What is an Athletic Combine and why are Lewis University students working them?

An athletic combine is an event centered around the assessment of human performance through testing skill and athleticism. The NBA and the NFL both host large-scale combines for athletes entering the leagues from college or international routes. Athletes who participate go through an assortment of tests that range from physical strength assessments, body measurements like wingspan or hand size (we call that anthropometry), and even some skill-based assessments like shooting or catching drills that are scored.

The data collected from these assessments provide a few things:

  1. It allows the athlete to know how they currently measure, which can be used in training to improve future performance.
  2. It compares players to other players both currently and historically.
  3. It provides decision-makers, like coaches and general managers, with precise, accurate information that can be used to drive decisions like drafting a player or trading for a player.

At Lewis University, we’ve had the privilege and honor of working with the NBA Combine through our connection at QUEST Multisport, Jerry Harden. Students in the Sports Management Program work with Jerry on the logistics behind the scene of the event. The NBA Combine in Chicago takes place over a two-day period but preparing for the event is usually a week-long process. Our students work to set up the courts, handle and work with requests from ESPN who televises the event, and handle “gameday” operations during the event. In the near future, we’ll try to work with BAM Testing to provide students from our Exercise and Movement Science Program with an opportunity on the test and measurement side of the event.

Senior Phil Leibham has worked the event for multiple years now and feels it has helped him to get to where he is now with his work in basketball analytics. I, personally, was fortunate to visit the combine a few years back to learn more about it and how to best bring this type of experience to our Lewis students. 

The experiences we’ve had with the NBA Combine have been life changing. So much so, I wanted to bring this type of event to Lewis University so more students could learn how to assess athletes, how to plan an event, and then how to use the data we collect to improve performance.

This upcoming Fall we will host our third basketball combine for the Lewis University Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams. The Introduction to Exercise and Movement Science course, the Data and Analytics in Sports course, and our Sports Performance Enhancement course will all come together to plan out the event, test and measure the athletes, and then work with the data collected to communicate it to coaches and players.

Here are some highlights from our first two combines:

Students learn more than just facility design and test/measurements with this event. They also get to use technology, use sport-specific equipment, and then work with data to provide insight on performance. Recent Lewis University Computer Science Graduate Nathan Branchaw is looking at creating a prediction algorithm using the data collected from combines and has volunteered at the event. Our Sports Science Club raised funds to purchase a wingspan chart (below) and TV to show live data at the combine.

At the Lewis University Basketball Combine, students use cloud-based technology to enter and share the data we collect at each testing system. The data is then shown on a display in real-time for the coaches to watch. So as a player is testing the max vertical jump and another is getting their wingspan measured, their numbers will pop up on the screen once they are done. This occurs throughout the facility with each station having mobile data entries that provide real-time data visualizations for the decision-makers.

Once the event is over and the data is recorded from each assessment, students work on creating individual and team reports. Students in our courses use historical data to analyze how athletes match up with pro-level talent and their teammates. Students then create a report using Google Docs and the data sheet we create in Google Sheets. Here is an example report:

Lastly, student learning in our courses is assessed through a test on their experience and comprehension of the athletic combine. We use videos recorded from the event to test students on their knowledge in exams later in the semester. For example, a sample question will show a video of one of our measurements and then ask the learner what the measurement is called, what are the benefits of the measurement, and how do you feel we could have made the measurement more accurate. Here are two samples of our video-based questions: https://youtu.be/NYvLfrK4ksE

This Fall we will host our basketball combine for our teams during the first part of September. Our students also get to experience combines through our area partners like Parisi Speed School Chicago and zLine Technologies who host combines for the general public. Once we get more dates set, I’ll update with this year’s dates:

About Dr. Zachary Binkley

Zachary W. Binkley, PhD is the former Assistant Professor and Program Director of Exercise and Movement Science Program. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Special Interest Group on Basketball.

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