One of my very first charges after starting at S2 Breakthrough was the development of an assessment to guide our coaches on how to approach training. We started with taking pieces of established approaches to athlete assessment that, on the surface level, seemed to match what we were seeking. Here’s what I presented at our very first Pitchstock in 2019: Softball Pitcher Development from the Ground Up.
After starting out the 2019-2020 training year with this version of our assessment, it became clear VERY quickly that it wasn’t enough. The results of the assessment didn’t provide enough information to our skills coaches on what they can expect from a player. So, back to the drawing board. Our initial approach led us to conclude that mobility was only a part of the story. Jumping from evaluation of low intensity movement to loaded movements on the strength floor was a tremendous expectation for our (mostly) high school athletes. We needed to understand how she handled movement in between those extremes.
Our next iteration aimed to fill that gap with carefully selected exercises, matching what we determined every softball player needed regardless of her position: force transfer (generation and absorption), pelvic control, and rhythm/coordination. We took these tasks, with the understanding that training/game effort would be the most intense and highest velocity of those tasks, and reverse engineered them into their component parts in each plane of motion. Softball players spend a great deal of time rotating but in order for rotation to be effective and safe to perform repeatedly under high intensity, players must have trunk control in both the sagittal and frontal planes.
This iteration was the first appearance of movement progression, evaluating the player under different intensities for an improved understanding of her intensity threshold and when her movement quality declined (on the ground, in the air, single leg, double leg). We termed this category movement capacity, which we feel is an important bridge between low intensity mobility tests and the high intensity effort of pitching and hitting. Understanding the threshold at which an athlete loses trunk control, specifically, allows our training programs to be tailored to the individual athlete. It also manages expectations for our skills coaches; we can’t expect her to find trunk control in the pitching motion or in her swing if it’s not present at lower intensities of movement.
This version of our assessment persisted for a few months, administered on college, high school, and youth athletes. During this time a couple of things became apparent: (1) there were too many exercises and (2) it wasn’t necessary to administer assessments on pre-puberty athletes. The first realization was important because in order to scale our assessment it needed to be the most accurate AND efficient version possible; capturing only the most relevant and meaningful data from the athlete. The vast majority of athletes seeking our assessment were/are doing so because they want to evolve how they train. This means that the initial assessment can be physically demanding and fatigue needs to be carefully monitored. The second realization arrived because we kept seeing the same patterns of results in pre-puberty athletes: “hypermobility” masquerading as trunk instability. From that, our Next Gen program was born.
We had a couple of months to take our newest version of the assessment for a spin until the pandemic hit, forcing our facility to close for a period of time. Slimming down movements resulted in 11 mobility tests and 12 movement capacity tests. We also added power evaluation utilizing med ball throws, vertical jumps, and home-to-first base sprints. Utilizing this version, we were able to be much more efficient, improve how our assessment (and eventual reassessment) fit into our player development system, and provide our coaches more meaningful information for both short-term and long-term planning. This version has been the most stable, with minimal adjustments over the last two years.
The single most important aspect of any assessment, regardless of the movements selected or other data collected, is that the process itself fits into a regularly occurring system. Our assessment is the athlete’s entry in our player development system; it can standalone and create a clear performance story and plan of action but it becomes most powerful when the athlete is reassessed and routinely sees progress in her movement quality.