What are some good assessments to use on begining athletes around the age of seven to 10 years?
The debate of assessment protocol for children in this age grouping can be a contentious one. I find that most coaches and trainers use basic guidelines of biomotor specificity and test/re-test situations far too often. Let’s look at that from a pragmatic standpoint.
During the developmental years, the body is in a constant state of flux, re-organization and re-regulation. It makes standard and substantive normative data virtually impossible to classify. For example, the sit and reach assessment is often used to gauge indirect systemic flexibility. The problem with this assessment, however, is that variables well outside the testing protocol can be directly related to the results.
If you were to perform a sit and reach test on a seven-year-old boy in January and then again later that year, you may find extraordinarily different results. More than likely, the second test would show that the flexibility of this child would have decreased. Having said that, would it be more accurate to say that his flexibility has decreased or that he has become taller?
Bone grows faster than muscle, and during growth of any kind, the opposing ends of a given bone draw the muscles that act on that bone into tension. So, although you won’t be wrong to suggest that the flexibility measures of the child had decreased, you would be wrong in suggesting that the reason for this fact was anything other than a normal physiological occurrence. The same with test/re-test situations. Taking a pre-adolescent child prior to introducing a training stimulus, measuring his base norms and then comparing those results with the outcomes of an assessment taken at the conclusion of a six-week training cycle would only serve to prove that the human body adapts to stimulus and nothing more.
Whenever you go from a period of non-specified training into a period of specified training, you will always notice improvements – that goes without saying. The human body, especially in the early years of life, is an incredibly adaptable machine that will improve with literally any directed stimulus. Therein lies the difficulty in both training and testing young people.
How much of your training program or testing system was successful, and how much of it was due to normal responses from the human body? Whenever designing testing or assessment parameters for younger people, you have to measure the importance of what you want the battery to show or tell you in terms of your training system. Although varying from age group to age group, in the seven to nine year old category, I assess for some particular things:
- Locomotor Competency - In this age group, I have begun applying a system of execution and function to varying motor skills (i.e., I teach how to decelerate linearly and laterally). I also begin stringing together change of direction (and therefore, acceleration and deceleration patterns). So, my testing battery for this age group is based on whether my young athletes can produce and re-produce locomotor functions in practical situations. It is important to design subjective but rigid assessment measures in which you can evaluate whether or not your athletes are competent in the locomotor skills you have been teaching. I refer to this as Rate of Technical Ability (RTA) coaching.
- Specific Strength Technique - Around this age group, I start teaching the form, function and efficacy of certain lifts (i.e., squat). My assessment then is another RTA value of how well my young athletes are able to produce and re-produce that exercise.
Always remember that your assessment battery must be designed in such a way that is gives you real results that illustrate your effectiveness as a coach. Any assessment that doesn’t do this (i.e., those that just measure simple biomotor outlay) are not giving you any information you can use.