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Assessing Your Athlete

This is an excerpt from Training for Speed, Agility, and Quickness-3rd Edition by Lee E. Brown & Vance A. Ferrigno.

Assessing Your Athlete

One problem that many trainers and coaches confront is how to effectively and efficiently evaluate human movement. To authentically evaluate movement, we must understand one main principle of training: The "test is the exercise and the exercise is the test" (Gray 2004). The principle of specificity in training states that the body will adapt to the specific imposed stimulus. Therefore, if an athlete desires to improve in a specific skill, movement, or exercise, she must perform that exercise in training with multiple variations, or tweaks, to that drill. Because of the complexity of the human structure and human movement, specificity is paramount in training to reach the desired outcome. Another layer to this philosophy is that if the test is the exercise, then if the exercise is properly tweaked (complex variations), it will provide the best opportunity for an improved outcome (Gray 2006b).

The movement assessments presented in this book give coaches an example of one way to evaluate an athlete’s ability to move foundationally. The drills can be tweaked however the coach deems necessary to fit his own personal situation and individual athletes (see table 2.1). In general, any drill presented in this book can be used to evaluate or test an athlete for whatever training parameter the coach deems requires improvement.

To choose proper drills, the coach must first evaluate the demands of the sport for that athlete and either develop or select drills that mimic those demands. Once the drill is selected, it can be used to monitor the athlete’s functional progress with respect to her training program through subsequent retesting. In this way, the athlete’s needs can be assessed and then rematched or progressed to more complex drills (Brown et al. 2008). The goals of any training program should be based entirely on the needs of the athlete and the requirements of the specific sport.

Athletes move in a powerful yet effortless manner and are able to adapt to any demand necessary to accomplish the tasks of their sports. Movement quality needs to be assessed first so that an inefficient movement pattern is not placed under training loads, which can lead to increased movement inefficiency or worse, injury.

Once a drill has been selected for a given training quality, it can be timed to give the athlete his base-level time for that specific drill. During training, the same drill is repeated using one or more of the variables listed in table 2.1 or the complex variations for some of the drills in this book. This will create a new stimulus for adaptation, allowing the athlete to increase his performance for that given drill. Every four to six weeks the original drill can be retested, allowing the coach and the athlete to see his improvement on his base-level time.

The main goal of any movement assessment is to determine the successful abilities of the individual athlete. Once these are identified, the coach can go to work on improving those abilities to facilitate a more well-rounded athlete. There is no exact way to do each movement - each person will perform the movements differently because of her unique structure - but all efficient human movement has common characteristics. The coach should not get caught up in the finer details of assessing movement but rather should evaluate more globally, looking for efficient, smooth, graceful motion. This makes it easier to identify the specific tweaks the athlete needs to make to her drills in order to promote the desired outcome.

For example, athlete A may perform a certain drill in an uncoordinated way, stumbling out of cuts or unable to demonstrate gracefulness during the movement, while athlete B seems very comfortable coordinating the drill. However, athlete B has trouble decelerating and accelerating out of cuts. For athlete A, the proper tweak may be to slow down his speed during training, thus allowing him to learn the drill at a much slower pace. His speed can be progressively increased once his body adapts. Athlete B, however, may benefit from being loaded with a weight vest, bungee cord, or other device, allowing him to develop functional strength and power relative to the drill. This tweak will allow athlete B to progressively develop the ability to decelerate sooner and accelerate more explosively over the course of training.

Tweaks such as these are complex variations that allow specific adaptations to the drill. The complex variations in this book only scratch the surface of those possible to perform. Use your imagination, and remember that an athlete should always progress from easy to hard and from simple to complex (Gambetta 1998).

Ensuring Validity and Reliability

Test results are useful only if the test actually measures what it is supposed to measure. This is referred to as validity. For subsequent tests to be useful, they must be repeatable. This is referred to as reliability (Harman 2008). For testing to be valid and reliable, the tester must ensure that the environment stays as consistent as possible from test to test. Because these tests are measured in seconds not minutes, the test has to have enough sensitivity and reliability to provide the desired data. This means that flooring surfaces, shoes, turf conditions, and environmental conditions (e.g., heat, wind) all have to be controlled to ensure an accurate measure of whether the athlete is improving the biomotor quality or athletic movement being assessed. If the first test is performed on a dry field but eight weeks later is repeated on a dew-soaked field, the test will not be valid or reliable.

The procedures for reliable testing are as follows.

Testing Environment

First and foremost, the athlete’s safety is the number one concern. Be sure the testing area is safe and doesn’t have any holes, sprinkler heads, or anything else that could cause the athlete to trip, slip, or turn an ankle. Make sure the environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, humidity) are as similar as possible from test to test. For field sports, a hot, humid day will elicit different results than a cool, overcast day, especially on metabolic tests. This is less of an issue for court sports because indoor environments are more easily controlled than outdoor.

Athlete Fatigue Level

During training, athletes will develop a certain level of fatigue. Providing a day off between training and testing allows them to give their all and will contribute to validity and reliability. Also, ensure they have eaten and are properly hydrated. With prior communication regarding the test date, there is no reason the athletes shouldn’t be rested, fed, and hydrated.

Recording Forms

Forms should be developed before testing so the tester can easily and efficiently record the required data without error. There is nothing worse than having an athlete put every ounce of effort into a performance test only to have the tester not record it properly.

Test Sequence

Explosive power-oriented tests or those with more complexity should be performed before more fatiguing tests such as drills for anaerobic endurance. Otherwise, power-oriented test results will be impaired and invalid.

Athlete Instructions

Instructions should be clear and easy to understand. Otherwise, the athlete will be focused on getting the test right and not on her maximal performance (Gambetta 1998). Also, standardize any verbal cues for motivation provided to the athlete from test to test (Brown et al. 2008).


Keep test equipment to the bare minimum, and record exactly what is used. Also, each athlete should test in the same footwear they wear when competing.

Testing Protocol

Allow the same number of trials per test, using the same rest intervals between trials and between tests if performing a test battery.

Field or Court Measurements

When marking the test area (e.g., cones), use a measuring device to ensure you are using exact distances. Pacing off the area is inaccurate and renders the results invalid and unreliable.

Learn more about Training for Speed, Agility, and Quickness, 3rd Edition.