Just what exactly am I doing while at Training Camp: ’14 revised edition

Note: I wanted to start the 2014 NFL season (and the BTS blog posts for this year) with a quick re-post from last season that has specific relevance to what it is that I am trying to do and how I am attempting to impact the League.

With the start of NFL Training Camps this past week, many of my peers in the industry and the workplace, as well as many of my family and friends, inevitably believe that it is time for me to take a break. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, in my mind, now is the time when the rubber truly hits the road and my athletes actually need me the most. It’s not only time to see the fruits of our extensive labor (when I say “our” I mean my players and myself) over the past training development year but it is also time to make changes that can ensure that our work actually applies directly to the field.

When people hear that I am attending NFL Training Camps for my players they think that I am simply going to:
• Network with and gain additional players (well, that happens occasionally when others witness the changes that my guys realized in the offseason)
• Take pictures with my guys so I can look like some sort of a big shot (trust me I don’t need that to think that I am a big deal)
• Party it up each night after a long days work (that only happens on Saturday nights cuz most camps have off on Sundays)
• Take-in a little bit of football cuz I enjoy the sport so much (you should know by now that I watch football a little differently than to simply just enjoy it)

However, though combinations of these things do occur (don’t judge me for the partying), my role at Training Camp goes much beyond them. Instead, I have a unique opportunity with camp practices. I finally get to see my athletes in the midst of their true elements. Sure; I can rehearse certain factors and aspects of the competitive demands of the events of the game but I can’t even come close to completely reproducing it. In addition, during the season, practices at each team are completely closed door. Thus, the only adjustments I can make at that time are from watching game-film (which I can also do very well but that is another blog post by itself). All in all, I must take advantage of this time period as it is perfect for eliciting long-term mastery and adaptation.

I believe that this is where many of my peers are going wrong. To start, many of the team Strength & Conditioning Coaches typically only direct the day’s warm-up protocols (Note: I have written a few times about this including last year at a team camp…https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/priming-the-system-for-performance-my-thoughts-on-warming-up/) and then they disappear for the remainder of the day. As for my peers in the private sector, many of them are also nowhere to be found. I’ve found that many use this time to go on their own vacations before they get to take in their player’s games once the season begins and then brag about their performances on their social media sites. If they do go to camp, they can often be seen doing some of the things I mentioned above.

I believe that we, as a whole, are missing the boat as to a bigger role that we can serve at this time of the year. Of course, some of it is an issue of how we have always viewed ourselves and the corresponding duties of that perception. As I have said in the past, I don’t look at myself as a Strength & Conditioning Coach or simply someone in charge of Physical Preparation. Many in our country have taken the title way too literally; so much so that they limit themselves to the development of “strength” and “conditioning” and determine that anything that doesn’t fit neatly under these umbrellas isn’t their responsibility. In contrast, I feel as though when a player hires me I am in charge of his overall performance and that performance is all-encompassing…in fact, most of my players introduce me as their performance advisor or their movement coach. Of course, there is no better place to get this comprehensive look into each aspect of his performance (and movement) than when he actually has to go to work on the field!

Overall, the purpose of my work is the optimization of the player’s movement patterns on-field. We have just come off of a period of highly-specialized and individualized time where I was trying to directly change numerous things about the way he moves during the demands of his specific tasks. Thus, it is a perfect time for me to see ‘what stuck’ when he is required to perform his positional duties. I get to evaluate him as well as myself (how well did my training means & methods work in his instance). There will be positional drills done as individuals as well as live one-on-one and team work where I get a very clear and immediate picture if we did our job or not.

Of course, research has repeatedly shown that both kinetic and kinematic characteristics vary greatly from closed to open field drills and movement (can people in our profession come to realize this already?!). One look at the transition from the non-padded, preprogrammed nature of the first 2 days of camp practice to the fully-padded, chaotic world that occurs in days 3 through 20-ish will give you more than this indication that things don’t happen as neatly as they did when you had your player in the weight room or even out on the field during your specially-designed drills just the week prior. Camp is nuts and what happens during it is pure battle, boys and girls!

If there are little things happening during the execution of practice drills that I feel the player can focus on more fully in order to better take advantage of the work we did during the offseason I will bring it to light for him after the practice. They need my eye at this point to know how the dynamics of their movement actions, patterns, and skills should be adjusted or modified to fit the tactical ideas of what their coaches are asking of them. It’s likely that he will be doing that drill every damn day over the next 3 weeks (and most of the time well into the season) so if I don’t do something to change it now it’s likely that it will become part of the new default pattern for the player when under fire all season long on Sundays. Remember, for the NFL player, even the slightest changes to how he is executing a movement (i.e. foot position, joint angles, given intention, etc) will lead to very significant changes to the movement we see being displayed.

Though my specialty lies within changing his movement and everything I witness during camp practices originates at this movement, my attention to detail also goes down to every last behavior he shows on the practice field. Players know that I don’t miss a thing and as it turns out, that they actually enjoy me being there sitting on my normal spot at the 40 yard line for this reason. My player (just like every player) needs that accountability as well as constant reminders regarding his behaviors. I am talking about everything from how he performs his warm-up, to if he is staying hydrated, and all the way to how he is acting between plays.

Good plays happen. And of course, inevitably, so do bad plays. If I see my guys moping around the field, they would be the first to tell you that they will hear about it. The coaches and player personnel of the team are ALWAYS judging while at camp! Because of that; my guys need to be constantly aware of how their body language and behavior is being portrayed. Sometimes they simply need to be reminded of this. In addition, this suboptimal psychological state will also negatively impact the display of his movement patterns as well as retard the acquisition of greater mastery. Once he gets in this state, his intention and concentration to both the tactical and technical aspects of how he moves his body immediately go down, as well. Trust me; I can and will always bring anything back to how it is going to affect movement!

Though some would argue that camp in the NFL has gotten softer in the last number of years since the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was introduced, it is still a grind in every sense of the word. Their bodies start to take a toll after a few short days and it never really fully subsides even after rest days. Of course, it’s human nature to start getting lazy with some of the recovery/regeneration practices that could greatly enhance how they continue to perform each and every day at camp (and ultimately where they fit on a depth chart!). However, they need guidance with this aspect, as well.

I realize that what I just went over was a very brief look into my role in a player’s life while at camp. There is actually much more that goes into it. However, I wanted to shed some light on the matter though because if you are a trainer of NFL players I implore you to take a much more active role in this time period. If you choose not to, you are severely limiting the ultimate potential that players can reach. I don’t believe that I am the only one who could do this but a paradigm shift would be necessary in order to have this happen. Feel free to let me know any questions you may have about how you can be a help to your athletes while they’re at camp.

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