Encouraging Health and Happiness

Former UW strength coach Brett Brungardt takes guesswork out of athletic testing

Originally published Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 4:47 PM

By Jerry Brewer

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Brett Brungardt likes to joke about his failures as a strength and conditioning coach. It’s funny because he didn’t really fail; he was just the victim of deceptive testing.

“I came to the realization that I wasn’t a very good strength coach because, every year, the head coach in whatever sport I was working with, would come to me and say, ‘What’s so-and-so benching? What’s his 40 time? What’s his vertical?’ ” said Brungardt, whose 25-year career in professional and collegiate sports included a stint at Washington from 2002 to 2008. “I’d look it up and recite where he was. And the coach would say, ‘When I recruited him, he was benching this or running 4.5 40-yard dash. And it’s still the same. Why isn’t he better?’ I’d just shake my head. During the recruiting process, coaches weren’t getting reliable information.”

Throughout his career, Brungardt kept those stories in the back of his mind. Between chuckles, he often pondered what he could do to get less biased information. Four years ago, after leaving Washington, he traveled the world in pursuit of better ways to test. Then he decided to start his own business, Basic Athletic Measurement, which marries training and technology to evaluate athletes more accurately.

BAM testing is a local hidden gem that is growing in popularity. The NBA uses Brungardt and his team to measure draft prospects. Brungardt oversees the testing at all the major pre-draft events, including the NBA Draft Combine, Portsmouth Invitational and Eurocamp.

Brungardt is the man who collects the trendy data about prospects’ speed, power, agility, muscular endurance and core strength. And he does it in the most objective manner possible, using everything from electronic wristbands to sensor mats to laser lights.

Goodbye, stopwatch. Goodbye, human error, too.

“This is not guesswork. This is reliable,” Brungardt says. “If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing. We want to make sure our numbers are correct.”

BAM doesn’t just aspire to test elite athletes for major sports. It operates on a grass-roots level, too. One of Brungardt’s passions is to give young athletes accurate athletic testing. And it happens to be the same testing that world-class athletes receive.

BAM testing will hold a combine for youths 12 and up — in any sport — from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at Magnuson Athletic Club. Brungardt also offers private testing sessions for as low as $20.

“I want kids to have benchmarks for fitness analysis,” he said. “It’s not just the testing. We take their data, put it on a secure website, and they can log in, see their scores and see what the standards are in our database. It’s good for goal setting and motivation. They can know that they’re getting a reliable test so that they can go out and do the things they need to do.”

Mike Baggett, the Sportsworx representative in the Northwest, has been a BAM client since its inception. Sportsworx helps prepare prep athletes for college. Baggett says Brungardt’s services are a valuable tool for training.

“Traditionally, most testing involves stopwatches,” Baggett said. “Dealing with stopwatches, you’re dealing with human error. Usually, we would have three people doing the timing and take the average. You’re not being accurate that way, and tenths of a second mean everything in sports, especially with sprinters. I think it’s a great tool for coaches.”

Brungardt isn’t getting those questions that inspired his favorite joke anymore. In some cases, the data he collects has even been a harbinger for surprise success stories.

Take Jeremy Lin, for instance. The New York Knicks guard turned out to be one of the most fascinating stories of the NBA season. BAM keeps all of its data private, but the NBA’s pre-draft testing is always made public, so Brungardt can do some comparisons with Lin. He can tell you that, during testing that measures average speed, start speed and top-end speed, Lin ranks up there with Derrick Rose, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.

Athletic testing doesn’t make the player. But it’s a nice resource to consider. The NFL, which is numbers crazy during its pre-draft process, would be wise to convert to BAM’s standardized testing system.

While BAM isn’t the only company that can provide this kind of testing, it is — unlike, say, Nike — a true third-party source that isn’t trying to sell sneakers or any other products.

It’s all about testing and collecting data, nothing else. And as the sports world gets brainier, Brungardt’s company should grow in significance.

“I don’t think it’s the end-all,” Brungardt said. “I’m not here to replace the eye of a scout or coach. It’s one component, and it’s an objective component that has value. It doesn’t mean it’s always going to translate in talent evaluation. That’s what coaching is about. That’s what the human component is about.

“But what are the standards, the minimums that are going to make these decisions less risky? What we are establishing is the apples-to-apples component. That’s the goal.”

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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