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Athletic Combine to Replace Training?

I had so much hope for Under Armour. Everyone knew that they were preparing to make a splash in the youth sports market and challenge Nike. Who knew that they would simply copy Nike?

Under Armour announced that they are partnering with IMG to run Combine360s throughout the world. Combine360 is not unlike Sparq, Nike’s own testing and branding concept. As Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank says:

“First and foremost, our goal is to have the word ‘combine’ replace training.”

What? Haven’t we learned anything from NBA and NFL combines? Former Oregon University standout Luke Jackson skyrocketed up the draft board after he tested as the best athlete in his NBA Draft; how did that work out? People questioned Kevin Durant’s ability to transition to the NBA after he failed to lift 185 pounds in the bench press. How has that limited him?

The problem with combine tests is that they have to be static in nature to gather reliable data. However, games are dynamic. Here is an example of some of the NBA Pre-Draft tests, including the vertical jump test and a box agility test (:37).

Sure, an NBA GM can see how a player moves. However, does the test translate to game performance? By that, does the player who tests as the most agile or quickest player in the tests prove to be the best defensive player?

I doubt it. I doubt Shane Battier is winning the combine tests, but many view him as the NBA’s best defender right now.

We continue to attempt to break down the game into a single formula, but success in sports depends on numerous variables, many of which cannot be measured and others which are best measured in context (the new super slow-motion video cameras would probably offer the best measuring tool).

Testing has a role in the athletic development process when used properly. When beginning a training program, you test athletes as an evaluation tool. After a period of training, you administer the tests again to evaluate progress and improvement.

However, testing in this way is a part of training, not an attempt to replace it. It is an evaluative tool to judge the efficacy of the training program in certain areas. The tests do not accurately predict sports success because they test only movement skills, not perceptual and conceptual skills which factor into overall sports success.

Replacing training with combine obscures the point. One trains to improve game performance. When combines take precedence, as with the NFL Draft, players and trainers train to excel at a test. In the video above, if Jrue Holiday spent hours mastering the box agility test, would his defense have improved? Maybe. But defending a player is so much more than moving quickly around a cone.

The combine mentality illustrates our society’s obsession with innate talent, as opposed to skill development. If we can test players early and choose the most gifted test-takers, we can specialize and eliminate the rest.

However, our goal should be inclusion, not elimination. As P.E. programs are cut throughout our society, we should find more ways to include young athletes, not provide $300 marketing tools for a short-sighted way to eliminate athletes based on simplistic tests (Sparq markets itself as a way to enhance recruitment, and I imagine Combine360 will do the same since there is big money in the college recruitment game).

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