College tryouts are coming up! Hopefully, you have an influx of players this fall, and you’ll be choosing the best of the best to join your team. You need to identify your strongest players, and athleticism is a big part of that.
Testing and rating athleticism is complicated. Often, the more focused and objective a test is, the less applicable it is to a game situation. For example, someone may have a mediocre vertical jump assessed by a Vertec, but their timing, disc-reading, and positioning makes them your most valuable person in the air. Likewise, quick times in an agility test don’t help if they don’t know where to cut. You’ll often gain more insight from watching a 1v1 cutting drill than from the pro agility test.
These tests still have value, you just need to think about why you’re using them in the context of your team in order to determine if they’re right for you. If you have a huge turnout at tryouts, speed and power may be the only quantifiable data you have. It can help you filter out low performers right away while creating a culture and standard of athletic performance for your team. You can also make sure that you’re not neglecting stand-out athletes that may get lost in the crowd during scrimmages and drills. Alternatively, you can use these after your roster is finalized, to set a benchmark upon which you measure future performance. After all, the best way to create buy-in for a spring workout program is to see progress from your fall workout program.
Still going to do it? Awesome. Let’s choose our assessments. I’d narrow it down to four areas: power, agility (change of direction), speed, and conditioning.
Power: Power is how far or fast you can go in a single push, so the vertical jump is the easiest and most applicable movement to test. There’s also a strong correlation between vertical power and horizontal power, so your highest jumper will likely have a strong first step. We can assess horizontal power later in our agility drills anyway. You have a few options to measure vertical jump. In the most expensive range, you can use a force plate, but then you’d have to hire me as a coach because your program is clearly flushed with cash. The rest of us might buy (or make) a Vertec. Or even better, support our community and buy a Skylight. If we want to save further money, we’ll grab a measuring tape, some chalk, and put some markings up on a wall.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) recommends giving each athlete three attempts and marking their highest jump. This helps negate the variability that can happen between jumps. If using a Skylight, use a submax jump to estimate the height you need (and to acclimate athletes to the jump), and give them a couple attempts at increasing heights. You shouldn’t need more than 3-4 attempts. If you have time, first assess jumps with a 3-step approach, then jumps from a standstill.
Agility: The temptation with agility tests is to try to combine them with speed and endurance. But to actually know how agile they are, we need to focus on how quickly they can change direction. A proper agility assessment should be short in distance (sprints under ten meters) and time (under eight seconds). Many agility drills will work, but I default to the few that I love. The pro agility test (5-10-5) is great for change of direction and timing someone’s first three steps. Box drills are great for implementing a variety of footwork patterns. Choose 2-3 drills and give athletes two attempts at each. Mark their top time. To give everyone a fair chance, give a demonstration and allow them to practice the test once or twice.
Speed: Most players will get up to top speed by about 20-25 meters, and start slowing down not long after 40. That’s a rough, unscientific estimate, but it works, and ultimate fields have convenient lines already marked out for you at those distances. As with the agility test, give athletes two attempts and record their best.
Conditioning: With conditioning, we’re looking at their aerobic capabilities. Since ultimate has periods of rest interspersed between periods of high intensity, the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test. The beep test (or PACER test) also works. While you need some equipment (cones, speaker, phone), it’s easy to administer and score multiple athletes at the same time. This will push everyone to their limits, so one attempt per person will suffice.
You may have noticed that I’ve placed these in order of highest to lowest intensity, or shortest to longest repetition. This helps everyone recover enough that their next event won’t be affected and they can run well in all areas. If we were to start with the Yo-Yo test, we’d see lowered scores in everything thereafter. If we need to make adjustments due to efficiency, we can interchange the power and agility tests.
To get athletes performing their best, they need to be well-rested. Athletic tests should be at the beginning of a tryout, before everyone is worn out from a scrimmage. During the test, the NSCA suggests 2 minutes of rest between submaximal efforts, and 3 minutes between maximal efforts. If you have all day, give them that time. Realistically you’ll want to be efficient with your time, and the difference in a vertical jump between 1 minute of rest and 3 minutes of rest might not be worth it. Try it yourself. How much rest do you need?
Most importantly, we want to be as consistent as possible across all areas that are being compared to each other. If you do an agility test on dry grass one day, you can only compare it to dry grass the next day. If a field has a slope on one half and is flat on the other, everyone should run it on the same side. A perfect test would have the same person on the stopwatch for everyone that runs a 20m sprint, but if you can’t, have your testers practice together to make sure their results are similar. And this should be obvious, but yards are not the same as meters, and you need to be more precise in your distances than simply counting steps.
Whether you’re doing it for tryouts, or to measure progress through a year, athletic tests foster a culture that values athleticism. Take them seriously, and they’ll pay off down the road.