Its here... Combine season is upon us, from local middle school testing events all the way up to the NFL combine, athletes around the country are getting ready to compete against themselves and others in grand fashion. Whether for local/regional bragging rights, college recruiting, or a shot at an NFL contract, being prepared is the key. Knowing the stress and excitement that surrounds running a forty yard dash in front of your peers, scouts, and coaches, it is imperative that you are prepared for arguably the biggest job interview of your life. How well you perform could mean the difference in earning a scholarship, or signing an NFL contract. Being prepared for these events takes time and effort and should not be taken lightly. Just because you are a good athlete, or the best athlete on your team does not mean that you will automatically do well at a combine testing event. There are specific areas you need to work on in order to perform your best. Although certainly not exhaustive, the following 4 tips should help you get ready for your next big testing event.
1. Know what tests you will be required to perform and then practice those tests.
I spent over 10 years running combines for Under Armour, Scout.com, Nike, and various other local/regional events, and it is frustrating to watch an athlete show up to a combine and not know what tests are going to be run. Imagine walking into a random university calculus 4 class and taking the final exam despite having never taken the course. You would fail miserably (at least I would), yet that is what happens at every combine event. Athletes show up thinking that just because they are a good player they will test well. It just doesn't happen. Knowing the individual tests and how they are run will give you a much better chance at scoring well. Each combine series has a different set of tests and scoring metrics so having a good understanding beforehand will help you maximize your results. For example if you are going to a Nike event you will be required to perform a kneeling medicine ball toss (power ball toss). Do you know what that is? How its measured? How much does the ball weigh? How many attempts you will get? Can you curl your toes? And the list goes on. Educate yourself beforehand so that you maximize your opportunity to be noticed. Coaches take note of who is prepared and who is just winging it.
Take away tip: Make sure that before you show up you know what will be tested and the protocols around those tests.
2. Get in the right stance for the drill being tested.
All too often great athletes run terrible times because they do not know how to get in the right stance. When you are running a short race of 40yds or less, efficiency is key, and a bad stance and start can kill an otherwise good sprint. For shorter distance events like the 5-10-5 or the "L" drill a proper stance and start is even more important. As stated above knowing the protocols for each event will often dictate the stance allowed. For example in the 5-10-5 drill the stance is a sideways stance with a lateral takeoff. Knowing proper hand and foot placement, weight distribution, step sequence, and arm movement can make or break your time. It never fails that a good athlete lines up with a bad stance and then wonders why their times were poor. Some general areas to address for proper stance.
-Foot placement in relation to starting line.
-Foot spacing between front and back foot.
-Weight distribution between front and back foot, and between the ball and heel of each foot respectively.
-Hand placement on starting line.
-Weight distribution on hand.
-Back angle in relation to ground.
-Shin angles in relation to ground.
Take away tip: Get in the right stance for the drill being run to maximize explosiveness off the line.
3. Count your steps.
In the world of combine testing where milliseconds matter, efficiency is everything! Knowing what drills will be done, how to set up a proper stance, and how many steps for the drill or drill segment can shave tenths or more off your time. More is not necessarily better when it comes to step count. We have all seen the guy line up and run a forty and his legs looked like they were going a million miles an hour but his time was slow. This guy was taking too many steps and not covering any ground, he was inefficient. Knowing your optimum step count for each drill takes time and practice to get dialed in. We know from experience with our NFL combine athletes that a forty should be run between 18-21 strides for most athletes. A 5-10-5 should be run between 8-10 steps total. During training, run each drill to be tested 5 times and have a coach or teammate count your strides. Record the numbers and then take an average. This will give you a good idea of where you are currently and if you are within acceptable norms. If you fall outside of the norms then you are either taking too many steps, too few steps (over striding), or you are just a freak athlete. To take it a step further, knowing how many steps you take for each segment of a drill can help you identify where you can shave even more time off. For example in the 5-10-5 we know from experience that from the start position to the first line (5yds) should take a maximum of 2 steps, yet we see athletes on a regular basis taking 3,4, or even 5 steps to cover 5yds. Anything more than 2 steps is wasting precious time on the clock. Regardless of where you fall on the stride count spectrum knowing where you are can help you improve. The more you practice the better you will be able to dial yourself in to optimize your results.
Take away tip: Count your stride for each drill and drill segment to maximize efficiency and improve your time.
4. Get stronger.
One of the best ways to improve your speed and explosion is to get stronger. As simple and basic as it seems getting strong will greatly improve your ability to run faster, jump higher, and change direction quicker. There are two ways to get faster. Improve mechanics and efficiency (see above points 1-3), and increase your force production. Without going into a physics dissertation or boring you with equations the bottom line is that increasing your force output (ie. getting stronger) will allow you to travel a further distance per step (see point 3 above) thus reducing the total number of steps needed. Spending time in the weight room working on strength and power development should be equally important as spending time on the track or field doing running drills. If you look at the fastest sprint athletes in the world one thing you will notice is that they are all strong and muscular. There is no coincidence that stronger more powerful muscles create more force thus improve your ability to run faster.
Take away tip: Get in the weight room and get strong, speed is built in a squat rack and on the platform.
As you can see there are many different variables that go into combine preparation and this is but a short list. The bottom line is that before you go to a combine or testing event make sure that you are prepared. The best way to get added to a recruiter or scouts list is to look like you are a prepared professional. Take your combine training to another level by focusing on the small details and you will be ready to go. Have fun, enjoy the competition, learn from your mistakes, and good luck.