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The LASER Test: A new physical performance test for netball

Background

I have been involved in training elite netballers since 2008. I have led programmes for the Northern Mystics, Silver Ferns, U21 Silver Ferns and most recently London Pulse. I also completed my MPhil for Netball New Zealand where I investigated the biomechanics of jump landings in elite netballers. During that time I have used a number of tests to assess the physical readiness of netballers to perform at an elite level. Each set of tests has informed how I train the players and the different tests have provided information on a wide range of physical characteristics that underpin performance on the court. With each iteration of the testing battery I aim to refine and improve what tests are included so I am left with tests that best influence how I train the players and how as a coaching staff we are able to better understand what each player can do on the court.


As part of a wider battery of tests, over the last 3 years during my time at London Pulse I have been using a new test that I developed to assess the speed and endurance of the players. I believe this approach to be an improvement on what I have done before and may be of use to other S&C coaches, netball coaches and netball players. The principles may also be relevant to other sports.


I call the new test the LASER Test (Lavipour Anaerobic Speed Efficiency Ratio) and was initially inspired by the shuttles run in the ‘Bronco Fitness Test’ that is popular in rugby. The test is made up of two tests: (1) LASER speed and (2) LASER endurance and gives three outcome measures: (1) LASER speed (2) LASER endurance (3) the LASER ratio which can give an indication if the player is more of a speed based or endurance based athlete. The test work like this:


Figure 1. The LASER Test. Players run the above sequence once for the SPEED test and five-times consecutively for the ENDURANCE test.

LASER Speed.

Players run the following shuttles as fast as possible (See Figure 1): 1/3rd and back, 2/3rds and back, 3/3rds and back. This is a total of ~120m, depending on the length of your court. The results are scored in seconds with a stopwatch or timing gates. At an elite senior level the fastest players will run under 24 seconds and all players should aim to run under 27 seconds. The fastest I have recorded is 22.5 seconds.


LASER Endurance.

Players run the above sequence but five times consecutively. This is a total of ~600m, depending on the length of your court. You must follow the same sequence as in the speed test: starting with 1/3rd and back; then 2/3rd and back; then 3/3rd and back; before repeating from the start again. You cannot change the order of shuttles run, including not being allowed to complete all your short runs first etc. At an elite senior level the fastest players will run under 2:40 and all players should aim to run under 3:00. The fastest I have recorded is 2:29.


LASER Ratio

The Laser ratio calculates the ratio of your speed that you can hold in the endurance test. For example if you ran the speed test in 22.5 and ran the endurance test in 2:38 then your ratio would be 1.4. This means the speed you are holding in your endurance test is 1.4x slower than in your speed test. This equates to a time of 31.6 seconds for each stage of the LASER endurance test (31.6 / 22.5 = 1.4). This ratio is useful to know as it can tell you whether the athlete is more a speed based athlete or an endurance based athlete. I have found that the below ratios indicate the following:


<1.34: A player who is fitter than they are fast

1.35 - 1.40: A player who is equally fit and fast

>1.41: A player who is faster than they are fit


By looking at the ratio it will help inform what type of training each player would benefit from. For example if a player had a ratio of 1.49 they would likely benefit more from endurance work than a player who scored 1.32 who would benefit from more speed work. These ratios obviously exist on a sliding scale and some players will exist right on the edge of each category which makes them harder to define. We can say for sure though that any player with a lower ratio is more efficient at maintaining a higher level of their own maximal speed for an extended duration compared to a player with a higher ratio.


Discussion

Let’s start by talking about the endurance element of the test. When I set out to create this test I reflected back on the two main tests I have used for assessing netballers. These are the YoYo Intermittent Recovery Test Level 2, which I used in New Zealand, and the 30-15 which I have used to assess players in the England pathway here in the UK.


I have a number of issues with both these tests that I wanted to improve on (Note: this is not a critique of anyone using these tests - I have used them both myself and see their value). Firstly they both take a long time to run and the majority of that time is spent at slow speeds. Whilst physiologically there is some rational to slowly ramp up in intensity, ultimately the tests do not assess netballers at the typical speeds they experience on the court. A test with faster speeds may better indicate a readiness to handle the intensity of the game.


I also am a big believer that you cannot properly assess the physiology of an athlete when the biomechanics of the movement are different. What I mean by this is that when netballers are running at slow speeds they will move with a different set of mechanics than at match intensity and therefore assessing their physiology at these speeds may have less relevance. A more extreme example would be that you cannot effectively assess the physiology of a runner when testing on a bike where the biomechanics are completely different. Furthermore, in terms of the overall length of the test, in a sport where training time is limited, my preference is to run tests that take up less overall session time.


Another key concern I have with the YoYo and the 30-15 is that the result of the assessment is dependent on the accuracy of the person running the test. Even among experienced assessors there can be issues. These are magnified in big groups and can even come down to the mood of the assessor on the day. I can admit to feeling more generous vs strict on different testing occasions. For both the YoYo Level 1 and YoYo Level 2 reliability issues of around 5-10% have been reported in the literature which is about +/- 5-7 stages. Similarly the reliability of the 30-15 typically presents within about +/- 1-2 stages. For a test to be useful, any error of the test must not exceed the performance changes you are likely to be observing. For trained players you would typically only see improvements or decrements of around 1-8 stages in the YoYo and 1-3 stages in the 30-15 which is why this can be an issue.


Lastly but importantly I think players can be uninspired running these tests and need a new challenge. Players should be excited to test themselves and I rarely see players as motivated as I would like them to be when they line up. There is also something about the audio track and the beeps that can sound more like school PE than elite sport. With poor motivation comes sub standard results and players can check out from the process. Perceptions around assessor error can also massively magnify this feeling and I have described these issues above. From my experience I believe the LASER test has a far better chance of getting players excited to run and there is something motivating about a short fast time-trial.


When considering the distance of the LASER endurance test I wanted to select the shortest possible distance that would be able to rank and score players for their aerobic endurance. From my time with speed based athletes in athletics and international footballers I know that an 800m or 1km time-trial is most likely enough to do this and running a longer test is unlikely to give a different result. e.g. the rank order of the 1km time trial will be the same as for a 2km time trial etc. For female athletes in team sports when running an 800m - 1km time-trial you are looking at the range being somewhere between 2:30 - 4:15. The LASER endurance test takes between 2:30 - 3:20 which puts it nicely within the shorter half of that range. If I had any concerns about the LASER endurance test, it was whether it was too short to properly assess the aerobic system, however it has correlated really well with the timed 1km, 3km and 5km runs we have done in pre-season and the rank order of athletes hardly changed.


Like any endurance running test, faster athletes carry an advantage and because the LASER endurance test is relatively short this advantage may be slightly increased. Initially I was concerned that faster athletes would be over-estimated in their aerobic performance by the test when simply looking at rank order. However whilst a fast athlete with a relatively poor aerobic system may still rank well in the LASER endurance test, the LASER ratio will be able to show what level of their top speed they were able to hold and give a better indication of their fitness than total time alone. This is a really key reason to assess speed at the same time as endurance and use the LASER ratio which I will discuss more below.


When designing the LASER speed test I wanted to select a distance that was a factor of the LASER endurance test in both distance run and any movements involved, namely turns. I wanted to do this so you can compare the speed and endurance test to create a ratio. After designing the stages of the LASER endurance test, the obvious thing to do was to run 1 stage of the test as fast as possible. The fastest times I have recorded are down at 22.5 seconds and most players can run under 27 seconds. Whilst this is longer than typical speed tests which usually assess between 5-30m. I don’t believe you see a difference in ranking over the longer distance. e.g the players who are fastest to 30m are fastest over the LASER speed test also.


The speed test being a longer-than-normal distance for a speed test also has some advantages when it comes to practically testing in that you can use a stopwatch over timing lights. This is a massive advantage in netball as across the country very few teams will have access to this equipment. If using a stopwatch for this test, the stopwatch brings a certain degree of error but because the test is relatively long, the error is absorbed and reduced into the longer duration of the test. The stop watch error in a 200m race (which takes a similar amount of time ) has been found to be +/- 0.2 seconds. Over the LASER speed test that is less than a 1% error. If the test was a shorter duration that error would increase as the error of the stopwatch would stay the same. For example if the speed test was half the duration the overall error would increase to 2% etc. This level of error in a speed assessment would becomes an issue for accurately detecting a performance change. However <1% is about acceptable.


Because the speed test also includes 5 rapid changes of direction it also separates those who are only fast in straight line from those who can also turn well. The repeated decelerations and accelerations that comes with each turn are fundamental to the game and a test which assesses this quality may be more relevant to the game than a straight line speed test. By observing or filming the athletes sprint you can also screen their ability to accelerate, decelerate and turn with efficient mechanics. Doing this alongside the physio and coaching staff can also be a really productive process.

Looking now at the LASER ratio: as described above there are some issues to do with only looking at the rank order of total time in an endurance test amongst a group of players who will not have the same running ability. Using this method alone will mainly tell you who are the best runners, not who are the fittest players. For example if you looked purely at the total time of a centre vs a goal keeper it is likely that the centre will win the running race every time. That does not mean the centre is fitter it may just mean they are a better runner. The ratio allows you to compare the fitness of the each player relative to their own maximal speed which is really important in a sport with such big differences in body type and running ability due to the positional requirements on the court. If you rank the players based on their ratio you may actually find the goal keeper is able to hold a higher percentage of their own speed which can be interpreted as them having a higher degree of fitness.


The ratio also allows you to determine if an athlete is more speed based or endurance based. At the start of the article I highlighted what I have found different ratios may indicate. I have found this to be really useful for prescribing conditioning work and is a nice way of being able to split the team into those who need to focus a bit more on speed vs endurance. I will often do this in a court session where the speed group might perform 10 second sprints while the endurance group may perform 40 second runs with short recovery. The purpose of any test is to profile the athlete in a way that leads to prescribing training and I have found the ratio is a really useful way of doing this.

Final thoughts

For the reasons above I have found the LASER test to be a really positive addition to the testing battery I use for assessing netballers. I would encourage netball teams at all levels to start using it and see if it works in your environments. I would love to hear feedback from coaches and players as well as my fellow S&C coaches and sport scientists.


If teams do start to use the LASER test I would also love for you to share your scores. This would help inform what is possible for different age-groups and positions. I would be able to compare this to the data I have on players from the SuperLeague and down through our pathway. If there are any universities out there who would be interested in collaborating on further research around the test I would also really welcome that.


Thanks for reading and I hope you found this of interest. Happy testing and training to all.


Daniel Lavipour



If you are a netball coach, player, fellow S&C coach, sports scientist or researcher and would like to discuss any of the above please get in contact by clicking here . Please do also connect / contact via social media.



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