The Difference between Combine Prep and Training for Sport

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This is the time of the year where a lot of athletes are heading off to camp and getting ready to start their seasons.

Many have worked insanely hard all summer to be ready.

Once camp starts just about every athlete gets crushed anyway. Those that properly prepared just do not take as much of a beating once they are there.

When an athlete gets to camp there are often tests that they need to pass. Sometimes they are conditioning tests and others are performance type tests.

These are good for being able to see how well an athlete does the intended goal of the drill. They can also be really helpful for seeing change from one season to the next or over the offseason.

The issue is that sometimes performance tests get mistaken for athletic ability tests. We see it every year at the NFL combine. An athlete comes out, does extremely well, gets drafted high, and flames out in the pros because they were not that great at football.

40 yd dash

These are the workout warriors that get huge paydays and never really make an impact in the league.

This can create a false sense of athletic ability that can handcuff some teams that make a huge investment in those players. On the other hand an awesome performance can shoot some players up the board and they can add that on top of great athleticism.

Some coaches put such a priority on testing numbers that they can alter the training habits of these athletes. Athletes get so obsessed with running a great 40 that they forget to actually train to be an athlete. They hammer on technique, run a ton of sprints, and their recovery is on point. If this athlete were a linebacker that does not react well, then they are in trouble when it comes time to make a tackle.

There is a difference between training for a combine and training for sport.

  1. Combine training is getting ready to perform well on a test

There is a lot of transfer here with some of the technical work. An athlete that learns how to drive their knees and run faster is going to be able to take that to their sport.

The whole point of training for the 40, for example, is to stand out from the pack. This can make athletes a lot of money and change draft plans.

The same goes for the pro agility. Changing an athlete’s technique on the drill will help them run it better but they may never use it in a game. The crossover start is a good example. Most athletes do not crossover for 5 yards very often. They usually turn and run by then.

  1. Sport Training should be more Open Chain

Open drills are ones that force an athlete to react, make decisions, and think critically. These are drills where the athlete does not know the exact plan before they start.

If you wanted to train this you could throw 4 different color cones on a field and have the athlete run toward them. At the last second yell the color of the cone and have them run around it. That is a simple reaction drill that develops those 3 attributes above.

These are some of the skills that are necessary when it comes to gameplay. Sports are chaotic. No one ever knows exactly what is going to happen. Maybe the forward is going to take it wide or maybe they will cut to the middle. Either way the defender must be able to react and make a play or else they will be on the bench before they know it.

  1. “Workout warriors” versus “right place at the right time” players

I talked a little bit about workout warriors. These athletes are fast, strong, and do well on tests. It says nothing about their ability to play.

The ideal athlete would be great at tests and great at decision making. The second best would be someone who is great at decision making but not so good on tests. You can at least rely on these athletes to play the game well. A lot of times this is your undrafted, undersized player with the chip on their shoulder.

After this comes the workout warrior. Sometimes they can use their physical gifts to make some plays. The last person in this scenario is the athlete that does not test well or make decisions well. These are the people that do not play at a high level.

Starting at a young age we can teach athletes to react well. Using open drills is an awesome way to do that.

An athlete is never too old, too good, or advanced to get better at making decisions quickly. Switching up drills, how they react, or adding obstacles are all methods to train this.

The key is to make a balance between training for tests and training for performance. Inevitably, an athlete is going to get tested and it would be advantageous to do well. It cannot, however, occupy the entire training program.