Fitness Testing for the Footballer?
Fitness tests, one of the many topics of discussion sports enthusiasts, coaches, scouts and even sports scientists cover at lunch (rock n roll, right?). A recent debate with a colleague centred on whether fitness tests are required amongst different populations. I argued that fitness tests are needed for training prescription, amongst other things, especially for football players, against the counter argument that they are of little importance compared to well-informed motivational strategies to help individuals engage with and adhere to exercise. So, the crux of our debate focused on exercise for physical fitness or continued participation, although either aim would arguably also achieve the other.
This debate got me thinking about my experiences, certainly from an ex-military perspective – ‘Why on earth did I have to do all those tests?!’ I remember doing one of the four Royal Marine Commando tests, the endurance course (3.5 mile run up to a series of water and tunnel obstacles, then a 3.5 mile run back, followed by attempting 10 shots on target). I got back and all toe nails on both my feet came off. The reason, ill-fitting socks that got very wet and scrunched down to the end of my boots; giving my toe nails no room. I did this one feat of endurance in the name of a fitness test, a standard required to become a Royal Marine. The next fitness tests were even harder, ending with a 30-mile run with kit on (45lbs with rifle). Another gruelling test, especially with no toe nails, but the agony of de-feet would have been worse. Yes, I went there, a terrible pun.
From a Sport Scientist (and S&C) perspective, I found my experiences often focused around testing for performance (working with Man City FC, Crystal Palace FC, Northampton Town FC and many others). Again, probably a great example of my bias. I can recall many of these athletes being particularly impressive in terms of their fitness abilities. Here at Pitch we certainly believe in fitness tests as it helps to understand the current level of the athlete and indeed helps to rank so that scouts can see your ability.
Anyway, I also remember trying to induce a bit of competition into some of the sessions in order to help improve their fitness scores. Some of these young athletes ran quicker than the current Sport and Exercise Science students run away from my seminars when I try spinning them another marine dit (aka story (marine talk)). Nonetheless, I feel these tests are somewhat warranted in this capacity and especially in football.
Overall, this debate left me questioning if the tests are essential in all scenarios. My answer is, unequivocally, yes. They set a standard, help identify needs, inform training and can even work in goal setting capacity (in my experience). I have to say, I do not think children (under the age of 14) should be fitness tested, the main focus should be for them to develop a positive relationship with sport and physical activity, which is not best achieved through fitness testing. I try to teach this to my students and encourage them to gain as much experience as possible in this area. Their latest experiences being with Northampton Town FC academy teams, where our students have done us proud, representing the university in a really positive light and I think they should be proud of their achievements this year and going forward. I know first-hand that Northampton Town FC academy coaches have been really impressed with the help, passion and ambition of all of our Sport and Exercise students, so, in my opinion, long live fitness tests!