I am often asked, “How would you characterize what you do for your players?” I usually respond with something along the lines of, “I strive to perfect their on-field movement efficiency by first assessing their movement characteristics and then directly target the weaknesses I find in a way that will apply on Sundays.”
As soon as people hear the words “assess movement” they automatically envision me utilizing a host of Functional Movement Screens (any of its handfuls of variations) in an attempt to quantify and categorize the level of efficiency of a movement in a very static and non-organic environment. These same people are often surprised when I begin to elaborate upon the methods that I actually do use. Though I believe more quantitative and objective measures are sometimes essential, the movement common to the game on Sunday doesn’t take place quite as neatly as most screening methods would like us to believe. For me, it really all starts with the qualitative assessment of what is occurring on Sunday. Sure; I may not be able to put a scored number on a host of those common movements, but it is the only test I really need.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe some of these individuals leading the ‘movement screen’ charge are most definitely brilliant minds and are onto something fascinating with their personal crusades. In fact, I absolutely love to read the works and insightful perspectives of Gray Cook. I am thankful for some of the concepts that he has shed light on which have helped me formulate how it is that I personally view movement. However, I believe the problem lies when we try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to athletes whose movement patterns are much more complex and unpredictable than what can be found in 5-7 simple, slowly-occurring tests.
Here is what I know and will constantly attempt to portray to you in all of my examples at BEYOND THE STATS; the movement that takes place on the field is in fact the screen all by itself. In fact, I believe it is the only screen that stands as a true and accurate representation as to not only what is occurring during the execution of movement from a specific player but also the litmus test as to if his preparation methods are actually improving his game in positive fashions.
Unfortunately, very rarely do professionals, coaches, trainers, and even those labeled as movement specialists actually understand how to accurately assess movement that is occurring its natural state (i.e. on the playing field). Because of its enormous complexity, it takes quite a long time to get good at studying what is happening but also determining what should be happening during the execution of the on-field movement pattern. In addition, you can’t watch someone in live time and tell me you are assessing anything but their starting and ending positions and how these could be slightly modified to induce any positive changes to the overall display of the movement. It’s intuitively obvious though that the substance which is sandwiched between those two things (the start and ending positions) represent the true meat of what is going down to determine the proficiency of the athlete and his movement. Thus, frame-by-frame video analysis is really the only means to that end (i.e. the assessment of the true ‘meat’ of the movement).
To top that off, people will watch those that they believe to be elite and simply expect that their movement must be impeccable because they stand alone at the top of their position hill. Further yet, we may understand what our anatomy or biomechanics books say should be happening during a movement (i.e. how muscles are behaving, interactions of working mechanisms, judgment of simple positions, etc) but how many of us truly know that is what is actually occurring while the athlete is completing the movement task? The answer is that most don’t and because of this many coaches and trainers will go through their professional careers all the while falsely believing that the movement is happening nicely and neatly the way we instructed the athlete to do it. If we acknowledge that it’s in our best interest to get a better gauge regarding movement analysis, most don’t even know where they should start, what they should be judging, and what indicators to look for that would signify an optimal mover from one that needs even the most drastic of improvements.
Unfortunately, here in this country, we have very few academic programs actually teaching movement skills and techniques. This is astonishing to me. How have we found ourselves in this predicament? I mean come on…Sport is about movement! At its core, the attainment of higher sport mastery is about performing movement more precisely and more optimally than your peers! Thus, movement lies at the heart of it all!
I frequently implore athletes to ask any of their coaches to describe to them what is really happening while they execute a movement. When doing so, one will usually just get a lot of pre-packaged answers that show the lack of truly understanding the ‘what’. Ask the same coach how one athlete’s movement differs from another athlete and you will get some angered backtracking, some rambling mumbo-jumbo, or simply a confusing stare. The fact of the matter is that many coaches simply do not understand.
My NFL players find it slightly odd when they come to me initially and I refuse to work with them until after I have had sufficient time to go through an abundance of their game film. I don’t want to hear about their combine numbers. I don’t want to test their strength in the weight room for myself. I don’t even want to see them move in closed drills. Only one thing matters to me because ultimately only one thing matters to them…I need to see what they do when they are on the field on Sundays. For the most part that’s really all I need (of course as long as I am armed with certain informational necessities such as training and injury history) and from there I will design what is they need to do to go to the next level of their performance.