Charting Progress

February 15, 2019

There are a lot of factors contributing to the success of the University of Nebraska volleyball program, which has won four NCAA Division I national championships, had one runner-up finish, and three other semifinal appearances since 2000. One of the lesser-known elements behind its dominance is the team’s use of the Husker Power Performance Index.

The brainchild of Assistant Athletic Director of Strength and Conditioning Boyd Epley, the index measures players’ progress in the weightroom as it relates to athleticism. First employed for the  football program many years ago, it is now offered to all Husker teams, and has been fully embraced by the volleyball squad.

“An important part of Husker Power is trying to be a great athlete. We take a lot of pride in that,” says John Cook, Head Volleyball Coach at Nebraska. “I am very thankful we can use the index for volleyball. It’s something really cool that we have, and it’s a big piece of our program.”

Three tests are administered in the index: the standing vertical jump, the pro-agility run, and the 10-yard dash. Players are assessed twice yearly, always before and after a specified training period.

“The tests measure different physical components but are factor-weighted,” Epley explains. “This means if an athlete’s scores are similar on all tests, they are balanced and don’t have any weakness in the areas being evaluated.” 

Individual teams can also add a sport-specific fourth test. For example, basketball and volleyball both add the approach vertical jump. “It’s what the athletes do in a game, and it happens every third touch of the ball—they run to hit, or they run to jump and block,” Cook says. 

“Test day is a big day,” he continues. “The players might get more nervous for that than they do matches. That tells you how serious it is.”

The results are then entered into an algorithm developed by Epley; Mike Arthur, Director of Strength and Conditioning Performance Research for the Huskers; and Chris Eskridge, Professor in Nebraska’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The formula takes into account world records, research, and more than 30 years of Husker testing data.

“We were able to statistically determine which tests actually measure the qualities we are looking for,” says Epley. “The index has much more to do with how close you are to the world’s best than standard deviations or how far you are from the average.”

The algorithm determines how many points each student-athlete has achieved per test, using a scale of zero to 1,000. The points from all three assessments are then combined, producing one cumulative score.

“One thousand points on any single test would be considered the best performance there ever was, and 500 points is what our athletes typically strive for,” Epley says. “A total of 1,500 is a big deal, and that’s pretty much where D-I scholarship athletes are.”

If a team adds an optional sport-specific test, the total goal changes accordingly.

“Our athletes still aim for 500 points per test, so their target is 2,000 points,” Cook says. “Players have told me that when they reach the 2,000-point club, it’s a really meaningful achievement for them.”

Cook keeps his players on track with the index by having them set goals.

“We have individual goals, which are very simple. Let’s say you scored 1,600 points in March. Maybe your goal is to get to 1,800 points in November,” he says. “Then, we’ll set a team goal by combining everyone’s scores. If we start at 25,000 points, we’ll try to get to 26,000.

“We had an All-American senior improve 400 points this year, so that was a really significant jump,” Cook continues. “We made a big deal about it by giving her our Lifter of the Year Award at our Red-White Game in front of 8,000 people.”

As coach of one of the highest-scoring Husker squads in the index each year, Cook believes the testing is far more than a motivational tool.

“It’s not only a way to measure that our players are improving, it’s a way to evaluate whether our strength program is producing the results we think it is,” he says. “It also holds our players accountable. If someone’s index scores do not improve, then it’s pretty much on them.”

 

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