Every spring, high school football student-athletes get their chance to show off their athletic abilities at a Nike SPARQ Combine in their area. For many, this is their chance to be compared to some of the top-rated talent in the nation and get noticed.
Any student-athlete underclassmen is welcome to register for a SPARQ event, which happen across the country between February and June. It is free to attend, and the top performers at each stop are invited to Nike Football Training Camps later in the year. Attendees are put through a series of four baseline athleticism tests, they are scored by their performance and then an aggregate score is assigned to them, giving scouts and recruiters a baseline.
What is SPARQ?
Simply, it is an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness. SPARQ is actually its own entity which was launched in 2004 with the goal of creating a sort of athletic SAT test that would convert a player’s baseline abilities in to a single score. SPARQ is solely focused on the tools of the trade, which will be discussed later, and the scoring system. Nike has partnered with them and manufactures a line of apparel and footwear under the SPARQ nameplate.
The Nike SPARQ combine is not unlike the NFL’s draft combine, with a few exceptions. The NFL grades athletes eligible for their draft across 14 different tests, while the Nike SPARQ combines focus just on four core abilities.
The Nike SPARQ Combine cannot give a definite picture in to what an athlete will be able to accomplish once on campus at an NCAA school, but it does give those who evaluate talent another tool to help compare athletes from different states and different levels of competition equally.
As the combines are presently set-up, the different tests include the ever-present 40-yard dash, the 5-10-5 agility (or pro agility) shuttle, the kneeling power ball toss and vertical jump. Other tests that have been part of the Nike SPARQ Combines include the bench press, broad jump, 10-yard dash and vision and reaction tests. While the various SPARQ tests can be used to determine an athlete’s fundamental abilities in any sport, these four have been chosen for the combines due to their direct correlation with the skills necessary for playing football.
1. 40 Yard Dash
The 40-yard dash is an integral part of any combine, be it pre-collegiate or as a player enters the NFL. On its face, it seems a very simple measure of a player’s speed, but it can tell an evaluator so much more than that. A good time in the 40 requires an excellent start, which is indicative of an athlete’s reaction time and quick burst. From there, evaluators can pinpoint how long it takes the athlete to reach top speed, and how well they transition from burst to top speed. It is a very useful tool especially for skill-position players. The average time submitted at the Nike SPARQ Combine in 2013 was 5.14 seconds.
2. 5-10-5 Pro Agility
The agility shuttle is another event in the Nike SPARQ Combine designed to measure an athlete’s speed and quickness, but in a different manner. Like the name implies, it attempts to measure how quickly someone can transfer their speed while changing direction. The agility shuttle can also show recruiters how balanced an athlete keeps his body while performing the drill, something that can be very important to defensive players pursuing a ball carrier while trying to avoid blockers. The average 2013 score was 4.72 seconds.
3. Kneeling Power Ball Toss
Third in the combine’s battery of tests is the kneeling power ball toss. Athletes kneel on the ground, then are asked to raise a SPARQ-innovated 3 kg weighted ball over their head. The athlete then must propel the ball forward while thrusting outward, landing in a push-up position. The farther the ball travels, the better the score. It is a measure of a player’s ability to coordinate their body to deliver maximum power. In 2013, the average toss was 30 inches.
4. Vertical Jump
Finally, the players are tested in the vertical jump. Player’s weights and heights are figured in to the test, which measures an athlete’s peak power. To perform the jump, a player crouches with their arms behind them to help the maximize their power. Instead of jumping and reaching for a certain point, however, SPARQ developed a launching/landing pad that times how long a player is in the air, and uses that information to calculate their jump. The average jump in 2013 was 27 feet, 3 inches.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
As was mentioned before, the combines are free to attend. Pre-registration is required, and it is important because there is a limit to how many athletes can be evaluated at a given site.
Many athletes enter a Nike SPARQ Combine concerned about registering a bad score in one of the four events. However, due to the nature of the kids being evaluated, a “scratch rule” has been put in place. Simply put, if an athlete is unhappy with their score in any of the tests, they can ask that the event be scratched from their results.
After each event, results are posted to Student Sports and each individual that took part receives an e-mail with a link to their own page. There they can find their individual SPARQ score, as well as any other information from the combine such as photos and inclusion on the all-combine team.
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