Using A Subjective Rating System for HS Athletes

Jul 25, 2022

Strength and conditioning professionals at every level face a number of challenges that are not easily solved.  If you work in a high school setting, you will almost always have to do more with less in comparison to those that work with college or professional athletes.  At the high school level, it is commonplace to train multiple, if not all of a school's athletic programs, which usually encompasses hundreds of athletes.  Making matters worse, a limited time frame to accomplish goals is often the norm, and a well-developed cadre of assistants is often unavailable or at best, inadequate.  In this environment of constant demand, sometimes the opportunity for quality face to face time with athletes can be a challenge.  In the few spare minutes between teams, it is often difficult to check in on other aspects of training and hear verbal feedback from all the athletes you encounter in a large group session.

Despite this challenge, it is still possible to get valuable information from a large number of athletes in a simple way that takes little to no additional time.  If solicited regularly, and reviewed often, the information collected will allow you to make sound training decisions and help take excellent care of your athletes.  Technology can certainly be helpful in this sense, with all the wearable devices available at the current time.  If you have the means to procure such technology on a large scale, then by all means do so.  But these platforms have their limits, especially when considering the total person, and at the high school level, it is cost prohibitive and unrealistic in most situations.  A simpler, more practical option is to include a well-balanced subjective rating system on the workout cards you give your athletes. 

In our program, we have three major reasons for making a subjective rating system a part of our training approach: To monitor overall stress, to make solid training decisions, and most importantly, to take overall great care of our athletes as people first.  Before we roll it out each year, we first brief our athletes on the goals of the system, and how we will use the information collected.  We explain that honesty is paramount, that there will be no negative consequences for their feedback, and that their participation is optional.  Over the years, we have had very few athletes that chose not to participate. 

The implementation of the system itself is very simple, and it is designed to take athletes about 30 seconds to complete.  At the end of each workout, before turning in their card, our athletes know to complete their ratings without being prompted.  It is just part of the expectations for finishing a workout.  In particular, it centers on their responses to seven preset categories that are included in a small box at the bottom of each day's workout on their sheet.  They rate themselves from 1-10 in each of the following categories:

  1. GPR= General Physical Readiness (How good does your body feel? 1-Bad, 10-Great)
  2. WIR= Workout Intensity Rating (How difficult was that workout? 1-Super Easy, 10-Insane)
  3. EHW= Emotional Health & Wellness (Where are you emotionally? 1-Down, 10-Happy)
  4. NQ= Nutrition Quality (How are your eating habits? 1-Terrible, 10-Incredible)
  5. SQ= Sleep Quality (What is the quality of your sleep? 1-Awful, 10-Amazing)
  6. AS= Academic Stress (How much stress is school causing you? 1-None, 10-Freaking Out)
  7. OSR= Overall Stress Rating (Overall combined life stress? 1-Low, 10-Off the Charts)

Although the primary way we use our system is to solicit feedback at the end of the session, we sometimes will break from that practice if the situation warrants it.  We may use it spontaneously before a workout starts if we notice obvious fatigue or bad body language in a warm-up.  We may also knowingly plan to use it before a workout if a team is coming off a major club tournament, has offseason sport practices or open-gyms that week, or is around a critical point in the academic year such as the end of the grading period or finals.  In either case, we will ask them to do it and give it back to us before we start.  Then as a staff we will review the information quickly and make any necessary changes.  In these instances, we usually rely heavily on the ratings of GPR (General Physical Readiness), SQ (Sleep Quality), AS (Academic Stress), and OSR (Overall Stress Rating) to make decisions. 

On the most immediate level, a rating system can give you both instant and long-term feedback about the overall well-being of an athlete.  By asking for feedback 2-3 times a week for 4-6 months, you can easily track individual or team trends, as well as help you to identify who may be your biggest concern.  Athletes give you feedback all the time; when you interact with them personally, through their body language, attitude, effort level, and focus.  But a subjective rating system gives you another piece of information that you can use to help better support and understand your athletes.  It can give you a roadmap to what an individual athlete needs help with the most, thereby streamlining their path to progress.  If nothing else, it gives you a chance to communicate that you care about your athletes as people first. By simply asking how they are doing in some of these areas on a regular basis, you demonstrate that your interest in them goes well beyond training. 

At its most impactful, a rating system can help you construct your annual plan, and give you the ability see adjustments and modifications that need to be made.  Perhaps most importantly, though, it can help you identify, support and intervene with an athlete that may be struggling.  In the six years that we have regularly included a rating system on each workout card, we have uncovered a number of serious issues, such as eating disorders, anxiety and depression, self-harm, learning difficulties, food insecurity, problems at home, and academic and emotional issues.  It has given us the opportunity to understand and show compassion to our athletes, and help facilitate the process of referring them to the appropriate professional.  In each case, the origin for that discovery was a pattern of low ratings they reported on their workout cards.  Without these ratings, we may have never followed up with some of our athletes and likely would have missed the chance to see larger problems and help young people in need. 

We understand that this system is not perfect, and that kids can easily lie, but we feel we have had honest and genuine results from it.  Kids are a lot less likely to lie when you ask for their honest opinion.   It is only a part of our overall strategy to care for our student-athletes holistically, but we feel it is an important one.  We simply cannot do the best for our athletes without regularly soliciting input on their physical and mental state.  With all that adolescents have been through in the last year with COVID, it is even more important than ever.  I encourage you to come up with something that makes sense for your program and commit to reviewing the results on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis, for it must be done regularly and effectively like any other aspect of your program. If you provide your athletes with a regular chance to tell you about their physical and mental state, and you analyze the results closely, I promise you will not be disappointed.  You will end up with the opportunity to serve your student-athletes better and help them immensely in a number of different ways.


Colin Peuse is the Director of Athletic Performance at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, CA.  He can be reached at