We may not realize it, but all good coaches subconsciously assess an athlete’s readiness in some capacity. This doesn’t necessarily involve the use of sophisticated technology—sometimes it’s simply talking with the athletes about how they’re feeling or how practice was and then making the appropriate adjustments to the training plan.
Coaches may not think that they have the ability to initiate an athlete readiness program on a larger scale due to a lack of resources, from knowledge to equipment to manpower. While having access to more resources can lead to better monitoring of our athletes, there are also several lower-cost and time-effective readiness protocols that can help coaches monitor their athletes’ readiness on a budget.There are several lower-cost and time-effective readiness protocols that can help coaches monitor their athletes’ readiness on a budget. Click To Tweet
This article will dive deeper into four affordable yet effective tools to monitor athlete readiness and help lay out real strategies to utilize them.
Readiness monitoring is assessing an athlete’s physical and mental preparedness for that particular day. You can accomplish this through various methods, some easy to implement immediately and some requiring more work up front. The benefits of monitoring an athlete’s readiness are having the ability to keep your athletes from overtraining and making more appropriate adjustments to a training plan if necessary.
When monitoring athletes, you want to ensure that the information will provide value and help drive training decisions. Not every affordable measure will fit every environment and be appropriate—it is the coach’s responsibility to figure out if the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to committing to a readiness tool.
Coach to Athlete Communication
The most affordable monitoring tool available to coaches is their own coach’s eye and their ability to care and communicate with the athletes—this is free, provides insight, and helps get athlete buy-in. Trust is a two-way street, and we should see this as working with the athlete and not being above them.
Stress does not discriminate, whether it’s from an intense training session, academics, or arguing with a boyfriend/girlfriend—knowing this information allows coaches to better monitor the athletes and their training program.
This assessment begins the second they walk through the door. Are they talking and laughing? How does their body language appear? How are their actions consistent with what they’ve shown in the past?This assessment begins the second they walk through the door. Are they talking and laughing? How does their body language appear? How are their actions consistent with what they’ve shown in the past? Click To Tweet
If any of these raise a red flag, communication can begin with a simple how are you? That can go a long way in a trusting relationship. More follow-up questions include:
- What did you do last night?
- When did you go to sleep?
- How did you sleep?
- Did you eat breakfast?
And so on, including any questions that may be specific to the athlete or team.
I worked with a collegiate team that went out late on Thursday nights for their team bonding night. I knew coming in early Friday morning what we were getting into, and it was never good. Asking the right questions on Friday gave me the tools to better prepare that training session. This was a better idea and more of a reality than thinking I could prevent a team of college students from going out with their friends and teammates the night before.
Being a successful communicator is a requirement for a coach, and it also comes into play when implementing a more strategic monitoring strategy. The following four strategies and assessment tools can help coaches cover their entire team and pursue a more organized and holistic program:
- Subjective questionnaires.
- Grip strength.
- Countermovement jump assessment.
- 10-yard sprint assessment.
Subjective questionnaires work to provide similar data as wearables, but from the athlete’s perspective. Everyone perceives stress and what is good hydration and nutrition differently, so it is important to educate athletes the best you can and try to create standards. Know your audience here and use your best judgment to create questions that will benefit the program.
I have used questionnaires for some teams and found success—not necessarily because it showed a magical number, but rather because it helped open the door for a conversation. If I see that an athlete has put a low number on morale or overall readiness for multiple days in a row, then I will have the type of productive conversation with that individual that has helped drive more success than anything else.
Obtaining a questionnaire is relatively easy and affordable. Training software such as Bridge Athletic and TeamBuildr have their own questionnaires available that teams can easily do from their phones. Or, if you’re on a tighter budget, you can create one yourself using Google Office or several other survey apps.
2. Grip Strength
Using grip strength to help regulate and assess an athlete’s readiness is one of my favorite methods. It’s quick, only taking about 10 seconds to test each hand. It’s also affordable: a quick Amazon search shows a grip dynamometer costs $28.99. And it requires no skill to operate—just grab it and squeeze it as hard as possible to get an accurate read.Using grip strength to help regulate and assess an athlete’s readiness is one of my favorite methods. Click To Tweet
Video 1. I’ve used grip strength as a readiness assessment method when working with private clients or small teams of 10-15. I first used this method when preparing a few athletes for pro days at their colleges and began to implement the grip test before and after training sessions.
Though I started with limited expectations, I’ve found with my athletes that grip strength is reliable for monitoring their fatigue and stress. You can see from the short range of data below that many of the days with lower results were surrounded by stressful periods for this athlete. These include testing in one of his pro day events, such as the 40-yard dash or 225-pound bench press test, during stressful times in his personal life such as a breakup and moving apartments, and the gradual stress of training multiple times and days throughout the week. The higher days often corresponded with positive training days and hitting personal records.
Getting a baseline or “max” was the first objective, and then monitoring anything larger than a 10% drop-off as a red flag that would potentially influence training. Every time there was a dip in grip strength, we didn’t automatically decrease training or assume the sky was falling. But consistently, each time there was a significant drop, it was around a time of chaotic stress or injury.
The only downside to this method is that there is high variability at first—it takes some time before you can create a reliable average and begin to see patterns. Since it is so accessible to test, though, the numbers will accumulate quickly.
For me, it’s just too easy of an option not to implement it, with low risk and a potentially high reward.
3. Countermovement Jump
Performing a countermovement jump is another assessment that can help monitor training readiness. It meets the same required criteria of being quick, semi-affordable, and relatively reliable for recognizing athlete fatigue.
Step one is to find a testing tool that you can use consistently. I personally like using a jump mat, as I find that it’s quicker and flows better in a group setting than jumping with a Vertec. Either is fine, and most facilities are equipped with one or the other (or at least can find room in the budget to purchase a reliable vertical jump testing tool).
Video 2. Performing a countermovement jump on a Just Jump mat as a readiness monitoring tool.
Next, it is important to test often and under the same testing standards—for example, I test my teams every session after warm-ups and before the first lifting block, every training day.Keeping the testing procedures consistent is not only important for creating more data and making numbers more reliable, but it also helps with the flow of the training session. Click To Tweet
Keeping the testing procedures consistent is not only important for creating more data and making the numbers more reliable, but it also helps with the flow of the training session. Eventually, the athletes just knew that we perform a countermovement jump to conclude our warm-up.
When examining the jumps, I stick to the rule of 10% drop-off being a red flag. If an athlete jumps under the 10%, I allow another rep to ensure it wasn’t just a poor rep; if the jump is similar or even worse, then we can look to adjust the training plan.
4. 10-Yard Sprint
The 10-yard sprint is another great tool to monitor an athlete’s readiness for training. When recording the numbers for the exercise, it is important to keep the testing procedures similar, much like with the countermovement jump. The timing of the 10 isn’t done to necessarily get an accurate 10-yard sprint, but rather to compare the numbers to themselves and decide where the athlete’s training ability is for that day.
A stopwatch can easily record an athlete’s sprint time to compare to over the course of time. As long as the testing procedures are similar, performed at the same time, with the same setup, and by the same individual, then you should feel confident with comparing and relying on the numbers.
When training large groups, I’ve given the responsibility of one line to interns, or even sport coaches who watch the team lift. Then I always keep them with that group throughout the testing.
Video 3. When performing the assessment, I run three sprints and use the best timed sprint as the number to compare to their best recorded time. Ensure that the athletes get full rest—one minute at the minimum; this should be easy to do if you are working with a large group.
Using a sprint drop-off chart (which you can find for free at xlathlete.com), you can determine if the sprint has a 2-5% drop-off change. I have always used 5% or higher as my marker, as I find 2% to be too low for the level of athletes I train. Five percent or more gives them more wiggle room for errors.
On the Right Path
All coaches want to know that they’re making the right decisions to drive their athletes in the correct direction. Much like the value of a map on a long road trip, readiness tools can offer coaches insight that they are on the correct path and doing what is right for the athletes.Implementing these methods to determine athlete readiness is a low-risk/high-reward option coaches can do without altering their current training program or environment. Click To Tweet
Monitoring athlete readiness does not have to be an expensive or complicated process. Implementing these methods is a low-risk/high-reward option coaches can do without altering their current training program or environment. The previously listed methods are all also cost- and time-effective, allowing coaches to make better training decisions.
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