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Be flexible with your approach to each athlete

This is an excerpt from Assessments for Sport and Athletic Performance.

While the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” illustrates that an informed decision requires accurate information, decision making without any, or with limited, input is simply guessing. The appropriate use of assessments by coaches and fitness professionals provides quality data that can inform the decision-making process. For example, a coach or fitness professional might notice that the client or athlete is noticeably slower toward the end of a soccer match and assume that this fatigued state is caused by a lack of aerobic conditioning. With this snap judgement, and without knowledge gleaned from a general fitness profile, the coach may select a course of action involving additional aerobic exercise that would take up valuable technical training time or extend the duration of an existing training session. However, periodic assessments, including those related to aerobic capacity or self-reported exertion/fatigue measures, might indicate that the individual was slower due to accumulated or residual fatigue and actually needed decreased training time or extended recovery.


While aerobic capacity measures evaluated at this point might be influenced by the fatigued state of the individual, preseason aerobic capacity measures and subsequent training focused on addressing any identified issues would allow the coaching staff to be confident that the athlete was properly prepared and not likely out of shape. Daily (or even weekly) assessments of perceived exertion or fatigue would then help to identify when training sessions could be adjusted to address these types of issues.


Whether the focus is on general management, performance, education, or health, the aim of most coaches and fitness professionals is to see progression in the individuals who put their aspirations or development in our hands. The intersection between these areas of focus and the use of the scientific method is complicated and sometimes problematic. This is made clear by the collective groans produced during coaches' meetings when a new evaluative approach is mentioned. Coaching can and should be viewed as an art form; however, without periodic quantitative feedback, the aforementioned progression may become stagnant. Particularly, in activities that have a storied history (think martial arts), change does not come easily, and there is an inherent “stick to what we've always done” mind-set. However, just as we would expect reflection on the part of our clients or athletes during periods of change, we should aim to evaluate our practices and be flexible with our approach.