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Football: Hand-Time Correction for the 40-Yard Test


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The 40-yard dash has long been the standard for evaluating football players' speed. It's believed that 40 yards was chosen as a yardstick because it's the average distance of a punt and times would allow coaches to determine players' ability to sprint from the line of scrimmage to cover punts.

Traditionally, the test was measured by hand, with coaches standing at the finish line with a stopwatch. However, many clinics and combines now use electronic timing as a way to improve the accuracy of their measurements.

Unfortunately, such electronic times are often compared directly with hand times when, in fact, a correction factor should be used when comparing them.

Differences in Electronic Versus Hand Times
Track coaches have long known that hand times produce faster results because human reaction-time results in the watch being started a split-second after movement actually occurs, while electronic systems detect this movement instantaneously, resulting in the clock running for a slightly longer period of time.

Track officials correct for this difference by adding .24 seconds to a hand-timed 100m to convert it to an electronic time.

Should football coaches not also use such a correction factor when comparing hand and electronic times over 40 yards? If so, what is the factor?

The Study - Electronic Versus Hand Times
A study at Truman State University was performed to determine an appropriate conversion factor. Multiple repetitions of 40 yard runs were conducted, with hand and electronic times for the same subjects recorded and compared.

Hand timing is typically initiated upon the first hand movement out of a three-point stance, and ends when the player's torso (shoulders or chest) crosses the finish line.

Electronic timing starts when the player lifts his hand from a sensor pad and ends when he crosses an infrared beam at the finish line. The beam is set at a height of about 4 feet.

Results
The study determined that the difference between hand and electronic times was .12 to .19 seconds, with the hand times being faster. A correction factor of .16 seconds was suggested - this is similar to the widely accepted human reaction time for visual stimulus of .19 seconds.

So, if your player runs a 40-yard dash in a hand-timed 4.40 seconds, his electronic equivalent would be 4.56 seconds.

Human Variation Recommendation
As was identified in this study, there is considerable variation in the skill of the timers themselves. The researchers suggest that any testing situation use the same timer(s) for all tests so the results within that group remain consistent.

 

https://www.physicaleducationupdate.com/public/555.cfm

 

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1 minute ago, LaurentRobinsonDaGawd said:

Would make a lot of these 40 times at pro days much more believeable. Even .10 added is a big difference, but still shows a player has high 4.3/low 4.4 of they ran a 4.30 flat. 

Studies suggest that human error is more probable on the early as  opposed to early late. 
 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20072055/

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1 minute ago, Faithful Falcon said:

Good stuff, but still irrelevant. The natural science of the 40 is great between the WR and the QB. 

Not irrelevant. A time of 4.40 to 4.56 could potentially move a early 2nd round pick into mid 1st round territory. If teams analyze and weight 40 time heavily then the human error must be accounted for. 

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7 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

Studies suggest that human error is more probable on the early as  opposed to early late. 
 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20072055/

Can you explain further, please?

Haven't read the full study yet (thanks for sharing!) but the last line of the abstract confirms the OP:

 

"Practically speaking, electronic timing produces the best measurement of 40-yd dash speed, and using the hand timing produces consistently but significantly faster times."

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Just now, Sidecar Falcon said:

Not irrelevant. A time of 4.40 to 4.56 could potentially move a early 2nd round pick into mid 1st round territory. If teams analyze and weight 40 time heavily then the human error must be accounted for. 

I understand all of that, but grading a player's 40 time is about more than seeing if he can run. An example would be if your QB is in the Shotgun (about 5 yards behind the LOS), the WR runs his route 40 yards down field. The QB releases the ball in 1.5 to 2 seconds, and the ball is in the air for 2.5 to 3 seconds. Pending double moves, etc.

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2 minutes ago, Francis York Morgan said:

This is all well and good, but the 40s at Pro Days this year were actually largely laser timed and most hand-times have been corrected after the fact (helps when you can go frame by frame with video too)

Can you provide the link to back that up. Reason I ask is that all I see typically are people using hand timers. Haven’t been able to find any solid confirmation that laser timer were used at any given pro day. 

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1 minute ago, Kaptain Krazy said:

Can you explain further, please?

Haven't read the full study yet (thanks for sharing!) but the last line of the abstract confirms the OP:

 

"Practically speaking, electronic timing produces the best measurement of 40-yd dash speed, and using the hand timing produces consistently but significantly faster times."

I gather that it means the the human times are consistent. Like the human eye is accurate to the point where it catches the time at the same point. However these times are faster than the actual 40 times. 

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2 minutes ago, Faithful Falcon said:

I understand all of that, but grading a player's 40 time is about more than seeing if he can run. An example would be if your QB is in the Shotgun (about 5 yards behind the LOS), the WR runs his route 40 yards down field. The QB releases the ball in 1.5 to 2 seconds, and the ball is in the air for 2.5 to 3 seconds. Pending double moves, etc.

I mean...yeah. I’m not sure how that fact makes the data presented “irrelevant”. It’s relevant because of the draft impact. Everything else isn’t being discussed. 

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Just now, PokerSteve said:

Why don't they conduct the 40-yard dash with full pads, cleats and helmet? Wouldn't it be nice to see what their time is when they're dressed to play football? Too much of a hassle to be practical, or just a uniquely stupid idea? :ninja:

I wouldn’t mind that. And put a ball in their hand. Usually the 40 times are ran like sprints. With the chest stuck out at the end. That action doesn’t translate to NFL functionality.  

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11 minutes ago, PokerSteve said:

Why don't they conduct the 40-yard dash with full pads, cleats and helmet? Wouldn't it be nice to see what their time is when they're dressed to play football? Too much of a hassle to be practical, or just a uniquely stupid idea? :ninja:

Because you use game film for game speed, combine is for pure athleticism. 

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35 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

Can you provide the link to back that up. Reason I ask is that all I see typically are people using hand timers. Haven’t been able to find any solid confirmation that laser timer were used at any given pro day. 

Struggling to find where I saw it, I know that isn't especially helpful. I'll link it here if I do find it. I also saw recently that the average 40 time this year (only counting official numbers) is only .02 faster than last year...but again, less useful without being able to find the source.

EDIT: not what I was looking for, but there's stuff like this, where they have both laser and hand times, and articles where they "correct" times to be official.

https://247sports.com/Article/Jayson-Oweh-Micah-Parsons-NFL-Draft-2021-40-yard-dash-Penn-State-football-162070963/

Edited by Francis York Morgan
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57 minutes ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

I mean...yeah. I’m not sure how that fact makes the data presented “irrelevant”. It’s relevant because of the draft impact. Everything else isn’t being discussed. 

I guess I took the scenic route when it came to explaining. Just saying that 4.4 to 4.5 doesn't make a big difference when it comes to a play maker. 

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1 hour ago, Francis York Morgan said:

Struggling to find where I saw it, I know that isn't especially helpful. I'll link it here if I do find it. I also saw recently that the average 40 time this year (only counting official numbers) is only .02 faster than last year...but again, less useful without being able to find the source.

EDIT: not what I was looking for, but there's stuff like this, where they have both laser and hand times, and articles where they "correct" times to be official.

https://247sports.com/Article/Jayson-Oweh-Micah-Parsons-NFL-Draft-2021-40-yard-dash-Penn-State-football-162070963/

I saw a post somewhere saying that the average 40 time jumped exponentially year over year than the average from previous years. I’ll have to find that article. I’m sure that there are teams using lasers but I think that hand timers are being used more prominently as was the case in precious years; which is why there has been such a discrepancy. 

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3 hours ago, youngbloodz said:

I wonder did they take into account of the surface too. Because that can definitely affect a 40 time. Certain tracks are notoriously face. Like Virginia Tech almost shaved .5 off a players time because that track is so fast

that's a good point that i was thinking about while i was watching them. also the difference between running indoors/outside, weather conditions, etc.

49 minutes ago, Ovie_Lover said:

What makes a track fast?

if you've played on different turfs you can tell. some are packed harder, some are softer, some have more bounce to them, some are "springier" (if that's a real word), etc.

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44 minutes ago, Ovie_Lover said:

What makes a track fast?

How hard or soft the surface is can determine if it's a faster or slower track.

Harder surfaces are better for producing fast times for sprinters, but can really beat up on long distance runners.

A softer surface provides more cushion to absorb the impact while running, which is better for long distance runners, as they are on the surface for such a longer duration. The trade off for a softer, cushioned surface is that it is much more difficult for a sprinter to push off when starting.

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4 hours ago, Francis York Morgan said:

This is all well and good, but the 40s at Pro Days this year were actually largely laser timed and most hand-times have been corrected after the fact (helps when you can go frame by frame with video too)

I was about to say... I don't understand why these bigger schools (that spend all this money on custom apparel for their pro days) won't spend the money on setting up laser timing.  I ran D1 Track and Field, and while I was a long distance/XC guy, every single track meet had laser timing/ finish line cams, (In XC we used chips on our spikes or bibs and had camera's on the finish line for photo finishes).  He!! most of my HS meets had laser timing.

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