How to recognise improvement
Nigel Hetherington explains how to assess training and competition performance
Both the assessment of progress in training and the measurement of competitive performance are two potentially difficult quantities to determine in a reliable and meaningful way. While on the surface it may appear obvious that someone who scores their highest innings, runs their quickest time or lifts their greatest weight has performed to their best it may not necessarily be the case.
Are the results meaningful?
While there is a battery of test measurements most athletes and their coaches can undertake to measure or evaluate progress against set targets and while some sports offer specific performance measurements by virtue of the sport itself, how can we be sure that the measurement itself is meaningful and how do we know if the result represents an improvement? Let us look at an example to help us work through a few points:
Questions: Have they improved? Have they achieved their goal?
You probably answered 'yes' and 'no'. Less useful, but more accurate answers may be 'it depends' and 'may be'
What factors may influence the results?
The following factors may have an impact on the results of a test (test reliability):
Unless we take control of most of these variables the actual measurement itself may not be valid and we may never know where we are.
Accuracy and precision
We also need to consider or at least be aware of accuracy and precision when taking measurements and assessing their validity. Accuracy means it is the right answer - would we arrive at the same answer using a different but compatible measurement system? Precision means we can get the same or similar result every time - but, it may not necessarily be the right one!
For example, if I shoot three arrows at a target aiming for the centre, then I am accurate if I hit the centre but not accurate if I do not. If all of the arrows hit the centre then I am accurate and precise. If all of the arrows miss the centre but land in a tight cluster, say, on an outer edge, then I have excellent precision but poor accuracy. If the arrows land all over the place then my performance is neither accurate nor precise. If I do not have control of something e.g. such as a variable wind then I will probably lose accuracy and precision.
If I set my sights incorrectly then I will probably be precise but not accurate. I have to get everything right and know what all these factors are in order to be accurate and precise. Quite a challenge!
In constructing tests it is important to make sure that they really measure the factors required to be tested, and are thus objective rather than subjective.
In doing so all tests should therefore be specific (designed to assess an athlete's fitness for the activity in question), valid (test what they purpose to test), reliable (capable of consistent repetition) and objective (produce a consistent result irrespective of the tester).
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About the Author
Nigel Hetherington was the Head Track & Field Coach at the internationally acclaimed Singapore Sports School. He is a former National Performance Development Manager for Scottish Athletics and National Sprints Coach for Wales. Qualified and highly active as a British Athletics level 4 performance coach in all events he has coached athletes to National and International honours in sprints, hurdles as well as a World Record holder in the Paralympic shot. He has 10 years experience as senior coach educator and assessor trainer on behalf of British Athletics. Nigel is also an experienced athlete in sprint (World Masters Championship level) and endurance (3-hour marathon runner plus completed the 24 hour 'Bob Graham Round' ultra-endurance event up and down 42 mountain peaks in the English Lake District). He is a chartered chemist with 26 years' experience in scientific research and publishing.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: