Assessments and Data Collection at the High School Level: Why, How, and When | Part I

Recently I spent some time with a few great high school coaches —one a performance coach, another a fundamental coach. Over the course of many discussions, the fundamental coach, a head football coach, asked me the following question:
Of all the new things you’ve learned and come across lately in this industry, is there anything you could share with me that could in some way help my coaches and athletes?
It didn’t take me long before a clear answer came to mind: an appreciation for assessments and data collection.
To be quite honest, with a lot of high school experience under my belt, my exposure to movement assessments was mainly limited to the Functional Movement Screen, and my experience with performance testing was rather limited in scope. Likewise, “technology” was just not something feasible in any of the settings in which I had yet worked.
But, not only has my time in professional baseball exposed me to a wider variety of testing protocols and greater access to strength & conditioning technologies, it has also given me an appreciation for assessments and data collection in high-level athletics.
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It has also provided me the opportunity to reflect on how, why, and when assessments and data collection should take place at the high school level — a place where budgets are tight, staffing is low, and time is scarce.
Today, we will begin a three-part series discussing some considerations for assessing movement/performance and collecting data at the high school level — the WhyHow, and When:

Part I: Why You Should Assess and Collect Data

Anyone who knows me or my approach to S&C will inevitably know my greatest pet peeve in our industry: eye-wash. If something has no value, I refuse to do it, period.
So, before I advocate for any athletes to spend time away from training so that they can be tested, or for any coach to sit in front of a keyboard and computer screen to crunch numbers, I must know that it is worth the time.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way… there are three major reasons to assess athletes:
  1. Assessing allows us to see the progress of the athlete
  2. Assessing gives us insight into the effectiveness of the program
  3. Assessing provides pathways for more individualized programming

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These three reasons, themselves, should be enough reasoning to assess, right? For advanced athletes, yes; for the novice, I am not so convinced. Allow me to play devil’s advocate here briefly:
At the high school level, athletes typically possess very low training ages, leaving them a giant window for adaption and development. For this reason, progress is quick and easy, even with ineffective programming. Thus, using assessments to check for either of these things — progression or effectiveness — can really only be an ego stroke, as even bad coaching and methods will yield increases in strength, power, and speed, due in large part to neurological adaptation and biological changes at that age.
Additionally, while every athlete, regardless of age, deserves a program that suites them personally, the most effective way to train a massive group of young and underdeveloped athletes/kids is through generalized methods. “Specific” and “individualized” may sell to parents and kids, but general and simple keeps them safe and consistently progressing. And, assessing for the sake of driving individualized programming may not be feasible for those working at the high school level.
Even still, assessing and data collection at this age is not worthless by any means; there is plenty of value outside of quality control and individualization. Here are two:

1. Getting “Buy-In”: Players, Parents, Administration

If you’ve ever worked in amateur athletics, you will certainly know what it’s like to deal with today’s amateur sports climate: skeptical parents; players who can get training information in a split second on their phone;  administration that must look for liabilities every step of the way.
Below we will discuss ways to use assessments and data collection to help deal with all of these parties:
Players
When it comes to players, assessing and data collection becomes valuable in getting them excited about the program, as not every kid you come across is going to be on fire about the weight room like you are.
Collecting numbers can be a slippery slope, turning very quickly into chasing numbers if let get out of control. But, when done right, assessing can increase excitement, foster pride, and drive competition.
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While I am by no means the person to tell anybody what the right way is to do anything, I will say that a smart way to go about assessing is the “give a little to get a little” method. In other words, give the athletes something they want so that you can get what you want as well.
For example, your priority as a coach may be to conduct a movement screen with your athletes, but the fact is, most kids won’t care how you score their trunk stability or their unilateral lower-body movements; they want to know how much they press, how fast they run, and how high they jump.
If you can develop a safe and appropriate battery of tests to satisfy both you and your players’ interests, this may be the ultimate ticket to developing buy-in for your programming. Assessing over the course of the year and then letting the athletes see their results for themselves will further solidify their commitment to the program.
Parents
In a time when scholarship and signing bonus money is becoming a higher influence and pressure on young athletes and their families, most parents are willing to spend whatever it takes to find the best hitting coach, pitching coach, strength master, and agility guru available in their area.
Although there are plenty of good resources and people out, oftentimes this isn’t who our kids and their parents will go to. And, having worked at the high school level myself, I can attest — right or wrong — to the frustrations that are experienced by the coach when he is offering his players everything he can, yet they turn to an outside source for coaching.
Assessing and data collection hold the potential to help foster parental buy-in to your program as well. Although we already said that just about any program can make a kid stronger, there is still value in showing your program is yielding results, especially with parents. Put simply, if you can prove to the parents that your program is working, they will have less of a reason to go elsewhere.
If you are confident in your coaching, programming, and assessing, it might be wise to begin the off-season with a parent meeting discussing your plans for their children’s’ training. In that meeting, you might find it useful to explain the goals of the training program, and how the coaches will be assessing and collecting data to check for progress toward these goals. Then, as the off-season unfolds and concludes, those results can be shared with both parents and kids. The value of your program will be hard for any parent to deny when the proof is in the progress on the page.
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Administration
Administrators are always considering the potential liabilities and risks that our kids are exposed to — and rightfully so. As a coach who is looking to ask his athletes to progressively run faster, jump higher, move through greater ranges of motion, and lift heavier loads over time, you must always have a strong feel for what is actually happening in the weight room.
For starters, just having the S&C plan clearly outlined (with variables such as sets, reps, intensities/loads, frequencies, rest times, goals, ground contacts, throws, speeds, distances, etc) is a vital, yet somehow blatantly skipped way to ensure that everyone is clear as to what will happen in the weight room each day. Additionally, having players track their loads or any changes made will ensure that all parties know what did happen in the weight room as well.
The goals of the S&C program should also be clearly outlined; what outcomes are we expecting from the program? Assessments then give us insight into how we are progressing toward those goals. The S&C plan, along with tracked loads and other performance metrics, will provide a very succint outline of what is expected of the athlete, how they are being asked to accomplish this, and what they actually do each day.
Ultimately, all of this information and data collected will serve as the best answer to any questions administration might have about the safety, efficacy, and value of your training program.

In Part II of this three-part series, we will discuss the How of assessing and collecting data at the high school level, including practical examples for both.
Respectfully,
RJF
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