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Qualitative Assessment In Youth Training

I document a lot of our training. At least once per week, I try to get a snapshot of each athlete moving through one or multiple of the major four classifications of movement patterns. Whether it's a video or a picture, I like to have a frame of reference for how my athlete's alter movement across time.

This is what we can consider qualitative assessment, or subjective assessment to match a criteria. Often, we look at assessing athletes through the lens of quantitative data or numerical values to track their progress. Power outputs, One Rep Maxes, Jump Scores, and 40 yard dash times are all examples of quantitative assessments. But when working with youth athletes, we have to consider the multiple factors at play which can drastically alter the numerical values we get off of quantitative assessments.

Especially when it comes to pre-pubescent or mid-pubescent athletes, numerical values can be in constant fluctuation or experience rapid changes in the positive or negative direction. This can create a misinterpretation of long-term skills and outputs if all we rely on is numerical. A young athlete can add 20lbs to the bar the next time they do an exercise, but this may just be a reflection of sandbagging the first time, or having a greater level of rest, or just natural growth. They may also have the reverse happen where the weights drop significantly. All of this needs to be taken into account when assessing young athletes.

Qualitative assessments, however, provide us with more subjective measures which we can compare and contrast over time to see the improvement in movement quality and motor control. This is why I like video or photo documentation of movement patterns and exercises over time. Because for youth athletes in constantly changing bodies, the best marker for improvement we can have is an improvement in movement quality. Can they maintain stable knees when they squat or lunge? Can they control the rotation at the hip through a single leg RDL? Do their shoulder blades dump forward at the bottom of a bench press or top of a Chinup? These things can all be monitored and assessed as part of progress in a youth athlete's program.

To add to why it is so important, consider an eighth grade athlete who starts off the school year at 5'6" (or 66"). By the end of the calendar year, thanks to puberty, he reaches 5'10" (or 70"). This added 4", which I know seems generous yet I have seen it happen firsthand, is an additional 6% of height added to a young body. If a young athlete is in a standard school calendar, then this is roughly 0.6% of added height per month. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it's just enough change to have to consistently be adjusting to and learning how to move newfound growth. This is going to effect their ability to move weight or produce power. For some, the growth will likely increase their muscle mass as well and provide opportunities for added strength, but they will then face the challenge of coordinating contractions of this muscle mass to keep movement quality high. This is where Qualitative Assessment can be key in tracking how movement is changing over time to ensure best training practices.

Another thing Qualitative Assessment can do long-term, is provide quick and simple comparison to starting points for movement (and physique) and the current state. I have an athlete who I have over 300 data points on across the last three years. I have videos and photos compiled in an album on my phone of what each exercise looks like and how she's moved over time. When we first started documenting her training at 13 years old, she looked like a baby and in some movements she also moved like one. Flash forward three years and she moves phenomenally well, even though some of the weights she lifts are still fairly close to the same. And what is great is how easily we can compare "Day One" to the current day on a movement and see where things have improved.

Now, I'd be foolish to tell you this is important without showing you how to set it up. So here's how we do this at Littauer Strength Training for maximum results (and also buy in with athletes)

  1. Identify the movement criteria you'd like to track over time. For example, our hinging criteria we use for bilateral and unilateral RDLs, Trap Bar Deadlifts, and Good Mornings are: Stable Feet, Neutral Spine, and Controlled Rotation at the Hip (important more so on Unilateral Movements). We take a video or photo of at least one of these movements each week/rotation of workouts to track progression or regression in these criteria.

  2. Make sure you have consent and your athletes know why you're filming or taking photos. All of my athletes have a media release signed as part of the waiver, but before I take any snapshots of their training, I always ask them if they mind. After both parents and athletes are okay with it, I simply let them know when I am going to film a set.

  3. Compile and share! Most cloud storage spaces on phones let you compile and share albums. Personally, I use Google Photos since I'm an Android nerd whose phone automatically syncs with Google. But after a month, I compile all the snapshots of an athlete into an album, create a link to it, and share it with them and their parents. This way we can all see and note the progress or changes happening over time. (Plus, for those in the private sector, parents can share the videos and it's marketing for you). But being able to categorize and compile snapshots of each athlete makes it easy to track small and big changes over time.

This is just a simple way of assessing training obviously, but it is great for making sure progress happens long term. And the more intentional you are about using qualitatively assessment, the better results you get long term as well.

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