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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Preseason Testing Objectives in Team Sports

Preseason preparation is essential to build a strong physical foundation for the upcoming season. This excerpt is taken from the VALD eBook 'Practitioner's Guide to Preseason', which covers the fundamentals of planning and executing a successful preseason.



With the multitude of tests and technologies available to today’s sports science practitioners, designing preseason testing can be overwhelming. It is tempting to try to test as much as possible. Instead, a more selective and intentional approach is necessary. The following section provides guidance on designing an efficient and effective testing battery.



Establishing Objectives for Preseason Testing


Preseason is an ideal time to establish baseline information on athletes. In theory, they should be at their freshest coming out of their off-season break. By testing, before training or competition commences, test results should not be compounded by fatigue effects.


This baseline information serves various purposes throughout the season. It allows for the quantification of physical development across a season as well as specific training blocks, aids in assessing in-season fatigue levels and provides a benchmark for tracking rehabilitation progress if injury later occurs.


For athletes returning to the team, it provides an objective assessment of their status in relation to previous data. For new athletes, it provides baseline information on their capacities.

This diagram shows the cyclical approach of athlete testing in sports science. The cycle goes from testing to setting and resetting goals, to set programme, to complete the programme, before starting again with the test.

A cyclical approach to physical preparation (depicted in the figure right) emphasizes the foundational role of testing.


Objectivity provided by testing helps set appropriate goals, which guide individual training programs.


Regular testing allows for the evaluation of program effectiveness relative to the initial goals. Consequently, preseason testing should focus on tests that can be repeated in-season.


This baseline information… allows for the quantification of physical development... aids in assessing in-season fatigue levels and provides a benchmark for tracking rehabilitation progress.

Testing is driven by two key objectives:


  • injury risk minimization, and

  • physical performance enhancement.


Conveniently, these objectives often overlap in data collection and intervention. For example, if an athlete exhibits poor hamstring strength, it can be beneficial from an injury risk management and physical performance programming perspective to improve this capacity.


Let’s delve deeper into each of these overarching purposes.


Injury Risk Management

Team sports demand repeated, physically taxing movements like accelerations, decelerations, changes of direction, jumping and landing, kicking/striking and tackling, inherently raising the risk of injury.


While injury risk in team sports is complex and multifaceted, evidence-based practices exist to mitigate these risks, particularly concerning soft tissue injuries.


Preseason testing provides an opportunity to establish healthy baselines for the athletes, aiding in the identification of strengths and weaknesses. Test results should be considered within the context of their sport, playing position, age, and injury history.


Notably, previous injury is often a strong predictor of future injury, underscoring the importance of incorporating this information into preseason screening and analysis.


While no single test can predict injury, it can identify athletes at higher risk due to lower capacities in known risk factors. Tailored programming can then be planned to help minimize injury risk and optimize availability.


On the left is an image of an athlete using the ForceFrame to conduct a hip test i.e. an adductor squeeze test. Then on the right the outcomes of the test from the VALD Hub are shown, specifically with line charts for the left and right hip adductor: abductor ratio.

Moreover, these assessments may also shed light on the capacities that influence the workload-injury relationship through moderation and mediation. For instance, well-developed aerobic fitness may mitigate the heightened risk of injury associated with training load spikes (Malone et al., 2016).


Utilizing the injury audit process described earlier (in the eBook) can enhance screening by guiding test prioritization and acknowledging time constraints that may lead to not being able to conduct all desired tests.


Therefore, adopting a tailored screening approach may prove beneficial. For example, if a team experienced a high incidence of hip and groin-related issues in the previous year, prioritizing strength tests in this area may be prudent.


Similarly, if an athlete has experienced recurring calf strains, targeted testing of calf capacity (see video below for more information) may be warranted. Further information on each of these tests is provided in the next section (in the eBook), Identifying Relevant Tests.



Testing with an injury risk management perspective aims to provide strategies for use in the applied setting. Roe and colleagues (2017) propose employing a mixed-level approach to injury risk management in team sports, encompassing group, cluster and individualized strategies (see Figure below).



Testing serves as a tool to inform and guide these approaches effectively:


  • A group approach may involve implementing a suitable team-wide warm-up.

  • A cluster approach might entail position-specific interventions, such as tailored shoulder risk management programs in football goalkeepers or American football quarterbacks.

  • An individualized approach may consist of bespoke injury prevention programs based on each athlete’s injury history and screening results.



Performance Enhancement

While prioritizing injury risk management, it is essential to also focus on enhancing performance and avoid excessive risk aversion.


While high training loads can be associated with increased injury rates, these same loads provide the necessary stimuli for beneficial physiological adaptation, such as increased aerobic capacity, strength, repeated sprint ability and body composition. These capacities are often important underpinning factors to team sport performance, as well as being associated with decreased injury risks.


Understanding the constraints of the preseason period is crucial for effective physical development planning. For instance:


  • a professional English Premier League football team typically has a six-week preseason, with games starting as early as 7-10 days into the period; while

  • an Australian Rules football team typically undergoes a preseason training phase lasting approximately 16 weeks.


Moreover, scheduling demands within sports can further influence the duration of the preseason. For example, there were only six weeks between the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in Australia in 2023 and the commencement of the English Women’s Super League (WSL) domestic season.


Balancing rest and recovery with preseason preparation becomes particularly challenging in such cases....


Boxes that show the content of VALD's ebook, including how should I start my multidisciplinary postseason review? How to design testing protocols? Who do radar plots work so well for comparisons? How do you calculate z-scores?

This content continues in the free eBook: Practitioner's Guide to Preseason.


The guide covers a wide range of topics and answers some common questions, including those shown right:


Visit VALD Performance to download your free guide, here:


 

Found my free content useful? Say thanks here 😊: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/joclubb 


If you enjoyed this, check out our YouTube athlete testing series in collaboration with VALD Performance. Subscribe to the Global Performance Insights blog to stay updated!


The sports technology company VALD Performance's logo in orange on a white background.

This article is support by VALD Performance. For more information, about their technology, visit their website.

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