Physical Performance Testing Does NOT Predict Sports Performance!

“There is NO CORRELATION between the results of a teams physical performance tests and their on-field sports performance!”

Because an athlete has a good 3km time trial, beep test, vertical jump, bench press, or 20m score DOES NOT mean they will automatically dominate on the athletic arena.

In fact the opposite can be true-especially if coaches and teams focus on training for the performance tests instead of training for and improving actual on field sports performance (1).

This becomes a major problem when team coaches focus on Test Results and justify their subsequent athlete selections on their test results rather than on field performance (2).

Let’s use the following fictional conversation as an example.

Team Coach: ‘Jims 3km time trial is not low enough, if his time does not drop he will not be selected in the elite team’……

Informed Strength & Conditioning Specialist ‘Interesting, you do realise Jim can run 20m in 2.8 seconds, kick the ball 55m+, weighs less than 65kgs and has only played the sport for 8 months’…..

Team Coach ‘I understand, but it’s policy not to select players unless they can run under 11.30 for their 3km time.’

Team Coach ‘Jim has performed the holiday training program and only decreased his 3km time by 2 seconds in 4 weeks’.

Team Coach ‘As Jim failed to meet out expected improvements, he will do extra running for the next 5 days and we’ll re-test him the following week to make sure he’s improved’.

The Result: Jim ran 5 days in a row and miraculously improved his 3km time by 7 seconds the following week when he was re-tested.

Was The Magic 5 Day Running Program the reason for Jims 7 second improvement?

Maybe NOT…

1. What state of recovery is the athlete in?

It is possible that when Jim was tested the first time, he hadn’t recovered sufficiently, athletes have varied recovery capacities (3). When athletes undertaking the tests have varied recovery capacities the results can be unpredictable, unreliable, and invalid.

2. How much experience has the athlete had at performing the test?

The more experience an athlete has performing a test, the better they become when they perform it. The athlete also learns to perform the test with more efficiency. The learning effect of performing a test can impact upon the results of the testing (4). It may be possible that since Jim had only performed the 3km time trial once before, his improvements were due to learning how to perform the test better rather than an increase in his fitness.

3. Are the test conditions exactly the same as the previous testing time?

As with scientific studies, coaches should aim to replicate the testing conditions (3). Did Jim perform his 3km time trial in the exact same conditions as his previous test? Were there differences in temperature and humidity between the first and second tests? Was there a difference in the track length or grass height? It’s quite likely that the differences outlined above may have impacted upon Jims test scores. The testing needs to be standardised to be valid and reliable, otherwise it is useless.

4. Did the 5-day running program enhance Jims on-field performance?

The 5-day running program was not specific for the sport and was delivered with the intention to improve Jims 3km time trial. The coach didn’t take into account the short or long term effects of implementing such a program. Such as possible decreases in performance including a reduction in strength, speed, power, flexibility or repeat sprint ability or the increased risk of injury or over-training.

Remember the goal of any physical training is to make the athlete perform better on the field. By training for a performance test that does not predict performance OR transfer onto the field is a recipe for disaster.

The only time I focus exclusively on improving test scores is when I’m preparing athletes for The AFL Draft Camp when the athletes are ranked based on the results of their performance testing.

As a coach or  athlete the only thing that matters is whether you WIN or LOSE….performance testing and fitness scores become irrelevant!

I’m not saying that physical testing is useless, I’m simply stating that the way testing is performed and how the information is used needs to be done with intelligence.

  1. Testing can allow us to see what areas an athlete is deficient in.
  2. Testing can allow us to see the success of our training programs.
  3. Testing can help guide the training process.

But Results in Competition and Testing are Not the Same!

There are a myriad of factors that need to be taken into account when conducting testing and interpreting test results such as:

  1. Standardisation of test conditions
  2. Relevancy and specificity of tests
  3. The learning effects of performing tests
  4. The recovery state of the athlete-are they tapered?

For more information on Physical Assessment and Performance Testing Visit the Ultimate Sports Performance Store Section and Check out the Physical Assessment and Performance Testing for Athletes DVD.

All the best,

Joey Hayes


1. Davies, J. Gun for hire. Renegade Training Interview.

2. King, I. Winning and Losing 2002.

3. Baker, D. ECU Practicum Notes 2006.

4. Andrews, W. Effect of Practicing AFL Draft Tests on AFL Draft Test Performance 2005.