“You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure.” – Business Leader Peter Drucker
As youth performance coaches, we work miles away from the cubicles and boardrooms of corporate America. However, the importance of being able to measure our impact on the kids we work with is essential to our success.
At the end of the day, parents and kids are making an investment of their most valued resources – time/money/energy – and they demand an ROI.
Higher vertical jump scores, faster 40 times, increased/decreased bodyweight, and a host of other expectations follow a family’s decision to put their child in a youth performance program. As we know as professionals however, there are many factors outside of our control involving genetics, behavior, and motivation that make it difficult to always create the results parents and athletes expect from their 2-day per week commitment.
It becomes particularly difficult when working with pre-pubescent athletes. Physiologically, these youngsters progress relatively slowly on factors involving strength and anaerobic power. Compound that with the overall lack of physical preparation of today’s youngsters, it becomes hard to always show what would be considered “traditional” results.
With today’s children, we may literally have to help them build athleticism from the ground up. The focus of assessment and progression may need to shift to evaluating more qualitative measures of movement at the onset, and even continuation of a youth performance program. This would examine not so much “how high can the child jump?” initially, but “How well can he/she execute proper jump mechanics on and off a box?”
Quality preparation at a young age translates to elite performance as an athlete gets older.
With this model of progression, everyone involved is incentivized to do things right, not just hard.
Consider a numbered competency scale for skills you as a coach deem essential for both athleticism and proper execution of your program. Define specific criteria for “proper execution” of a particular skill or movement.
Consider a scale from 1-4.
1. Cannot initiate movement due to pathology or pain
Training intervention: Avoid movement until pain/pathology can be rectified.
2. Is able to initiate the constructs of a movement, but is unable to execute it accurately for at least 50% of the assessed repetitions.
Training intervention: Employ regressions of the movement during training.
3. Is able to execute the movement accurately more than 50% of assessed repetitions.
Training intervention: Follow a standard progression model, re-test frequently to ensure proper progression.
4. Is able to execute the movement accurately at or near 100% of the assessed repetitions
Training intervention: Follow standard progression model. Depending on training age, employ more advanced training tactics (advanced movements, technology, programming, etc.)
Looking at progression through this lens, the focus becomes development, not merely inflated, overzealous performance numbers.
I’ve used this model with athletes of all ages. When it comes to selecting the particular criteria for progression, every professional knows the movements in their training arsenal they consider essential. Furthermore, they should understand how to deconstruct that movement down to its sensory-based origins.
If a “2X’s bodyweight squat” is a goal at one end of the training spectrum, “identifying the hips and legs, then getting them to move synchronously” is at the other. Identifying the critical movements in between creates a framework for assessment and progression throughout a young athlete’s career.
Increasing and assessing tolerance to load is part of this assessment and progression model as well. For some, merely putting together the neuromuscular coordination to do a movement correctly may be all the load they need. Once they objectively demonstrate mastery over a movement and load is slowly applied, always consider the 1-4 scale. If they can squat their bodyweight well 4 out of 10 reps, they shouldn’t test with 10 pounds more the next week.
This type of assessment can be formative and on-going, it doesn’t need to be performed only at the beginning of a youth performance program.
This applies for both strength work and field work. Sprinting, decelerating, and changing direction are all built on a foundation of movement competency. What are the components of that foundation from top to bottom in your program?
When groups become large, this becomes more challenging. However, having a few “levels” of program within a training session incentivizes kids to work to get to the highest level. I’ve done this with high school football teams and within 4 weeks, the entire team is on the same level of program. “Coach! Coach! Watch my squat! Coach! Watch my hinge!” No one wants to be left behind, so I’ve found they will work relentlessly on their own to get up to par.
Since this approach may differ from the local guru’s methods of glad-handing stop watches and allowing nightmarish movement technique to produce imaginary video game numbers, it’s essential to educate and communicate with parents, coaches, and athletes.
This begins in the initial assessment and meeting with the athlete and parents. Explain your program in terms the parents will understand. “Safety,” “Elite performance,” and “Physical development” are great terms to use. You are an academy for athletes, not a workout box. This is a youth performance program, not just a way to tire kids out.
Send the parents and athletes home with a condensed version of your assessment criteria (scoring, movements, etc.) and communicate regularly about progression. When progression criteria is clear, it’s amazing how hard athletes will work on their own. Kids always want “what’s next,” so having something to strive toward gives them a goal and tangible reward. “If you want to use the prowler, you have to be able to…”
I’ve implemented this approach with groups from football teams to entire school district Physical Education programs. The results have been extraordinary. Kids, coaches, and parents all begin looking at movement from a qualitative standpoint. This decreases injuries, increases performance and enables a conversation in which we, as professionals, have a lot more to offer than simply making kids tired.
While standard measures of strength, power, etc., are valuable and valid, a qualitative assessment brings training focus to the actual bio-mechanical elements that create performance for life!
To learn more about youth assessments, check out the IYCA Youth Athletic Assessment Specialist Certification course by clicking the image below:
Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA. He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country. Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.