In yesterday’s blog post, I introduced some of my thoughts regarding the current launch of the NFL UP! video series. Today, I plan to throw down the gauntlet yet even further…
Unfulfilled Sport Mastery Potential
As I said in Part 1, I will be the first to admit that there is no way to get an accurate representation of what an athlete is doing in order to prepare for the NFL season based on watching a 5 minute video of him performing drills or hearing his training specialist discussing the objectives of that athlete’s personal physical preparation plan. However, if these videos are really depicting what the majority of players are doing to prepare AND these athletes are supposed to be at the highest levels of their individual mastery, I am sincerely frightened by what breeds of athletes we would see on Sundays if they were being prepared in what would be the most highly efficacious manners.
Watching athletes of the highest level, wouldn’t you think we would witness some of these guys at least participating in more than some simply designed speed training methods or some ridiculous ‘agility’ ladder work? Sure; some of them were actually performing exercises which could be considered ‘Special Physical Preparation’ nature. However, when it comes to the selection of exercises for development of elite football mastery, my purpose has always been to match the athlete’s level of qualification (i.e. the level of football they play at; NFL in this case) with their specific levels of mastery (i.e. specialized characteristics they display on-field in movement) with their individual levels of preparedness (i.e. how well their body is able to function based on training means/methods they are executing).
The problem that exists though is that most coaches don’t understand how the athlete’s body, adaptation expectations, and the conditions of his current state, will change over time enough to accurately manipulate the variables of the training and development process. The fact of the matter though is that correlation between a mean/method of development and the performance on the field will be constantly changing as mastery increases. For example, the attainment of maximum strength will typically be highly correlated to on-field movement performance early on in the process of attaining sports mastery but will start to greatly lose its effect as time accumulates. In addition, at these lower levels of mastery, even the attainment of one general motor ability (such as strength) could positively impact the display of another typically-independent motor ability (such as speed). In contrast, a particular mean/method, or the physical quality that it is aimed at developing, may have very little correlation when the athlete is at lower levels of mastery but become increasingly imperative for further specialization of the athlete at the higher levels. This is because the lower level athlete still needs to attain higher levels of other general motor abilities but the higher level athlete needs a more specialized direction.
Unfortunately, because the coaches once saw a certain degree of transfer from acquiring some general motor ability or through the use of a given exercise, they become married to its use at all times in the future hoping to rekindle those same old sparks. But at no time in the future does that same level of adaptation and corresponding results ever come. The physical stress elicited for that athlete is no longer what he needs in order to thrive and grow in his own personal process of attaining sports mastery.
This common trend though has led to the overreliance on means and methods typically deemed as those geared towards General Physical Preparation. It’s like a dog chasing its own tail. Our athletes are consistently reestablishing physical qualities that they have already attained and exhausted throughout their training process. All the while the only thing they are doing is constantly placing further limitation on their ultimate mastery potential. Because of this overreliance there is very little long-term specialization potential for the high-level football player even if he happens to play at the uppermost echelon and compares well against his peers (i.e. he is a Pro Bowl-level player).
What we have to realize is that as both mastery and trainability increase, the degree of transfer from general exercises and drills decrease. The entire central nervous system needs further specialization of the athlete’s physiology specifically directed to peculiarities of the movements performed. On that note, the biodynamic structure of most movements will also be significantly changed for the athlete who has moved up in levels of mastery (that is if we have prepared him sufficiently). In addition, these patterns will become more solidified which means that it will require more intensive stimuli in order to change them. This point in time usually equates to further improvement being dependent on a switch to more specific training directives and will be very individual-specific based on an athlete’s genetic make-up, maturation, motivation, etc.
It is at these times where means used to target the specific motor potential will become more important as increases in technical proficiency will go hand-in-hand with the acquisition of it (the specific motor potential). In fact, when we begin to see a negative transfer of training (measured only in the context of the particular sport movement action) from a given training mean or method, this could be our first indication that the athlete is increasing in his level of sport mastery and a change in training focus needs to occur to more special physical preparedness or special strength training orientation. To take this a step further, any work for the high mastery performer that does not lead to an increase in performance needs to be eliminated because it will detract from the improvement of the qualities important for the development needed for the main aim.
When observing the umbrella view of a training program some of the exercises selected may not really change all that much from General Physical Preparation to Special Physical Preparation to Special Strength Training/Specialized Development (at least in some cases). In fact, at latter stages in the process of attaining sports mastery, any exercise can be considered specific as it all depends on exactly how it is being used and executed. This is what will actually determine its relevance for the athlete’s mastery potential as well as eventual correlation to training transfer. To the naked eye, the outside appearance of an exercise may not actually appear to be any different. However, slight variations and modifications in the athlete’s intention must occur to their execution specific to what characteristics we are looking to change in the movement. These variations and modifications can come from numerous directions including the fashion the exercise is being executed (complexity of the exercises, changes to the muscular work regime), the intensity of the exercise (load used or speed of action), and the volume of its use at that time of the training cycle (the sets, reps, or frequency it is performed). All of these variations collectively will greatly change how the Central Nervous System will adapt to the stress of the loading.
Siff and Verkhoshansky once stated that the increase in, or production of, any type of strength quality is highly dependent on the neuromuscular process it requires (Supertraining 2009). What this all-important idea speaks to is the point made above; every modification made to a training protocol will alter the way that the CNS controls movement (the balance between mobility and stability), displays movement (reactions between the internal and external environment), and performs movement (what speeds and forces). Essentially then, the training protocol is largely responsible for the biodynamic structure of the on-field sport movement that we witness.
It is for this reason that, at higher levels of sport mastery (arguably at every level actually), we must take the degree of neuromuscular efficiency transfer from the exercise to the movement application in mind to match the two up as closely as possible. This is the only way to ensure that that the athlete and his work capacity become more specialized. This is also why phases of Special Physical Preparation or Special Strength Training/Special Development exercises become the backbone of training application for those who have achieved higher trainability. Through these types of exercises, the neuromuscular efficiency and its associated coordination will be able to connect to the athlete’s displayed biomechanical characteristics in movement actions out on the field.
Unfortunately, if coaches want to implement exercises that are more specific to the sport and the corresponding level of sport mastery (those means of SPP, SDE, or SST designation) it’s unlikely that many would be able to accurately do so; this is proven in the videos on the page. This stems again from the lack of understanding of what is occurring during the execution of the sport movement task to begin with. It then results in the inability to properly modify exercises to target specific weaknesses in the displayed movement dynamics of the athlete. I realize I sound like a broken record right now. However, the level of mastery fulfillment can all be traced back to this necessity to more fully understand movement dynamics.
You may think I am making more out of this seemingly-harmless, little video series that the NFL is putting out to entertain as well as potentially assist its viewers in feeling more connected with what the League’s athletes are doing. I obviously don’t quite see it this way. I believe both the League as well as anyone involved with the sport deserves to be more enlightened and educated regarding the better ways for our athletes at all levels of qualification and mastery to be developing their potential.