor
Working in team sports there is less and less time for the formal full evaluation of the athletes. Things need to be kind of integrated with the overall training and data should be collected with minimal disruption of the training process. Formal testing is slowly fading, but monitoring is in.
Sometimes formal testing batteries are scheduled at the beginning of pre-season, end of pre-season, sometimes during the in-season and just before off-season. This depends on the duration of those blocks and weather/facility/equipment.
Testing batteries usually have some form of screening and anthropometry, speed, agility, strength and endurance test.
-Mladen Jovanovic, famed sports performance coach and Blogger
NOTE: Read his Friday Five Interview with Mladen Jovanovic
If they have never run track before, I use a battery of tests that measure starting strength, acceleration, speed endurance and special endurance. The test vary in length, duration, and intensity based on what they feel they would like. At the community college level where I am currently, you get a lot of Newbies, so it’s important to set realistic standards for them.
How do you sell track and field/your program to new athletes? What role do you give your current/returning athletes in recruiting kids?
The returning athletes are always responsible for selling the sport. Working hard and having expectations have always seemed to work for me. Young people gravitate to team sports because there is a community feel to it, and track can be the same because every point counts and the least of your kids may score a meaningful point. Everyone runs and gets a chance to improve, and that attracts kids as well.
– Tony Veney, USATF Level III Sprints, Hurdles and Relay Instructor and DI Coach
NOTE: Be sure to check out Tony’s excellent videos on Complete Speed Training:
- Tony Veney Complete HS Hurdle (100/110) Training (Level 1)
- Tony Veney Advanced Sprint Hurdles (Level 2)
- Tony Veney Complete Sprint Hurdles (Level I & Level II)
Start with the training age of the athlete, the training history, and their performance history. I think you need to consider all three and not necessarily weight them equally but to look at how the three interact. It is very important to study their past training and look for trends and reasons why there were performance improvements or performance decrements. Obviously if this is an athlete that I’ve been working with continually then, this is on in some respects easier. If it is an athlete I have been coaching I will try to get somebody else to look at the training because I know that I will have a confirmation bias in that I will be looking for certain things. By having an outsider evaluate the training they may be able to see things that I don’t see. At the start training year, we will do a complete physical competency assessment in order to assess the athlete’s trainability. What areas need to be emphasizing and what can be maintained. In addition at the start of the training year and at various points throughout the year perform simple performance indicator tests that will serve as markers assess progress on the various training elements.
– Vern Gambetta, Author and Ultimate Sports Enhancement Coach
I evaluate the athlete, first of all, by observing his movements during the execution of specific exercises. It allows us to evaluate the level of his preparedness, his experience in the speed-strength training and the level of his “motor culture”.
I also use the jumping and running exercises as control tests, when these exercises are applied according to Intensive Method, in other words, are performed with maximal effort. For example, I control the length of triple, quintuple and decouple long jumps, the time of execution consecutive jumps over ten hurdles, the time of 10m and 30 m sprint runs.
-Natalia Verkhoshanskaya, Strength and Sports Performance Coach
Repeated jump tests, airborne /contact time 60m sprint, and 150m sprint evaluating the speed on the curves, stride length, and frequency. 80% sprint with stride length. I also pay a lot of attention to what is the sprinter’s from at touchdown during high speed sprinting.
– Satoru Tanigawa, former Japanese National Sprint Coach and currently collaborating with Brooks Johnson
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