This is a guest post from Noel Pipegrass, a coach from Exeter, California and the founder of OmniSTRONG.
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As a High School Football Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach, I recognize the value of assessing student-athletes’ strength, power, speed, and agility on a regular schedule. Doing so gives you invaluable data that can help you determine what’s working and what’s not. This data can also help you market your program to parents, administrators, and student-athletes who may need to be convinced that all the hard work is going to pay off.
Also, as you have undoubtedly been told, “you are what you emphasize and you’ll emphasize what you recognize”. In my experience, it is also true that you are what you assess. Student-athletes will value the things that you assess on a regular basis and have more focus in getting better at them. I think it’s safe to say that assessing on a regular schedule is one of the key components of a successful Strength and Conditioning program.
With those things being said, I want to talk specifically about assessing your student-athletes as soon as you enter your post-season window. If we think about a football season, which ends somewhere between early November and mid December at the High School level, this means conducting assessments sometime prior to Christmas Break. Doing so does a number of things for you.
First of all, it helps you understand how the physical characteristics of your players have changed over the course of the season. Are they faster or slower, stronger or weaker, heavier or lighter, etc.?
Secondly, it establishes a baseline for measuring off-season improvement. We want kids to see the benefit of our workouts so getting their baseline measures is really important. You don’t want them to look past any of the improvements they’ve made because you waited too long to do that initial assessment.
Finally, the initial post-season assessment is going to serve as the foundation for off-season goal setting. We want student-athletes to be aware of their growth areas and be able to set specific, measurable, realistic, achievable, and time sensitive (SMART) goals for improvement. Obviously, they can only do that if they have an accurate picture of where their physical characteristics are currently at.
In my program, we use 7 different assessments. I’ve listed each below, with a brief description of the assessment.
Bench Press – Still the gold standard for upper body strength assessments, the Bench Press may not be the best lift for indicating performance success but it makes for a good assessment and the student-athletes are going to want to do it on their own anyway so you might as well teach them to do it correctly and monitor it.
Squat – I prefer using the Front Squat for our primary measure of lower body strength. We always squat to parallel so as to fully develop the posterior chain. The “Clean Grip” is our default racking position, but we will use a cross-arm grip for those that struggle with that wrist/forearm position if necessary.
Hang Power Clean – The Hang Power Clean is the classic measure of total body power. We feel like the Hang and Power positions provide us with the best combination of safety, ease of technical proficiency, and athletic positioning of any of the Clean variations. Anecdotally we see a huge correlation between Hang Power Clean numbers and Vertical Jump performance.
Vertical Jump – I tell all of my student-athletes that the Vertical Jump is the Holy Grail of athletic performance. While there are others, I’m not sure there is a better test for assessing power relative to body and thus raw athletic potential. Even though the Vertical Jump tests a similar capacity to the Hang Power Clean, I like to test it anyway because it’s fun, it can be assessed quickly, and because a kid who is not a great lifter yet can quickly figure out how to do it whereas getting a student-athlete proficient in the Hang Power Clean is going to take much longer.
10yd Sprint – A short sprint like the 10 Yard Dash is a measure of straight line acceleration. I will also assess the 40 Yard Dash on a yearly basis, but the 10 Yard Dash is our base assessment in the speed/acceleration category. I like it best because it can be conducted indoors year round regardless of weather, it focuses on the first part, the most important part of any sprint, and because it offers very little risk of a muscle pull.
5-10-5 Shuttle – Think of the classic “Pro Agility Shuttle” you see at the NFL Combine. This is our test for acceleration and lateral change of direction. You would think that there is a high correlation between this and straight line speed, and often there is, but it’s not always the case. In fact, realistically, I believe the 5-10-5 Shuttle is a superior test of athletic performance than the 10 Yard Dash or 40 Yard Dash because speed in the team sports is so often demonstrated with a change of direction component.
Chin Up Rep Max – I include a max rep chin up test because it is a good compliment to the Bench Press. Where the Bench Press is a measure of absolute pressing strength, the Chin Up measures body weight relative, pulling strength. I think this reminds student-athletes of the importance of having balanced pressing and pulling strength. It also throws some sugar in the direction of smaller athletes who are never going to have an impressive Bench Press. Finally, Chin Up and Pull Up variations are phenomenal exercises for developing upper body strength but they’re also really hard, so assessing Chin Up reps helps us to motivate effort in those exercises. We do a rep max test at body weight because they are less clunky than Chin Up 1 RMs, take less time to administer, and add a bit of an endurance component which I think fortifies the robustness of our assessment pool.
On thing worth mentioning as we discuss assessments is rewarding and recognizing student-athlete performance. In my program, we always make sure to recognize great performances and reward personal improvement. We do this in two different ways. First off, if they set a mark that is currently the best in school in their weight class, their name goes up on the Leaderboard with their record listed. Second, when a student sets a Personal Record in all 5 assessments, they earn the Big Gainer Award. Big Gainers get a t-shirt or a car window sticker or something like that. The bottom line is that I believe we will duplicate what we celebrate and we want to duplicate those that are setting the bar and constantly focused on self-improvement.
In conclusion, I’d just like to reiterate the overall importance of assessing your student-athletes, but also the specific importance of the post-season assessment. Now is the time to get a jump start on your off-season and there’s no better way to get started than to assess. If you’ve never done this before, you are going to see a big payoff. Get started now!
Noel Piepgrass is a High School Coach in Exeter, CA. After spending time working in college weight rooms at Boston University and Fresno State University, he coached for 9 years at Central Valley Christian High School where he developed a highly effective Strength and Conditioning program for grades 9-12 in addition to his responsibilities as a football and baseball coach. Upon leaving CVC Coach Piepgrass packaged the program he had developed into OMNISTRONG: The Complete System for Team-Based Training. He now teaches and coaches in Exeter, CA and is using his program to build better student-athletes. He also privately trains a diverse client population and has been a presenter at multiple coaching clinics. You can find out more about his work and how OMNISTRONG can help you deliver an elite-level training program to your student-athletes by visiting www.omnistrong.net.