Fitness Testing in GAA
Testing; in this day and age of reporting and numbers is crucial.
Chances are if someone pays you to be an S&C coach you will have to test, if I’m honest in a lot of cases I’d be happy not to, especially with younger athletes. Why? I want them enjoying the training and making gradual progress, I’m not too concerned about how aerobically fit a 13-year-old kid is. But let's look at a bit of background to testing GAA teams before I give any specific advice, as usual in sport it's always good to step back and assess the context before you make recommendations.
Where does the pressure to test teams come from?
It comes from a few places actually, firstly, it was a way for Strength coaches to show their employers "look I'm doing a great job", especially when most people that hire strength coaches don't understand the process of developing athletes at all, they can, however, conceptualise a good running time or bench score.
It's not uncommon for administrators or head coaches to demand certain tests be included for no other reason than they like them, or, "we did this test when we won x,y,z championship".
Secondly, players like the idea of testing. They love the idea of being policed and pushed so they know they are on the right track. This has enormous psychological benefits, and believe me when you hand an athlete a fitness test report card, they will keep it and study it forever. However, it can become a problem when your starting players don't test well or simply don't try that hard & they are still picked.
This can send a message out "we want you all to be super fit, but, if you're not it's ok. I'll pick you if you're a class player so don't worry".
Thirdly, society seems to value numbers and data now, it just seems to be the done thing, you will see GAA teams fork out huge sums of money for GPS units (not needed and misused in about 90% of cases), why? It gives you lots of numbers. Head coaches love seeing "running distances" and percentage drop-offs when in reality a lot don't really understand what they're looking at.
When is testing powerful?
With the right age group (I'd say u16 and up) telling an athlete the area s/he needs to work on in a private environment, with fair feedback, can be hugely beneficial. I know when I played if someone had given me that advice I would have really benefitted from it. It also keeps me (as a coach) on my toes and the more testing I do with a team, the more I can refine and compare and contrast my programmes.
Individual report cards are key, and also, your athletes should understand what your handing them. The fancier the charts the less they'll understand, a simple typed paragraph on the areas they have to work on is helpful. As usual with coaching one-to-one feedback is the best (but the most time-consuming).
A simple way to annoy players.
We have all experienced this as players, you get tested and there is no feedback and no consistent feedback. Testing the first day back of training is a bit cruel also. If you test a team, you must be able to retest them easily enough.
I have seen lots of county teams go and get DEXA scans for fancy body fat analysis over the years, this is the gold standard. However, do they get retested after a nutritional and training intervention? In most cases the answer is no, because the logistics and cost of the retest are prohibitive, so in several cases, some weighing scales and skinfold calipers done consistently might be a far better tool.
When I coach a team I will only do testing that I can simply reproduce (Astro booking nightmares, indoor/outdoor, etc.), I can redo at least three times in the season, and crucially that it will actually inform me of what the players will need to work on. This is key for your normal GAA team, as, it could well be that even getting a stereo to play the YO-YO test audio is a nightmare.
In the next article, I will explain what tests I like and why with your typical GAA team.