SPARQ: Is it useful for evaluating athleticism in the NFL?

A Little Background

The SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) was developed as a standardized assessment of athleticism and now rests under the watchful eyes of NIKE (yes, that NIKE, the shoe company). The SPARQ has largely focused on selling stuff helping athletes (mainly high schoolers) “track their progress, measure improvement and benchmark against other athletes worldwide”1. The five events used to generate a general SPARQ rating are:

  • 20 Meter Sprint/40 Yard Dash (Speed)
  • Kneeling Power Ball Toss (Power)
  • Agility Shuttle (Agility)
  • Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test or YIRT (Reaction, Quickness, and Endurance)
  • Vertical Jump (Power)

Do these five events really accurately and reliably measure athleticism? Truth is, I have no idea but I’m fairly certain that NIKE is not known for their expertise in the science of assessment. Unsurprisingly, there is little information (read: NONE) on the development and validation of the SPARQ (or its sport-specific variations). That’s OK though – regardless of whether it actually measures athleticism, it sells a bunch of gear and it gets top high school prospects to attend NIKE+ Rating Days. Plus, it gives number crunching fans something to obsess over until fantasy football starts up again.

SPARQ and the NFL

What does this have to do with the NFL? Well, over the past few years, the SPARQ has worked its way into the world of NFL player evaluation (Thanks, Pete Carroll!). Some fellow nerds have spent hours converting the NFL Combine/Pro-Day events into adjusted SPARQ ratings. For those unfamiliar, the NFL Combine/Pro-Day events include:

  • 40-yard dash
  • Bench press (225 lb repetitions)
  • Vertical jump
  • Broad jump
  • 20 yard shuttle
  • 3 cone drill
  • 60-yard shuttle
  • Physical measurements

“Adjusting” the SPARQ for NFL

Immediately, it is clear that this list does not match up completely with the SPARQ list above, which  makes the creation of adjusted SPARQ scores challenging. In the world of psychometrics, there are some solutions to this problem such as linking/equating/anchor items. But, these conversions have been done using more brute-force techniques, like this and this. Are SPARQ and adjusted SPARQ scores really comparable, particularly considering all the information that’s in the NFL Combine but not in the original SPARQ? Again, I have no idea. There is certainly error introduced through this conversion process, but it is unclear whether or not that error is meaningful. My concern is that this conversion is only a small part of the problem with using the SPARQ for NFL player evaluation.

The SPARQ was not created to measure athleticism in NFL prospects

Remember NIKE developed the SPARQ with three goals in mind: 1) To sell stuff, 2) To put the swoosh on more things, and 3) To quantify “athleticism”. We’ve discussed that the SPARQ has been quite successful in achieving 1) and 2), but we are unsure if 3) occurs. That is, there is not enough information to draw a conclusion. Anyway, even if the SPARQ accurately quantifies athleticism in high school athletes, that does not mean it is the best way to quantify athleticism for NFL prospects. Think about it this way: an addition test and a calculus test both measure math ability to some degree, but the latter is more relevant to students trying to gain admittance to a Physics graduate program while the addition test is good for, I don’t know, first grade math group placement. Further, NFL teams are not interested in general athleticism but instead they care about athleticism as it relates to NFL potential. Though seemingly interchangeable, these are different target constructs. The SPARQ was not created with NFL potential in mind.


  • The SPARQ is an athletic assessment with strong ties to NIKE
    • NIKE’s #1 goal is selling stuff
    • There is little information on how the SPARQ was developed
    • There is little empirical evidence supporting the SPARQ as a valid and reliable measure of athleticism
  • The SPARQ was not developed with NFL player evaluation in mind
    • The SPARQ events and NFL Combine/Pro-Day events differ
    • There will be error introduced converting between the SPARQ and “Adjusted” SPARQ
    • It is unknown (but highly unlikely) that the SPARQ is the best way to quantify athleticism as it pertains to NFL potential.

In short, why use a poorly documented and general purpose tool when you can use an assessment tool specifically tailored the needs of NFL teams – like what we have created with VPG’s Athletic Aptitude BatteryTM (A2BTM)?

P.S. If you find any of this quant-talk interesting and want to learn more, read the VPG Psychometrics Blog. It takes nerdiness to a new level (in a good way, of course).



  1. “Media:Press Releases:2008:Sparq”. Nikebiz. 2008-03-10. Archived from the original on 2011-06-08. (Cite from Wikipedia)