Most coaches use a battery of tests to evaluate the status of their athletes and determine areas of strength and weakness. Tests such as the vertical jump, broad jump, pro agility shuttle and 40-yard dash are often used when testing athletes in a variety of sports. While many coaches are content with the quantitative number (how high did they jump, how fast did they run, etc.) derived from the test results, a qualitative evaluation of the results (how effectively did they absorb force, how efficiently did they move, etc.) can often provide better insight into an individual’s athleticism. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on evaluating the results of the vertical jump and standing long jump.
The vertical jump and standing long jump are field tests that are frequently used to evaluate lower body power and fast-twitch muscle capability. When testing several athletes or a team of athletes, these tests can yield a quick assessment of both the ability of an athlete to accelerate and his top end speed potential. You can break these tests down further by using a counter- movement or a static start position to help determine what type of training might be most beneficial for the athlete. If a quick counter-movement jump yields a higher number, the athlete should do more absolute strength training. If the static position jump, which takes away the stretch reflex, yields a higher value, the athlete needs to do more speed-strength work.
While raw test scores are important and can yield valuable information, you can also, as Yogi says, “see a lot by watching”. Observing how an athlete takes off and lands can help determine how efficiently he transitions from eccentric to concentric contractions and how well he controls the eccentric landing at the completion of a jump. These two factors can help determine if and where energy leaks occur. Because energy leaks are associated with joint instability and poor limb and joint structure alignment, their early detection and correction are essential to help reduce joint stress, improve efficiency of movement and enhance power production.
Because the most common sites for energy leaks are in the foot (forefoot abduction), at the knee, (excessive valgus or medial collapse), at the trunk (excessive flexion) and at the thoracic spine (excessive kyphosis and protraction of the scapula), watching an athlete perform these tests can be a valuable tool to help identify individuals who might be at increased risk for injury. When testing athletes, true evaluation occurs when you look past the numbers and observe the quality of the movement.
Loren Landow is Director of Sports Performance, Steadman Hawkins Clinic – Denver.