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Perfecting the 40 Yard Dash – How Important Is It?

It’s that time of the year again. Football combine mania. Athletes from all over North America are prepping for and participating in combine tests that will determine their football future. Everything from the 40 yard dash, to 225lb bench press reps, to standing broad jump and vertical jump will be tested. And, the scouts will also be looking at how these athletes perform in football-related drills whether they involve one-on-one drills or pattern running.

I’ve had more requests than ever before to work with football players preparing for their pro-days and combines. Most of the time I only get one or two days to work with an athlete. Using my RunningMechanics.com philosophy of making athletes more technically efficient pays big dividends when you have very little time to effect improvements in the 40 yard dash. And, many times the improvements I elicit for the 40-yard dash also carry over to their pro-agility drill (three cone drill) and their one-on-one drills.

But will the results from these combines determine an athlete’s suitability for the pro ranks of football? We’ve all heard of the combine-studs who make no impact at the pro level. So should we pay as much attention to these tests – particularly the 40 yard dash – as we currently do? I’m here to tell you why these tests do play an important role in athlete identification and selection.

Reason 1 – Equal Comparison of Athletic Ability

Football is played against varied competition, on different surfaces, in different weather and with teammates who are good and not so good. So, statistics and game film can show us specific football abilities, but how do we really know if the athlete can perform at the same level against smarter, faster and bigger competition. In the case of the 40 yard dash, we can get a good representation of their acceleration and overall speed in a matter of 4 or 5 seconds. Does this speed translate into game specific speed? In many cases, it gives us enough information (i.e. in the ballpark) to tell us if an athlete can evade or catch the competition. Running speed is also a good overall indicator of athletic ability as it strongly correlates well with strength and power potential.

Reason 2 – Performing Under Pressure

Combine tests such as the 40 yard dash put the athletes on the spot and demonstrate whether or not an individual can perform under pressure, with hundreds of scouts with stopwatches looking on. A test is a test, and athlete poise and concentration are under evaluation with any test. If an athlete cannot handle the pressure while under the microscope, this weakness will surely be revealed in any performance evaluation.

Reason 3 – Preparation and Commitment

A 40 yard dash result is a good indicator of an athletes commitment to preparation for the professional ranks. Many athletes believe they have what it takes to make the pros, and further work in other areas is not needed. “Why do I need to train for my 40-yard dash? My peformance on the field speaks for itself!” The last thing a pro scout wants to see is a high prospect show up for his combine tests overweight and running slow, regardless of his on-field reputation. It can be a sign of things go come in terms of the player’s attitude and commitment.

Reason 4 – Untapped Potential: Opportunity to Move Up

A good combine test result – particularly if it comes unexpected – is always well received by scouts. As we know, football scouts do place some degree of weight on the combine tests, otherwise we wouldn’t we be going through all of this mess. A good result can allow an athlete to move up in the draft and can even result in a greater financial payoff when it comes to signing. And, as we have seen, poor combine results can adversely affect draft-ability. There is something to say for showing scouts that a player has a huge upside. If an athlete can show that he has improved his athletic ability for the combine, what’s to say that he can’t improve other aspects of his game? Progress breeds progress.

Reason 5 – Seeing an Athlete Performing In-Person

Scouts are often limited to watching game film, looking at statistics or relying on word-of-mouth recommendations to make an assessment on a player. There are very few opportunities to see an athlete perform in person. The combines or pro-days provide a final opportunity for scouts and coaches to see an athlete perform in front of them. In talking with a few coaches they could not over-emphasize the importance of this opportunity for in-person assessment. One coach said he even watched how the athletes carried themselves between tests, how they set up for their starts in the 40-yard dash and how they warmed up. It could be the difference between drafting an athlete in the first-round over the second- or third-round. This is why I make it a point to communicate to the athlete how important it is to have good mechanics for all of their tests. Coaches notice when an athlete looks smooth, efficient, effortless and confident. It is always better to run a fast time while looking good, rather than looking like your head is going to pop off!


If you still don’t believe that the 40-yard dash and other combine tests are important for football talent identification, then it’s doubtful that I will ever convince you of their merit. However, if you are a football athlete hoping to make it to the next level, the above points should be duly noted and you should take whatever action required to prepare you for the full range of combine tests. Obviously, some tests will be more important than others (i.e. 40-yard dash vs. 225lb bench reps for a receiver) and you can invest your time and effort accordingly. Testing, in all fields and arenas, is a fact of life. You can ignore this fact, or do what you can to best represent yourself when the time comes. I’m sure I’ll be getting more and more calls for 40-yard dash preparation every year.


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