Warning: If you have read my work before, you know what happens when I get going and get revved up; I have a tendency to get a bit on my soapbox. Thus, today is definitely one of those days. Thus, if you are not in the mood to hear me ramble and point out problems, you may want to stop reading now. If you enjoy that sort of thing, then by all means; carry on!
Recently I came across what I believe to be a relatively new endeavor that the National Football League is partaking in to captivate its followers as well enlighten them as to what some of the League’s players (including a good number of big-name stars) do in order to prepare themselves for the rigors of the NFL grind. This league crusade, entitled NFL UP!, can be found at http://up.nfl.com/. At first glance, knowing that I work exclusively with NFL-level players, this campaign would seem like it would make me excited. However, as you could guess…if this was really the case, then it’s highly unlikely that I would be taking the time to write up a blog about it! Thus, you can bet that the alternative is the case. Of course, I would implore you to take a peek at it and be the judge for yourself, but to me this whole thing represents a number of annoyances. Essentially, these videos show a microcosm of what I believe is wrong in our sport as it pertains to establishing higher levels of mastery for our football players at their respective levels. Namely; athletes of too low of mastery (think young athletes) are performing drills that should be utilized for increasing performance in higher level athletes. AND…athletes of a higher level of mastery (think NFL players) are performing drills that they are no longer getting adequate results from. Let me explain a bit more here.
What are they doing?
For starters, I should probably take a brief moment to discuss what I am witnessing and thinking when I watch some of these videos. As mentioned above, their campaign is using very popular players including numerous outspoken Pro Bowl-level athletes from across the league. They often pair the athlete up with their offseason training specialist and let them demonstrate a number of activities that they feel strongly are contributing to the player’s extraordinary on-field proficiency.
As you will see, very few of the players and coaches in the video clips are doing anything to teach the finer points of any of the drills. Most, if not all, lack any deliberate intention in their execution as well as little mastery in their display. However, we should all know that it’s not necessarily what you’re doing that matters, it’s how you’re doing it that is going to make the difference as to if the exercise is having its desired outcome.
Now, I know a good number of players (both those who choose to use me to direct their preparation as well as those who work with a number of my highly reputable peers) who are taking a much more comprehensive and intelligent approach to their physical preparation plans. Unfortunately though, in my experience, for every one of these kinds of guys there are probably 3-4 guys that are doing some of the crap that I saw while watching clips on NFL UP! for 30 minutes.
All in all, I certainly understand and respect the difficulties with trying to put together something comprehensive like this;
• It’s not likely that whomever is in charge of the campaign and video production knows a lick about elite athlete physical development and preparation methods
• It’s impossible to show a complete view of what the player really does in his preparation during a 5 minute video
• When speaking on the training they use, the players aren’t expected to be coaches or know how to teach it especially when they are discussing these exercises’ use in a general sense and/or the athlete is just accustomed to being good at the activities of his training
Like many of the irritants I find when I read some other training sites featuring professional athletes’ work-outs or when ESPN or NFL Network airs footage of an athlete training, the starting point for me is no different here: when people watch these things (especially aspiring professional football players), they want to do what their heroes do. I don’t blame them for this. It’s human nature. If you want to attain the level of success that another has, simply emulate some of the behaviors that they did in order to get there. However, as you could imagine, these athletes watching the videos are often high school football players or even younger. That said are these videos really what these types of athletes need in order to improve?
First they are usually nowhere near physically or technically prepared to get anything out of the drills that a professional athlete should be doing! Yes; they will think they are more than ready. Yes; they will think that exercise, drill, approach, or regimen will be the key ingredient to them achieving balla status
like the All-Pro they just watched doing it. And they will be wrong on both accounts 99% of the time.
The approach for the lower level athlete should be one that uses diverse means and methods to address many different aims simultaneously. In this way, we could start and develop at the youth level and work from general to more sport event specific only once athletes have mastered and conquered the requisites for sporting success as he climbs up each rung of the sport mastery & qualification ladder.
The proper approach taken when the athlete is at the lower levels of mastery and trainability will negate many of the negative consequences of premature specialization simply by exposing the athlete to multiple movement & sport skills as well as a more all-around development of general motor abilities. At this level, the amount of any sport-specific exercise is greatly limited and should only constitute a very small amount of the total training volume. This will actually provide a broad functional base which is supplied by one’s general physical preparedness. However, the NFL UP! series sadly but not surprisingly completely disregards this thought to Long-Term Athlete Development among of football athletes.
This concludes Part 1. In tomorrow’s Part 2, I will expose yet another side of this whole coin in my mind when I discuss what the videos actually tell me about the current physical preparation practices among the sports’ best in this day and age (note: I may get a little more fired up yet!).