Is A$$essing a Dirty Word?

In Swimming by Chris Ritter0 Comments

As the New Year approaches many reflect on the past year and look forward to what’s next. I always take this time of year to reflect on how I train my athletes and am I going about it the best way. One of the tools I use to relay information about how the training is affecting athletes, for better or worse, is assessing and testing. This is a two part series about the philosophy of assessing and testing athletes. Should you do it? How if so? And what’s the point really? We’ll explore those questions and more.

When it comes to assessing and testing athletes there are two camps of beliefs. The first group basically thinks that it’s a waste of training time and will mess up the athlete’s psyche. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? The other group thinks that if you can measure it you should, and often! They love to pour over the many results that they can compile from their athletes. The more data the safer they feel as a coach that they can predict and direct the training.

This first part will look deeper at the latter view: assessing and testing as an advantage

If you fall more on this side of the aisle you probably have a few favorite test sets for in the water. And maybe even some testing that you do on land. How many pull-ups, what’s your mile time. Things of this sort. You may even be more advanced than most and have a movement evaluation that you put athletes through to discover weaknesses or imbalances.

I’ve assessed and tested many athletes. I’ve even helped clubs and coaches develop better procedures for how to do it. Even with a great procedure though it doesn’t give you license to test like crazy. In fact, if you perform this too frequently the results can actually turn into a kryptonite of sorts for the athlete.

If you as a coach rely too heavily on the results it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially if the results are more negative than positive, the athlete can easily talk themselves into not improving. “Well that test confirms what I figured, I’ll never be that good.” This can be especially dangerous when most athletes today lack confidence in their abilities and what hard work combined with good coaching can help them accomplish.

One time I even went to a movement specialist to see what he thought of my athletic potential. The results were surprisingly negative. I workout and am fairly athletic. But this assessment was so thorough that I felt paralyzed afterwards. I even began to wonder how I could walk and not fall over the way he talked about how imbalanced and inhibited parts of my body were. I distinctly remember the next couple of workouts that I did, I was very hesitant and constantly thinking about the results instead of on my workout.

Assessments and testing aren’t supposed to have that type of outcome. But if you’re not careful you’ll place your athletes in the same position I was. A lot of information but it can turn into a paralysis by analysis situation.

When you have a lot of tests and assessments to put your athletes through it can feel very empowering as a coach. You’ve got a lot of knowledge and you’re going to find out everything that’s “wrong” with them so you can “fix it.”

Be wary taking that approach. The amount of ingredients at a chef’s disposal isn’t what makes him a great cook. It’s the chef’s decision of when and how to use the ingredients that results in a great meal. Don’t become secure with the number but rather how and when you implement assessments and tests.

And even more how you’ll actually interpret and relate the data to your athletes. It doesn’t matter what the result of a test is. How the athlete perceives their result is what’s important in assessing and testing.

Your approach to assessing and testing if what determines the success and effectiveness.

Read more in part two.