In today’s NFL there is a coach or at least a staffer in charge of everything (well; nearly everything). As you come off the field there is someone to tell you what you did wrong (actually more like four people who will do that), one person who gives you a tidbit about what you did right, a person to check if you are feeling OK, one to give you water, one to tell you what media members you have to talk with after the game, one who will get you hooked up with any gear you need, and so-on and so-forth. However, I think they are missing one very integral support person; someone who has the sole purpose to analyze and then subsequently perfect movement among the players on the team.
Think about it: all success on the field is premised around if the player is in the right place at the right time. And IF the person is in position or not is largely dependent on how efficiently he has moved. You can have the best hands in the league but if you can’t get open you’re not gonna catch many balls. You may be a sure tackler but if you don’t know how to leverage your body when absorbing the force of another human being it’s likely that you will ever get to the point of attack.
When we are referring to the most physically gifted and freakish athletes in the world who are having millions of dollars invested in them to MOVE around a football field for 3 hours each Sunday, I am not quite certain how a person who is entrusted in perfecting that movement is missing in 2013?
The late & great sports scientist, Yuri Verkhoshansky, hit the nail on the head when he said, “the essence of sports competition activity lies in the movements of the human body.” He was also quoted as saying, “sport becomes a problem-solving activity in which movements are used to produce the necessary solutions.” Well, if an athlete isn’t being sufficiently coached as to the right execution of movement (specific to him) to utilize in order to produce the optimal solution in the specific problematic situation, then how can we expect it to happen?
If I serve as a player’s personal coach, strength & conditioning coach, or physical preparation specialist, I believe that I have one sole objective: to perfect the on-field movement that he executes on a football field on Sundays. Yet; this is not the underlying thought process of the majority of S&C coaches at any level. This is very unfortunate to me. In fact, let me be quite frank here; most strength & conditioning coaches (like their position coaching peers) don’t understand movement at all! They don’t know what they’re looking at, why something may be happening the way it is, and they sure as heck don’t know exactly what they need to do in order to sufficiently change it. In addition, if you watch most NFL team’s practices and pick out the S&C coaches, once they conduct the team warm-up, they disappear and are nowhere to be found unless an injured guy is cleared to do conditioning across the field. Yet; their job is entirely dependent on how each guy is physically prepared to perform the movement actions taking place on the field.
Because of this, at first glance, the S&C coach may look like the likely candidate to fill this role but this is simply unrealistic to expect. You need someone who is truly going to dissect the movement at the level that an NFL player’s mastery dictates. In addition, many position coaches act like they know about movement but in reality they just know a great deal about tactics and strategies…though this can go hand-in-hand with technical movement execution, they are not one in the same.
Let me give you a brief example: while attending a particular NFL training camp last week, I watched an angled slalom cutting drill that I often use in order to help perfect the change of direction actions employed for an athlete in traffic on the field. The first guy to go executed the drill task with a sit-dip-drive power cutting action. The next guy used a very high crossover. The third guy went with a bunch of short/choppy deceleration steps before coming to almost a complete stop on the side of the cone before jogging to the next cone with a very high center of mass position. As each guy went through the drill’s course, the coach barked out the same coaching instruction to each participant: “just move faster!” Yeah; you read that instruction correctly. Each guy executed the movement action differently…which I may actually advocate in my training setting, but in my case we are doing it to optimize the actions specific to the athlete’s level of mastery as well as his strengths/weaknesses and not just letting whatever happens to happen like I believe that this coach was.
Shortly thereafter, the running backs moved over in my area to do a cutting drill in which the execution of the movement again was not coached. The position coach tossed a soccer ball either to the right or left of the RB as he had to move to the ball, plant hard, grab the ball, toss it back, and then shuffle back to the opposite side to perform the same task to that side then. While this activity occurred, I didn’t notice a single one of the RBs (including one of the best in the game) actually executing his respective cutting actions with the level of proficiency that I would categorize as optimal for him and the situational demands. Yet, as you could’ve guessed, not a single coaching cue was given to a player on how to change his movement actions.
In either of the above mentioned examples, please don’t think that the lack of coaching was because there weren’t any compensations, dysfunctions, or inefficiencies occurring during the execution of the movement. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In each case, they elected to employ what I consider to be a few very effective drills…IF done correctly. However, that’s a big IF. If not done with an emphasis on specific execution, it is just doing more harm than good as the activity continues to reiterate more of the same of what the guy has always done. Meaning; it reinforces the same old compensational and dysfunctional patterns.
On the opposite end of the spectrum to the stories above, perfect practice is the only thing that makes perfect. In order to make change in a guy’s movement performance, what is happening while he is moving on the field must be understood down to the minute level. From there, we must clearly understand why it is happening the way that it is and what deterministic factors will directly lead to greater success in the movement task’s demands.
Now, don’t think that I am blind to the fact that the movement tasks that occur on a football field on Sundays are extraordinarily complex. Honestly, they must also be treated as such. The movements are not easy to change so we can’t leave their perfection process to chance. In addition, as with any athlete at higher levels of mastery, their motor function becomes more specialized (i.e. more specific to the way they have been trained to execute a task) and thus the stimuli elicited from the training activities selected needs to be representative of this need. Put more simply; the activities need to lead to development that is specific to the tasks that the players perform on Sundays (i.e. strength & speed qualities developed exactly how it will be executed in movement actions).
To add to that idea, if we want our athletes to achieve a higher level of on-field movement mastery, it really comes down to a process of finding the most optimal biomechanical factors (based on the positional demands) to fully utilize the athlete’s special motor potential in the execution of the on-field movement. This has to be specific to the individual athlete! Attempting to accomplish the same movement outcome goal in the same fashion for two different guys will not have the optimal result. We are seeking movement authenticity. Like a fingerprint or a signature, we are constantly attempting to fine-tune the optimal movement execution that is unique to the individual athlete. The problem is that very few coaches (if any) are even attempting to answer this developmental question. Instead they leave it to chance and hope that the individual happens to self-optimize in these patterns (Hint: I believe this only happens in the absolute freaks of nature).
In order to achieve this ultimate goal of movement perfection specific to the individual, we must make greater efforts to fully understand the always existent connection between the motor potential and the technical display of specific movement patterns. On this note we must remember that any change in motor potential (i.e. capabilities of strength, speed, flexibility, work capacity, etc) will impact the movement that we see in some way. Therefore, the only constant in the technical display of a movement is the constant variability that exists. I am referring to the entire biodynamic structure of the sport movement action. Under this context, I am talking kinetics, kinematics, and the psycho-pedagogical considerations of the movement. If you make a correction to one piece of the puzzle, you need to think about what effects it will have on the remaining pieces (both positive & negative). The problem here is that there hasn’t been an awful lot of scientific research aimed at giving us insight in this regard. Thus, for now we must rely on our current understanding of how the body functions during dynamic movement and trust the judgment calls that we make with the potential solutions we employ. However, that topic is an issue to tackle on an entirely separate day.
All in all, as I may have alluded to on his site before, I have some players who call me their movement coach. I am very proud of this distinction because of what it represents and it shows that they truly know what it is that is important. I believe that there needs to be more movement coaches across the league…those who elect to specialize in the optimization process of the movement actions that occur on the field. Till then, there will always be another void out there on the mastery ladder that the game’s best have yet