Profiling the athlete….. a simple plan.

Sometimes a new athlete becomes part of our team , another time he have problems understanding why an athlete does not perform well or behaves strange. Profiling is meant to be able to understand and predict the behavior and the performance of our athletes.
In companies new employees often are subject to a personality tests or other ways of profiling.
There are many methods and concepts of profiling, but none is perfect, that is to say, can adequately predict human behavior to a full extent. We are simple too complex and too multi-layered to be analyzed with these  inadequate and  incomplete tools.
But I am not looking at perfection here, I am looking at  a coarse filter that helps me to understand the athlete’s behavior and performance at least better than I did before.
We already do this by judging the athlete’s technical side, we look at their body structure, their technical skills, and their conditioning level  in order to estimate and predict their potential. We do this for the longest time and we can do this rather well.
Often though the athlete’s limitations or problems are not to be found in these factors, because there is deeper problem at the root of it.

I start to work with 3 big chunks of information that are very important to me and tell me a lot about my athlete.
Most profiles are based on a polarity, like black or white, but most people can be found in the grey zone in between, just showing a slight dominance or preference in one of the directions. So almost never 100% black or 100% white, but if perfect grey is 50%/50%, they have 60% (darker grey) or 40% (lighter grey).
1.    Brain dominance: since our brain (the organ with which we think we think), determines who we are and how we behave, it is a logical choice to look here first. I won’t go in here too deep, I would have to write a book about  this subject.

Contrary to most other animals, the two halves of our human brain (that is shaped like a walnut) have a different structure and function. This has been established a long time ago, Roger Sperry is one of the prominent researchers in this area.

In most people one half of the brain (left or right) works more often than the other half, it is dominating in most activities, and this is an unconscious preference. Also keep in mind that it is just a model, a simplified representation of a much more complex reality.
You have to understand that there is no 100% accuracy here, but in right handed people, for example, the left brain contains the language centres (Broca and Wernicke) to understand and to produce human language.

In the table below you can find the qualities that have been attributed to the left or the right brain. The list is far from complete, but it gives you some insight how important his is to understand the athlete’s behavior. It helps you to understand things like perception, communication  and behavior of the athlete.

Left and right brain characteristics

Left and right brain characteristics

How do we assess brain laterality or brain dominance?

Three ways:
1.    simple observation, look and listen to your athlete until you got a picture related to        the table above
2.    by EEG or measure brain wave, which I did (but if you have an MRI-machine at home you can do it too)
3.    questionnaire: the Human Information Processing Survey or look at the Ned Hermann surveys , which I used too.

Joseph, R: The naked neuron; Plenum Press, USA, 1993.
Springer, S.P; Deutsch, G: Left brain, right brain; W.H.Freeman Comp. USA, 2001.
Davidson, R.J; Hugdahl, K.(Eds.): Brain asymmetry, MIT Press, USA, 1995.
Herrmann, N: The creative brain; Brain Books, USA, 1990.
Joseph, R: The right brain and the unconscious; Plenum Press, USA, 1992.
Rogers, L.J; Vallortigara, G; Andrew, R,J:  Divided brains; Cambridge University Press, UK, 2013.
Hugdahl, K; Westerhausen, R (Eds.): The two halves of the brain; MIT Press, USA, 2010.
Hugdahl, K; Davidson, R.J (Eds.): The asymmetrical brain; MIT Press, USA,  2003.
Hellige, J: Hemipsheric asymmetry; Harvard University Press, 2001.

2.    Muscle fiber composition
This factor is more directly related to sports performance.
The muscle fiber composition tells us if the relevant muscles of the athlete’s body are more suited for explosive type sport or more for (aerobic) endurance type sports.
And yes, again, this is a simplified model of reality, since we only look at two (or three) types of muscle fibers and not at the wide range of possible subtypes, which are only interesting for scientific research but not really for practical work in the field.
Most muscles in the human body are a mix between the white, fast twitch or type II muscle fibers and the red, slow twitch or type I muscle fibers. The two muscle fiber types have distinct qualities for different tasks.
See the table below:


This factor is not only important for performance levels in itself, but also for injuries, trying to excel in an explosive event with 65% slow twitch fibers is like trying to win a NASCAR race or Formula 1 race with a Volkswagen beetle!  Trying to run  a marathon with 70% fast twitch fibers is like to enter  Paris-Dakar rally with a  Ferrari Formula 1 car. You’ll find out that the athlete is just not designed and suited to do that.
How can we assess muscle fiber composition?
1.    Muscle biopsies are the most accurate way to assess muscle fiber composition, but they are expensive, invasive  and quite bothersome since it needs to be done by a doctor and preferable one that has experience in doing this.
2.    Bosco jump test: my mentor Carmelo Bosco was able, by having lots of athletes doing jumps and having biopsies made, to establish a good relationship between jumping height and fiber composition and turned this into an algorithm in the software with which one in two simple jump tests gets a good estimation of the percentage of FT fibers.

Dubowitz, V; Sewry, C; Oldefors, A: Muscle biopsy. A practical approach; Saunders USA, 2013.
Lieber, R.L: Skeletal muscle structure, function and plasticity; Wolters Kluwer, 2009.
Brooke, M,H; Kaiser, K.K: Muscle fiber types: How many and what kind?; Arch.Neurol. Vol.23,
Nikitjuk, B.A; Samoilov, N.G: Die Adaptationsmechanismen von Muskelfasern an körperliche   Belastungen und Möglichkeiten ihrer Prozesssteuerung; Leistungssport No.5, 1993, pg. 15-17.
Gollnick, P.D; Armstrong, R.B; Saubert, C.W; Piehl, K; Saltin, B: Enzyme activity and fiber composition in skeletal muscle of trained and untrained men; J.Appl.Physiol. Vol.33, No.3, 1972, pg.312-319.
Viitasalo, J.T; Komi, P.V: Force-time characteristics and fiber composition in human leg extensor muscles; Eur.J. Appl.Physiol. Vol.40, pg. 7-15, 1978.
Thorstensson, A; Grimby, G; Karlsson, J: Force-velocity relations and fiber composition in human knee extensor muscles; J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.40, No1, 1976, pg.12-16.
Schiaffino, S; Reggiani, C: Fiber types in mammalian skeletal muscle; Physiol. Rev. Vol.91, 2011, pg. 1447-1531.
Coyle, E;.F; Costill, D..L; Lesmes, G.R: Leg extension power and muscle fiber composition; Med.Sci Sports,  Vol.11, No.1, 1979, pg.12-15.
Costill, D.L; Daniels, J; Evans, W; Fink, W; Krahenbuhl, G; Saltin, B: Skeletal muscle enzymes and fiber composition in male and female track athletes; J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.40, No.2, 1975, pg.149-154.
MacIntosh, B.R; Herzog, W; Suter, E; Preston Wiley, J; Sokolosky, J:Human skeletal muscle fibre types and force:velocity properties; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol. Vol.67, 1993, pg.499-506.
Iaia, F.M; Perez-Gomez, J; Thomassen, M; Nordsborg, N.B: Hellsten, Y; Bangsbo, J: Relationships between performance at different exercise intensities and skeletal muscle characteristics; J.App. Physiol. Vol.110, 2011, pg.1555-1563.
Zierath, J.R; Hawley, J.A; Skeletal muscle fiber type: influence on contractile and metabolic properties; PLoS Biol. Vol.2, No.10, 2004, e348, pg. 1523-1527.
Lieber, R.L; Ward, S.R: Skeletal muscle design to meet functional demands; Phil.Trans.R. Soc.B Vol.366, 2011, pg.1466-1476.

3 bloomer or breaker?  (under pressure)
At the highest level the ability to perform at your best at very high stress is crucial for success.
Many physically gifted athletes did not fulfill their full potential because they failed to deliver at the crucial time e.g. The final of the Olympic Games or World Championships.
Yes, of course, we are able to improve it, but it’s easier if one bring this quality form the very beginning. And of course it is influenced by genetic factors, by upbringing and education and by having the right coach.
That is why I also explore this factor in my athletes : stress coping skills and resilience. We can use sophisticated methods but in the end many of us have to do without this sophisticated and expensive  equipment. Most of the time we already know the history of the athlete, does he or she crack under pressure of do they need the pressure to perform well?
A simple analysis of previous competitions will tell. Do they perform better on their home turf, where the chance of doing well are good, their parents are in the stadium and they feel comfortable, or do they perform better when the heat is on, in the big stadium, unknown territory, and when they are not sure about success or failure beforehand?  This is an adequate indication if your athlete is a breaker or a bloomer. Or like said above in the grey zone of the “benders”, who always perform like we might expect, at least they are never far off,  they do not crack under pressure, not do they surpass themselves.
Milton, J; Solodkin, A; Hlustik, P; Small, S.L: The mind of the expert motor performance is cool and focused; NeuroImage, Vol.35, 2007, pg 804-813.
Salvador, A: Coping with competitive situation in humans; Neuroscience and Biobehav. Rev. Vol.29, 2005, pg.195-205.
Beckmann, J; Gröpel, P; Ehrlenspiel, F: Preventing motor skill failure though hemisphere-specific priming: cases from choking under pressure; J.Exp.Psychol. Vol.142, No3, 2013,pg.679-691.(Note: interesting, because here we see factor 1 and factor 3 interlinked!)
Chalabaev, A; Major, B; Cury, F; Sarrazin, P: Physiological markers of challenge and threat mediate the effects of performance-based goals for performance; J.Exp.Soc.Psychol. Vol.45, No4, 2009, pg.991-994.

With these three factors above, we cover a lot of the behaviour and the performance of the athlete.
There is a lot of room for improvement here, but in the past explored that and if you are not willing or able to invest a lot of time, effort and money into this, these three factors are excellent tools for a starting point.

About Henk Kraaijenhof

My name is Henk Kraaijenhof and I started this blog as a random collection of concepts, ideas, stories and events that are important or interesting to me in my work as an international performance consultant in a wide range of fields, and sometimes outside of my work. I will try to post a new entry every 3-4 days. Feel free to comment if you like.
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8 Responses to Profiling the athlete….. a simple plan.

  1. Matt Kuzdub says:

    Hi Henk – I attended the speed and power conference this past weekend in Toronto and really enjoyed your presentations! I’m especially curious about muscle fiber typing (missed that talk) – can you outline how exactly Bosco used jump testing to predict muscle fiber composition? Was it using the 60 second mechanical power test? Or during a CMJ and SJ test? Thanks!

    • Hello Matt, thanks for the question, I probably was not clear enough but the FT% estimation is done by the SJ and CMJ only. However it is also possible to do this by the 15-, 30-, or even 60-secs jump, but the demanding (motivation! fatiguing nature of e.g. the 30- and 60-secs jumps, make them less suitable for the estimation. Also the SJ and CMJ are less time consuming when working with larger groups or teams.

  2. Hello Henk:
    I attended the workshop in Sydney, Australia today and was thoroughly impressed by your presentation. There were a few elements I found very fascinating, but in particular the power specific training for power specific sports. The simple concept that resistance training builds explosiveness most in an athlete when they are performing a forceful contraction quickly, as opposed to lifting a heavy load, slowly, is certainly a concept I’ll take with me. Also, the sport specific nature of training was very fascinating. I’m glad I attended.

    • Hello Matt, Thanks for your kind words, glad you enjoyed and at least got some food for thought. I really enjoyed lecturing in Sydney, as you may have noticed and today’s presentation, on different topic, was as well received, listening to the feedback. I hoe you will use the information for further study and application. Good luck, Henk

  3. Lorne Morrow says:

    Hello Henk;

    I enjoyed your fibre-type presentation in Toronto. You mentioned Werner Gunthor and how his training had allowed him to maximize his type II capacity. Coincidentally, I had been watching youtube videos of his training for a few weeks before the conference. His coach, Jean-Pierre Egger would have him do what looked like to me a fairly consistent sequence of events except I struggled to understand the objective of the first weighted action.

    It seemed like there was a stretch of antagonists followed by a resistance pattern [was this to pre-fatigue a synergist or antagonist? – didn’t get that] Then a critical heavy lift like a squat. Then a series of light-weight squat jumps. This is followed by very explosive frog hops without weight.

    Question #1 – After the stretch, what is the intention of first resistance pattern?

    Question #2 – Even without access to accurate fibre biopsy, if power & speed is desired, would a protocol like Egger/Gunthor not be appropriate for most athletes?

    By the way, besides the incredible breadth of knowledge you displayed, your sense of humour was greatly appreciated!

    You showed a brief clip of reaction warm-up patterns that you employed with Nelli Cooman. [handclaps & foot pickups in reaction to the gun] Do you have a larger video compilation of patterns like that?

    Thank you very much!

    • Hello Lorne, it took me some to time to reply considering my travel and lecture schedule, but today, waiting to go back home I found some time.
      OK, I do not know which WG video you watched, as there are quite a few of them on YouTube. Sometimes coaches by coincidence, experience or empirical have their athletes do things that seem work (at least for that particular athlete at that time)and often many years later somebody else figures out or at least assumes why and how that worked. Yes, often elite coaches are ahead of their time doing things that are only understood many years later. Some phenomena that coaches in the past never heard of, like pre-stretch potentiation, post-activation potentiation, or reciprocal inhibition have been given a name later. So this might be however unsatisfactory answer to question 1

      Yes, a program like that would be advisable for many athletes at least the ones that can handle the principle, the loads are of course different with male 120 kg world-class shotputter than with a 60 kg female 400 meter runner, And the coach should always weight the risk-benefit ration of any exercise, needless to say that Gunthor was a very robust athlete. I would never copy his workouts one-on-one, not even if I was coaching a 120 kg shotputter, but at least learn the principles behind the program and than adjust these to my athlete.

      I have many reaction drills, most of them non-specific, but unfortunately not filmed. But any start from any position on a command, whistle, clap, or gun will help. Also athletes can “design” their reaction drills with feet, hands or both together or a combination of reaction drills with frequency drills. We do this to tone up the CNS as a warming up before doing real starts, making sure that everybody is awake when we start from the blocks.

      Thanks for your question, they always keep me sharp!

  4. saverio lombado says:

    Henk I am big fan of your work for I have been reading your site the last 2 to 3 years and buy videos via your presentations.

    My question regarding the Bosco jump protocol
    2. Bosco jump test: my mentor Carmelo Bosco was able, by having lots of athletes doing jumps and having biopsies made, to establish a good relationship between jumping height and fiber composition and turned this into an algorithm in the software with which one in two simple jump tests gets a good estimation of the percentage of FT fibers.

    I believe I have the protocol the problem is I am not a big fan of the internet so I am not 100 % confident it is the protocol. Having said that I have read many of Dr. Bosco studies going back to 1978 and so his work was way ahead of his time. Because of him I have bought a jump mat, linear transducer via tendo unit and 3 years ago I bought the Italian accelerometer / software that does have an Bosco evaluation on I believe on one of the jumps but nothing explains what that is exactly. The software shows the curves and it does a few tests consisting of: squat jump, counter movement jump, 7 jump stiffness tests, 15s, 30s, 45s, 60s continuous jump.(I know nothing beats a force plate)

    I am so hoping online and or privately you can email me the exact protocol for I will validated knowing either yourself and or Dr. Marco Cardinale has provided the protocol

    thanks again and you are one of a kind

  5. Heth says:


    I have recently watched your presentation on Improving Sprinting Speed. It was very educational and entertaining. After watching the presentation, I searched and found some of the papers that Dr. Bosco had published. However, I did not see how to calculate the fiber type percentage. Would you be able to share that algorithm or was it published in a paper I have yet to find?

    Thanks for any help you can provide and I hope you have a good Holiday Season.

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