Physical Competency Assessment – A Rational Approach


Over the course of my career I have used various forms of assessment to determine the athletes readiness to train and compete. Sometimes they looked more like something you would see in physical therapy clinic and other times it was just pure end range jumping, throwing and running tests. I kept searching for an assessment tool that would give then information I was looking for. A few years ago someone suggested I look at The Functional Movement Screen, that did fit the bill for me. Too one size fits all and based on some questionable assumptions’ about the body and how it moves. I knew Kelvin Giles had started work on a Physical Competency Assessment when he was head of S&C at the Queensland Academy of Sport. It seemed to make sense, I was missing the overview and explanation that I needed to begin to implement it. Then I met Kelvin a few years ago when we were both presenting to the English Institute of Sport S&C coaches. It was like a light went on. His physical competency approach to assessment was brilliant in its simplicity and the myriad of applications possible. It does not seek to predict potential injury, instead based on the level of the athlete’s physical competencies they are placed on an exercise continuum. It is adaptable to a wide range of sports and physical education. It is now used extensive in England and Australia. The point is that all the athletes have to reach the same destination but they will have different rates and means of progressing to that destination.

I will let Kelvin explain it from here.

I put the PCA stuff together not to be any kind of ‘predictor’ at all. I started to look closely at movement efficiency in squat, lunge, push, pull, brace, rotate and range plus other exercise modalities – landing, jumping etc to simply allow me and my colleagues to prescribe a more accurate program for the athletes we were coaching. My choices were confirmed by some of the great sports medical practitioners in Australia as being appropriate. There was a nice link back to the typical muscular-skeletal screening they were doing in the clinic environment as a back up.

The assessment was also put together for another ‘strategic’ reason – I needed some evidence that the ‘basics’ that were supposed to be being carried out at the earlier stages of the athlete’s development simply weren’t being done. Training at these early stages was mostly skill and tactical specific with a little bit of Olympic Weightlifting or ‘madhouse’ circuits being done. By showing the movement limitations (the radar graphs) to the coaches at the earlier stages I had some chance of getting them to change things.

‘Prediction’ stuff is daft – you can have all the evidence you like about an athlete and then tomorrow it all changes. I have some evidence that the more competent you are the less likelihood of suffering a ‘controllable’ injury you have. The assessment is used to ‘ring warning bells’ – e.g. can’t squat – WATCH OUT!……can’t land a Hop & Stick – WATCH OUT! It makes us more aware of exercise selection and program construction once we know some limitations. The assessment is there to make us stop and think.

For some sports it has allowed some decision makers to track the athletic development of squad members nationwide which assists in the fight against sole tactical / technical development with the developing athlete so I guess there is another little use for it.

So…nothing clever at all in all this – certainly never created to be a panacea or another spell potion or gadget, just a simple tool for a teacher / coach to make a smarter decision. Some people got interested so I wrote as much down as I could and took some pictures and made a manual for them. Got fed up with difficulties in measuring so worked out the Gauges on my kitchen table with by brother-in-law.

Don’t overestimate it’s role – you’ve got to be able to coach / teach in the first place! I use it to get the basics right first – not as a ‘new’ approach. I just want to know ‘where are they now?’ before making training decisions – nothing flash at all.

You can purchase the Physical Competency Assessment manual and gauge on my website. The teaching of this methodology of assessment is an integral part of the GAIN Apprentorship program. In addition we will be doing workshops on the Physical Competency Assessment later in 2010. Keep checking the web site and blog for sites and dates.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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