The athlete assessment is the most important step in the program writing process. Why? It gives you 90% of the information necessary to write a program that is tailored towards the athlete’s needs. The other 10% is what you learn on the go while training the athlete. The assessment gives you essential information including; age, training age, sport, position, goals, and movement. Without these details, you are shooting in the dark. Take the time to learn as much about your athlete as you can during the assessment so the program you create is geared specifically towards them.
Knowing the age of the athlete gives you an idea of how mature they are; both physically and mentally. The physical part is important for injury prevention. The last thing you want to do is advance an athlete too quickly on weighted exercises that may damage a growth plate. Although this is highly unlikely, it can still happen with uneducated coaching. Also, how you talk and motivate athletes is contingent upon their age. Conversing with a college athlete is very different than a middle school athlete. The athlete relating to you builds trust, a crucial aspect of forming a long-lasting relationship.
Training age tells you how long an athlete has been working out. Most athletes come in with a training age of zero, but occasionally you get an experienced athlete. To be clear, doing curls and dips at the local gym from time to time does not count. It’s time spent being formally trained on strength exercises and proper technique. Having this information can guide you on where to progress and regress an athlete based on their experience.
Having a thorough understanding of not only the sport, but position the athlete plays is critical for program writing. For example, a baseball pitcher’s workout is going to look a lot different than a hockey goalie. A baseball pitcher’s program will key in on arm care and improving max velocity. A hockey goalie’s program will key in on flexibility and reaction time. Yes, there may be some exercises and drills that overlap, but the intent and cues will be very different.
It may be because they want to commit to a college, to get more recognition from their parents or just feel better about themselves, but whatever it is athletes need to have goals. Encourage your athletes to write down their goals and take time to discuss them. Most of the time it will be similar to what every other athlete wants (speed, strength, etc.). However, it’s the “why” behind each one of their goals that is important. Sharing goals helps you understand the mindset of your athlete and sets the course for your coaching. Click here for guidance on how to support your athlete’s goal setting.
Now that you have gathered a substantial amount of information on the athlete, it is time to see how they move.
General mobility: Can they reach overhead? Touch their toes? Drop into a squat? Document what you observe and note any restrictions in mobility. Follow-up with additional drills to identify the possible cause. For example, the athlete was unable to squat all the way down. With a closer look, you notice that they can’t dorsiflex well enough. Increasing ankle mobility would be a targeted goal during their training.
Foundational Strength: Can the athlete perform simple strength movements well? Take a look at their squat, lunge, push-up, etc. Jot down notes on each one, whether they do it well or not make sure you have solid information. This helps guide you on what progressions to begin them at. For example, if the athlete has a balance issue on the split squat, you know a supported split squat is where to start them.
Plyometrics: Here we are looking at how the athlete jumps and lands in all three planes of motion with one and/or two legs. I am evaluating their foot, knee, hip position and of course upper body posture. Some make jumping look easy and others look like they have cement blocks tied to their ankles. Let’s jump into the vertical jump. Get it? We are evaluating how well the athlete loads hips/knees/ankles, coordination of upper/lower body, and last but not least triple extension. Triple extension is a graceful “springy” action where the hips, knees, and ankles all extend to propel the athlete into the air. This should be a constant throughout all maximal effort jumps.
Speed/Agility: This is where there is a lot of variability among the athletes. You will see all different tendencies throughout each person. Mainly, I am looking at 3 things: posture, shin angles, and effort. Posture dictates efficiency of hips and shoulders, and balance in change of direction. Shin angle shows ability to accelerate and ease of change of direction. Effort goes with my cliche of “if you want to be fast, you have to train fast.”
Here’s a recap of the assessment process: get to know your athlete, understand their goals and conduct a baseline evaluation of basic skills. All of this information gives you a picture of who the athlete is, what they want to accomplish and where to focus the training progression. Skipping any of these steps can result in injury, disengagement or frustration.
Take time to review the data and prioritize the areas where the athlete needs the most improvement.
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As always, improvement doesn't happen by accident. Continue to listen, learn and grow.