When athletes first report to camp or practice, coaches often like to evaluate the current state of their players. This is a good thing. It is wise for coaches and trainers to evaluate athletes. Player evaluations should give the coach a good frame of mind on the current condition of their athletes. That’s what a good coach should do every day at practice, just like they do in games: evaluate and adjust.
So on that first day of practice, head coaches and strength and conditioning coaches alike will usually put their athletes through a battery of tests to evaluate physical attributes such as strength, speed, and power. Three standard tests for this are sprint speeds and broad and vertical jumps. Coaches will often re-evaluate these numbers at the end of camp, in their offseason, or even mid-season to monitor progress or if there is a regression.
Coaches are always looking to be more efficient and to save time at practice. It’s theorized that maybe it isn’t necessary to measure all three of these tests. The broad and vertical jumps, as well as short sprints, are all measures of power. They also all use a similar technique. Perhaps coaches can only pick one to measure, sparing the multiple hours it takes for the other two measurements.
Researchers at Kennesaw State University in Georgia sought to investigate this. They tested 73 college football players of all positions over the course of three years. At the beginning of each offseason, they recorded all three of these athletes’ tests. They measured the athletes’ 10-yard sprint and vertical and broad jump distances.
Their results were surprising. It was believed that the athletes would show strong relationships between the three. If you sprinted fast, you could jump high and far. If you could jump far, you were fast, etc. The study was supposed to support this theory to save coaches and trainers time, but the opposite proved true.
The researchers found little relationship between the three tests among the players. Some players performed well on the jumps but demonstrated slower sprint times and vice versa. Interestingly, there wasn’t evidence of a relationship between the jumps either. It’s thought that a tremendous vertical jumper would be a great broad jumper. This study has strong evidence this isn’t the case.
Interestingly, a separate study showed that there IS a strong relationship between vertical and broad jumping. This study was performed with law-enforcement recruits. Those that did well on the broad jump did well in the vertical and vice versa.
Several other studies show mixed results for fitness testing relationships and how well they translate to the sport. This gives us reason to believe that coaches should continue to test multiple variables to help determine an athlete’s readiness for sport, particularly at the higher levels of the sport.
Most of the literature shows closer relationships among the lower levels of sport among athletes and fewer relationships for the higher-level athletes. The new theory should be that youth athletes do not need extensive sports readiness testing. If they are good at the broad jump, they will stack up against their peers well in the vertical jump. But a wider variety of power, strength, and speed testing should be conducted for higher-level players such as varsity, collegiate, and pro-level athletes.
Middle School and Beyond
At the middle school level, the best player on a baseball team usually pitchers, bats third, and plays shortstop when not pitching. The best football player plays quarterback, running back, and linebacker. If a young athlete is good at one thing, they are probably the best option at all other positions too.
However, as athletics get more competitive, the more athletes need to specialize in one position or skill. Pre-season conditioning readiness should reflect that. A wider variety of testing should be conducted at the higher levels of sport to evaluate an athlete’s best.
Sprints, broad jump, and vertical jump. Coaches of athletes at the varsity high school level and beyond should absolutely test all three parameters. This testing will help them evaluate an athlete’s conditioning level and readiness to play a game or begin practice. The data should be recorded throughout a player’s tenure, as it helps evaluate future performance.