In 2014/2015 Athletics Northern Ireland began trialling physical competence screenings with Youth Academy Athletes. Following the success of the trial these physical competency screenings are now a standard option available to all athletes selected for Youth Academy.
This short information leaflet has been created to provide Athletes, Parents and Coaches with information regarding the screening process so they can decide if they would like to make use of this facility.
What is physical competence?
Physical competence is “the ability to express levels of force production, force reduction and force stabilization in basic general movements.” Research in Strength & Conditioning has established that an athlete’s level of physical competence is a good predictor of performance across both endurance and strength and power sports. An athlete’s physical competence is also correlated to the prevalence of injury with less competent athletes being more likely to sustain injury.
The screening process allows a physical preparation practitioner to assess an athlete’s general level of physical competence and potential injury risk factors. The results then allow the practitioner or personal coach to prescribe appropriate physical preparation programmes that meet the individual needs of the athlete. Furthermore, they act as a method for assessing progress throughout the year.
What tests are used in the assessment?
The following assessments are included in the physical competency screening undertaken with Youth Academy Athletes:
Hip Assessment to help determine any tightness of the primary hip flexor muscles;
- Thomas Test -is a quick, simple assessment used to examine the length of the muscles involved in hip flexion. Assessing their length can help determine the tightness of the athletes primary hip flexor muscles, including the rectus femoris, illiopsoas and illiotibial (IT) band.
Physical Competence Assessments examine each athlete’s ability to repeatedly perform basic movement patterns with mechanical efficiency;
- Bodyweight squat-assesses the athlete’s ability to flex and then extend at the ankle, knee and hip whilst maintaining trunk alignment and tracking the knees in line with the toes. Any limitation in range of motion or loss of co-ordination during a squat will reduce the athlete’s ability to produce force and will have implications during plyometric activities.
- Hurdle step over-mirrors the movement patterns and mobility requirements necessary for maximum velocity running (hip extension on the stance leg/hip flexion on the opposite side, ankle dorsiflexion and a neutral pelvis with level hips.) This test has allows us to observe any asymmetries between left and right side in hip mobility.
- Lunge and return-assesses the athlete’s ability to produce, reduce and stabilize forces from one leg to the other whilst maintaining control of the trunk and limbs of the upper body. This is particularly important for decelerating and athletes who display the worst scores in this activity are at higher risk of injury when decelerating.
- Trunk bracing-is essential for maintaining posture and stability of the spine whilst transferring power from lower to upper body. This test gives us some indication of the strength endurance of the core muscles- glutes, abs, back extensors and stability of the scapula.
- Single leg weight transfer-is the basis of all gait. Obviously rapid transfer of weight from one leg to the other without loss of balance or compensatory movements of the upper body or pelvis is vital for increasing the efficiency of every stride on the track.
- Single leg hop & 12 inch double hurdle bound-allowed us to assess efficiency of jumping and landing mechanics on one and both legs.
- Active Straight Leg Raise-challenges active hamstring and gastroc range of motion and ability to dissociate one leg from the other whilst maintaining a neutral spine. Asymmetry will effect technical execution of bilateral exercises and increase injury risk particularly in sprinting.
How do these tests relate to athletic performance?
Consider…. if an athlete’s knees collapse in a parallel squat how will they perform an effective countermovement jump and other plyometric activities? If there are asymmetries in hamstring flexibility how does this affect injury risk during sprinting? If an athlete cannot brace their trunk how does this affect their ability to transfer power from lower to upper body during throwing?
How will the tests be used to drive the content that is delivered at Youth Academy?
Developing quality well-co-ordinated movement patterns will allow athletes to express higher levels of force through the entire kinetic chain and minimize their risk of injury.
Screen results will form the basis of programmes provided by ANI staff at weekly Strength and Conditioning sessions during 2015-2016 and these sessions may include;
Mobility exercises with a focus on hips, hamstring and ankles
Single and double leg landing drills
Glute activation drills to improve hip strength for sprinting and jumping
Bracing activities to increase the strength and endurance of the abdominals, glutes and spinal erectors.
As a personal coach can I be involved in the screening process?
Personal coaches may attend the screening of their athletes. This can be a useful way of developing a sound knowledge of the process.
Following the screening coaches will be provided with a spreadsheet of results and a letter of explanation. Personal coaches can then follow up with the Youth Academy staff to discuss the results if desired. Throughout the year personal coaches are encouraged to attend all physical preparation sessions and maintain regular contact with Laura Kerr (ANI Physical Preparation Lead.)
As a personal coach how can I use the results of the screening?
Event coaches may also like to use our feedback to appropriately prescribe warm ups, mobility, restorative stretching etc. Advice on how to make best use of the test results can be obtained from Laura Kerr at any time throughout the year.
Who should I contact if I have further questions regarding the screening?
Please contact Laura Kerr, Athletics NI Physical Preparation Lead & UK Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.