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BAM Testing: Breaking Down the Numbers for Elite Athletes
by Matthew Allinson 06-23-2010 06:11 PM Athlete Career Development
The past six years, the NBA has implemented high-tech standardized testing systems at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago to time and record top prospects performing various speed and agility tests. The precise data captured by these accurate and reliable measurement devices has become an integral part of the evaluation process for NBA teams. At the forefront of this new age testing is highly-regarded, Seattle-based Basic Athletic Measurement, LLC (BAM).
A privately-held company founded in 2008, BAM specializes in athletic testing and information technology. It blends high-tech testing equipment, video capture, and real-time reporting to offer a range of specialized testing protocols. All BAM test results are stored digitally and web accessible through a secure login.
As a seasoned strength and conditioning coach, BAM's founder Brett Brungardt has over 25 years of experience training and testing elite athletes. Although Brungardt has worked as a strength coach for all intercollegiate sports, since 2000 he has concentrated primarily on basketball: from 2000-2002 as the strength and conditioning coach for the Dallas Mavericks and from 2002-2008 for the men’s and women’s basketball teams at the University of Washington. He has trained NBA MVP’s and dunk champions, Cy Young Award Winners, NFL players, and Olympic athletes.
Brungardt has had the rare opportunity of working with elite athletes at all stages of their career development: high school, college, and pro. With this depth and breadth of experience, he is in a unique position to take athletic testing and evaluation to the next level. Through BAM, Brungardt is revolutionizing athletic data analysis with standardized testing protocols, helping athletes reach their performance potential and helping coaches find athletes who fit their needs.
We caught up to the numbers guru to pick his brain about his passion for collecting data and helping people understand what the numbers really mean.
The first part of the interview (before the video) contains background information on BAM, while the second part is focused more on how BAM has been used by the NBA and the state of the standardized testing industry in professional sports.
AA: What inspired you to start BAM?
Brett Brungardt: For many years, I realized that I wasn’t a very good strength coach because every year the head coach in whatever sport would come up to me and say ‘Brett, what is John benching now, or what is Dave running his 40 in, or how high is so-and-so’s vertical jump?’ I would go back and look at our testing and say this is where he is right now. He would say ‘Gee, when I recruited him, he was benching this much, or running this fast, or jumping this high. It’s still the same.’ I'd just shake my head and say that’s part of the recruiting process. Coaches weren’t getting true and reliable information generally, as players were coming out of high school. So, that was my first impetus – to get valid, reliable measurements. That has certainly benefited guys a lot as far as the recruiting process. From that initial point, its kind of evolved into really promoting a standardized testing system throughout the country for younger people. I think we have gotten away from what goes on as far as having valuable measurements and helping kids learn to set goals to have an improved lifestyle. It’s still evolving. The ultimate goal is to get as many kids tested as possible. Our niche right now is doing sports and looking at the bigger picture to benefit everybody.
AA: It sounds like in your work as a strength and conditioning coach you came across a need and it became the driving force for you to develop something to fill this void.
Brett Brungardt: There certainly was a need for reliable, valuable testing measurements out there amongst our athletes, our coaches, and also ways to compare and categorize yourself to see where you stand compared to other segments of similar populations.
AA: Give us an overview of BAM.
Brett Brungardt: The purpose of BAM is to implement athletic measurements. We test in 5 core areas – speed, power, agility, muscular endurance, and core strength. But what separates us I think at this point is our software and how we match it up with our hardware. We connect so many data points for athletes and individuals who want to assess themselves. The information becomes very valuable not only as far as athletic performance, but also in prehabilitation (in prevention of injury) and in rehabilitation. It becomes very valuable to a lot of people.
AA: You mentioned the multiple data points that give your company a competitive edge and present something unique in the marketplace. Can you elaborate further on what separates BAM from other standardized testing programs in the marketplace?
Brett Brungardt: Well one, I think that we’re an independent, unbiased third party. We’re not selling any clothing, training or anything else. We think that those components bias testing. I don’t see how they cannot bias testing. We are an independent third party and we’re going to come in and give you an accurate reading. Along that line, again we have data points that most people don’t have. There might be some crossover in certain sections, but I think that we use data points that aren’t out there. We also developed our own video capture and verification system, which you can ID and it synchs itself with the testing protocols.
Nobody else can really match the data points and the experience in categorization and comparability that we offer from the years of collecting data. We have 25 years of data. SPARQ has been at it for a while, Under Armour is getting into it, but no one has been collecting testing data and has been out on the market probably as long as I have. I have been testing and accumulating data from elite athletes for 25 years. Aside from having a unique way of comparing, what does it take to be an elite athlete? Where should your numbers be? How should you set your goals? That’s what separates us and again being an unbiased third party. We’re there to find out and add up the numbers. That’s what we do.
AA: Did you feel like BAM sort of formalized what you had been doing all along and maybe you were ahead of your time and doing some testing that other programs weren’t doing?
Brett Brungardt: The concept of testing has obviously been around for a long time. Strength coaches are often delegated the responsibility of testing and organizing the testing for sports. Because of the accumulation and the time that is spent processing all this information, even with the advent of computers and everything else, it is a big event. If BAM would have been around when I was coaching, for what we charge, I would have brought us in to do the testing. My time as a strength coach was worth much more than having me test athletes, as far as what we do to come in and set up, then put together and transcribe the information, and get it to you in a nice, neat package in our database.
AA: How does the process work? Does the software automatically transcribe the data or does it take a lot of sweat equity hours?
Brett Brungardt: (laughs) Well, it’s sort of sweat equity. The information comes from the receiver of the hardware and then through the mystery of the technology and the software that is used and developed (and that we have enhanced as part of synching and capturing the information), it comes through our database and it is downloaded there. We utilize our ID Fusion technology, so that everyone who is tested with BAM is given a unique ID and then their test results are loaded in according to that ID.
AA: Have you secured a patent on your testing protocols and your technology?
Brett Brungardt: Well, as far as testing protocol, they have been out there for ages. We go through patents on our software and they’re being refined. Our hardware is from a company that you’ve actually done some articles on out of Australia—Fusion. I did my due diligence in starting this thing. Several years ago, I researched and came across several companies. Interestingly enough, most of the good ones were in Australia, so I took a trip out there. It was a good excuse to go to Australia!
I went through the process of seeing this equipment and the hardware involved. At that point in time, I thought that Fusion offered more of the variables and some of the glitz that I wanted to help market the overall product. And, also they were nice people. We’ve taken the hardware and kind of danced it up a little bit. They’ve allowed us to go in and work with the software. Their original designs were for classroom situations. We’re looking to analyze 500-1,000 athletes a day in testing. So we had to beef up the process a little bit and give it some juice. I am by no means smart enough to build the hardware or develop the software. I have a conception of what goes on. I visualize what I want from 25 years of coaching and knowing what coaches and athletes want as far as measurements. My background is in strength and conditioning. That’s where, if I have any valuable knowledge, I guess it’s from years of coaching.
AA: What mechanisms does BAM have in place to ensure accurate testing reliability and accurate data collection?
Brett Brungardt: All athletes are ID’d. They are first registered online and matched up with an identification tag. Then, they are re-registered and are given a video verification of each tag. They wear an electronic wristband, as they go through the test. With the third party, independent system and the most accurate timing system in the world, they are then finished the test. If it’s a 5-test protocol, or whatever the testing protocols have been, once they have completed all the tests, they will then slide out of the system and the system will download them into our database, where the information is stored. You can either email it to the person who is running the event, to a social event, or a personal email.
What we are trying to do, as much as possible, is take human error out of the reading and transcription of information. When you fill out a spreadsheet by hand, the numbers can get transplanted and it becomes difficult. There is nothing in the world that’s perfect. The thing about working with technology is that you have found some better ways to utilize protocols and that is to make it much more repeatable. The validity of the test – does it test what it claims to test – is an interesting concept. They are trying some new tests. How do you correlate electronic timing to handheld timing? How valid was the measurement of the distance, the accuracy of what’s purported to be measured, and again was there correct transcription of the information? Once you account for these variables, you make it as precise as possible.
We also have backups. I haven’t had it happen, but there will be a time when we will have a data failure. It just happens. We actually have three backups – a video backup, a handheld PDA, and our CPU system working to backup the system. This way, you will be sure to get a number that’s very accurate. We are dealing with thousands of numbers. We don’t want athletes to come out to test and then not have a number because it got lost somewhere. This is the problem with technology. I guess the great thing about the handheld timing and writing it down on a sheet of paper was that you knew you were going to record something. When we are talking about the numbers that we’re working with in a combine or in a testing situation, it becomes very tedious as you proceed through the protocols.
AA: How was BAM received at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where the prospects had their vertical jumps and agility measured and their speed over a three-quarter-court sprint clocked?
Brett Brungardt: This was our first year and we went in on a limited basis. We didn’t do all the tests. We did 2 agility tests (5-10-5 shuttle and the lane test), a speed test, and a vertical jump.
The Portsmouth has been going on for 58 years. It was fun. This was kind of a mom and pop thing to start with. Every NBA team was represented. There were also a lot of foreign teams represented. You get to watch kids play basketball. That was very cool. We came in to make it value-added. Some of these kids don’t get invited to the combine in Chicago. They get a chance to get tested and have their numbers up there that are comparable to the combine kids. We’re just providing another service.
The whole process of going from your final year of college and then you go into the process of being evaluated for your career, is very interesting. Kids now see what business is like. This is about food. It’s a little bit different. Now your playing and everybody’s intensity level should be amped, but that isn’t always the case. It’s interesting to watch who steps up, makes the adjustments, and exposes themselves a little bit at times. There are certain risks to doing anything. It’s very interesting to watch these kids work hard, especially the seniors who have 4 years at an institution. A lot of these kids I never got to see play because they were not on TV. They’re all nice kids. I thought the event was very unique and handled very well. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
AA: Only a year after starting the company, BAM was selected as the official testing service provider for last year's NBA 2009 Rookie Combine. Tell us about that experience. Did you feel like that was a breakthrough achievement for the company?
Brett Brungardt: It certainly is a high-profile event. We’re the providers. The NBA is running the program. It’s their game. We’re there to help assist and make it a better testing situation. I coached in the NBA and I worked the combine for years and we would do all handheld tests. We would have several coaches with several stop watches running each protocol and doing our very best to get the most reliable and valid reading we could. We’re taking both angles right now. We’re using the handheld still. We’re comparing numbers over the next few years. We don’t want to lose all the numbers in the past because they’re valuable. Then, we will correlate the handheld to the electronic timing that we’re using now. This way, we can then validate numbers and bring everything into a common nomenclature where people can understand that the numbers of the past have the same value and accuracy as the numbers of the future. That’s the process right now.
We are trying to increase the efficiency and get rid of some of the possible errors of transcription. We are also bringing in the video capturing system. While we’re on it, I think that scouts, coaches, general managers, and athletic trainers will all appreciate having a database of athletes, especially in the NBA. There are a lot of things going on. For example, were they 100% when they were tested that day? There are a lot of variables that are hard to control, but we are looking to try to make it as valid and reliable as possible.
AA: If everything pans out the way your hoping, I’m sure you would want to become the exclusive testing service for the NBA and have your database of statistics be the go-to resource?
The NBA is certainly a great organization. I just got back from China. I spent 3 months over there working with their professional basketball association. The NBA is revered over there. They show it on TV all the time. When they show games, they have commentators dubbed over in Mandarin talking about the game. It’s very cool. They love the NBA game. So certainly, we would like this, but once again, we’re a provider. I think we can simplify things for any organization instead of having to have everything done over and over again.
Let me give you an example. In the NBA, when an athlete comes out of college, an athlete may go through 5-6 workouts (or more). It could be a day apart. It could be 2 days apart. You’re not really getting valid testing because the athlete is just going to be worn out from repeating the same test. We are looking to create a database that agents and athletes can all go to, which displays data for an organization that people will trust, and it is all video verified. Then when athletes come in for a workout, they can worry about their basketball skills and not have to worry about the physical assessment part that goes on. Our goal is to streamline the process and then there is a much more reliable number for that athlete than what is being produced from the process they are using now. That would be the goal for all sports – to try to somehow streamline the process. My connections are in basketball and that’s where we’re working primarily now.
AA: So that’s your primary target market now, but are you willing to branch out into other sports as you gain more traction?
Brett Brungardt: We are certainly not limiting ourselves to basketball. Basketball is the second most popular sport in the world. Soccer is number one. We are doing testing for soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, on down the line. We have protocols for all those sports. We’re not limiting ourselves. The one sport where numbers mean a lot is football. It’s kind of inundated. We’ve done football in the past and we’ll certainly always run a football combine, but we’ve kind of stepped away. There’s a lot of competition in that one and we’re trying to niche ourselves in a whole different market.
AA: Though basketball scouts are not typically as numbers-obsessed as their football counterparts, physical testing is becoming a bigger part of the talent evaluation process. What, in your opinion, has led to this change, and how do you see BAM being involved in the future?
Brett Brungardt: They are starting to break down data. One of the unique tests of the NBA Combine is the lane agility test. Typically, in the past, it was done with a stopwatch and you only get one time. Now, with our technology, we’re able to break down data points in every direction. They get splits, which is actually pretty cool technology-wise. If you’re a numbers guy, it’s very cool. For some people, it probably doesn’t mean a lot. But with this data, questions like how are they moving in different directions and what is their lateral speed can now be answered. All those things are broken down.
They are looking for this valuable, secret sauce. What numbers are valuable out there? Their going to start looking at numbers, as far as these tests go, to see if they are predictors of their draft choice? Are they predictors of success? You know, teams are saying ‘we spent a lot of money on our first round choice… are there predictors out there that are going to help us make a better decision?’ The more data points, the better. Each team is hiring people to break down data. The more people who understand the numbers, the more valuable these tests become. Just like anything else, reliability and the validity of the tests are only successful over time.
There are so many variables that go into it to make it a complete test. Look at the NFL this year… They had a bit of problem with their 40 times. They were getting 3 or 4 times that people were quoting because they allowed too many people to have too much input. What was his real time? Was it the handheld time? How are they starting it? There doesn’t seem to be any consistency on a really prime time event. There was some real issues about reliability in recording times there.
AA: Do you think that the heightened importance being given to standardized testing in the NBA will lead to a cottage industry of trainers being paid thousands of dollars by agents to prepare their clients for the NBA Draft and the creation of a combine similar to the NFL with all the hoopla?
Brett Brungardt: Basketball has a lot of unique skills. It will be interesting to see over time.
Some people made a tremendous amount of money off the NFL Combines and they weren’t football players. They tested well and then they kind of fizzled out. It will be interesting over time to see as the NFL validates all of its numbers.
I think the best measure of testing is sometimes not so much the best number, but whether it is above a certain baseline where you don’t want to recruit or sign an athlete. There is a range where you are going to be successful and there are other intangibles that go into testing and playing a sport. We want to make sure that they're certainly capable of doing certain things and we want a reliable and valid test of that. Because if they can’t do these certain things at a certain level, it doesn’t matter what their skill level is like. They may not be able to get off a shot. They can’t defend anyone. They can’t do certain things if they don’t have a minimum level of physical ability.
AA: So, basically setting a floor?
Brett Brungardt: Yeah, set a floor and move from there. Again, I think the injury component and the rehab component become very valuable too. You play 82 games and guys get dinged. In basketball, it will be a big component. It’s however they want to use their imagination and supply a steady stream of reliable data. The smart ones will figure it out. There’s a lot smarter people than me out there who will begin applying the data and saying ‘what makes these people successful?’ They are certainly looking at advanced metrics. They have a big push on wingspans. It’s a very unique athlete if his wingspan is above a +5 or 5 inches longer than his height. They get a real look. They love that. They have certain models they look at for these athletes and their positions. They certainly inputted that value to make it a valuable commodity.
I don’t know if it comes down so much to training for testing, but I think that because there is money and there is a push, there is a need for training to get better and setting goals. Even with the elite athletes, if they get a reliable measurement and know that the next time they test it’s going to be the same measurement, it’s going to create a need. Literally, thousandths of a second make a difference and you want to be accurate.
AA: Why do you think no comprehensive national system of valid and reliable testing protocols exists?
Brett Brungardt: We used to have a concept of competitive physical fitness tests when I was growing up, but they weren’t always reliable or valid. I think it is this way because the market is driven by the people who are doing the testing. So, there’s a contest there. They each have their own set of nuances that they want to try to differentiate themselves with. They are trying to brand it, but that’s also not their major goal. Their major goal is to sell product.
We have a means down the line of scaling this out nationwide if we can get to everyone. It’s going to be interesting to see if we can achieve it. That’s the concept. There’s always going to be variances, but you want to make it as repeatable as possible.
AA: What advice would you give to players in approaching standardized testing as they become more commonplace?
Brett Brungardt: Hopefully, the testing will be what we are trying to do—more balanced testing, not just looking at certain components to testing. I suggest they stay well-balanced. Don’t think of testing as the end-all of the world either; it’s a benchmark. If you’re going to get tested, make sure it’s reliable and valid. I keep coming back to those terms, but those are really the hallmarks of testing. That’s the key. Testing is just like anything else – you have your good days and you have your bad days. You are trying to set a benchmark and move forward from there.
AA: Can you tell us about the pricing of BAM testing and how it works if an athlete reading this interview wants to contact you for individualized testing?
Brett Brungardt: We travel around the country. Recently, we were in Portsmouth one week testing those athletes and then we shot over to Pittsburgh to work for some AAU teams the next week. Our price point really is set behind who we’re providing for. We are a value added service. We’ll go into a camp or location, where they are taught skills, and be the testing providers. You can look on the website and see where we are going to be. We’re hoping to grow quickly and get out there and test as many people as possible. We’ll be involved in camps. In the Seattle area, we’ll be advertising here shortly where we’re going to be available for local testing on certain days of the week throughout the metropolitan area. To put it simply, go to the website and look for upcoming BAM events!
AA: Anything else that you would like to add?
Brett Brungardt: I would like to tell young people to think about testing and its importance. There is an old expression “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you are.” That’s very bad grammar, but the point is testing will be beneficial for you! Get a good, accurate test. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with BAM. Get a benchmark so you can set goals. Goal-setting is going to help the process. Whatever your endeavor – athletic or academic – it’s going to make it more fun and it’s going to be much more beneficial to you.
On behalf of Access Athletes, we would like to thank Brett for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview with The Real Athlete Blog. For more information about BAM, please visit www.BAMTesting.com.