As we explored in Part 1, I believe that something needs to be done soon in order to help the players walking around the National Football League maximize their potential through the optimization of their movement strategies respective of their individual characteristics.
In my experience working primarily with NFL players over the last 6 years, the League currently has too many athletes who have Ferrari-like potential but in some cases are driving around the field with Pinto-like technical movement execution. This is of no fault of their own as they want to be the best that they can be…just no one has shown them the right path to doing so.
Unfortunately, the current performance landscape that exists in the NFL is simply NOT conducive to this movement optimization process at this time.
What’s the current NFL performance landscape look like?
You may ask yourself to start, “with so many staffers employed on each & every team, how is it that something as vitally important as an athlete’s individual movement signature missed and left to chance?”
Well to be fair, each of these staffers have many other responsibilities that fill their days quite full to begin with. However, generally-speaking, their respective approaches towards player development are also a bit off for the realization of this goal (player-specific movement optimization) to occur. Essentially, many of these people don’t know what they don’t know…or more accurately; don’t know how it is that they could go about making a significant impact in to the movement behaviors we see being demonstrated on Sundays. Here are some examples:
Among S&C Coaches
When we look at the approaches taken by S&C Coaches in the League there is a focus on the development of physiological qualities as opposed to the technical movement competencies of players. I have found that some of this stems from the Coach’s current philosophical approach towards athletic development and sometimes it occurs because there is little understanding regarding how to optimize player movement strategies & behaviors for athletes of this level of qualification.
Because of this, when it comes to developing movement skills in space, many will set up a bunch of cones and have players run through in an assembly line fashion and then wonder why there is no change in on-field movement efficiency & performance year to year.
To put the athlete further behind the 8-ball in hopes of ever achieving true on-field movement mastery, there is a neglect of more specific exercise means & methods that could drastically improve the athletes’ specific motor potential/strength qualities respective of their movement tendencies. Instead, there is a sheer overreliance on exercises & drills that have limited transfer due to the level of trainability that this type of athlete has already acquired.
I will be the first to admit that S&C Coaches have their hands tied regarding time devoted to development in the annual plan due to the latest CBA. However, I feel as though just the prescription of a few more specialized developmental exercises that are matched according to what we are witnessing on the field from a player’s movement could go a long way in helping to raise the level of specific motor potential/special-strength.
I often describe my personal overall movement optimization process for high-level of qualification athletes as an integration of specific motor potential (both the utilization & optimization of it) with constant technical mastery refinement. Physiologically-speaking then (which are the ideas that many S&C Coaches live & breathe with), we would be looking to enhance the specific strength qualities in the exact fashion as to how this will be used in the sport movement skills.
Among Position Coaches
Position coaches are those often entrusted with making sure that they use the athletic gifts of those players in their group to the highest degree imaginable on-field. However, there is a high focus on the tactical strategies employed but that doesn’t always include coaching of exact positions, mechanics, and movement behaviors in the respective movement patterns to achieve those tactical outcomes in an individual-specific way (that last part is key to the accuracy of this claim). Furthermore, when movement techniques respective of the position do occur, there is often a regurgitation of old/outdated ideas of what is right vs. wrong, efficient vs. inefficient, and optimal vs. dysfunctional.
To add to this, position coaches have the tendency to instruct everyone the same without understanding the peculiarities of the individual and how that is going to influence the ways that technical movement execution & respective strategies should be approached for optimization. Instead, what we should be aiming for is the identification of technical tweaks that can be made in order to take full advantage of the athlete’s specific motor potential (his individual biomechanical & neuromuscular characteristics).
Among Sports Scientists
If you are in the football performance profession you probably realize that there has been a recent boom of sport science approaches in the league which include analytics utilizing testing means & methods such as force plates and GPS tracking. This is a great step and one I applaud those in the League for taking…it is definitely long overdue. That being said, there are still certain limitations which exist that few seem to be acknowledging. Without going off on a tangent here let me just pose a couple of those things specifically as it pertains to movement.
I will start by saying that I believe that this objective quantitative data collection and interpretation is an
integral piece to enhancing the on-field performance of players. What I would like to see is more actual analysis in respect to the biodynamic structure of on-field movement characteristics that can then be used to quantify how well the athlete is moving as well as what changes to make not only in the practice format & player participation through the monitoring of workloads but also to the movement strategies taken by the player.
What I mean is that right now, most of the data that is being collected shows us global tendencies of players such as workloads, accelerations, decelerations, speeds, direction, direction changes, etc…however, the specifics of HOW that athlete is achieving those values is often still being lost. And THESE specifics are where I believe that true worth actually exists and what needs to be addressed.
When more specifics are investigated, it appears that certain key bits of information are being overlooked. As a few examples:
-Let’s say a player’s vertical jump is tested on a force plate. However, that player is a defense end. Will we be able to get baseline data that may be useful in our analysis of that player’s general movement tendencies? Sure, absolutely. However, his duties as a defensive end do not require even a somewhat similar biodynamic structure or intention as performing a single countermovement vertical jump. Thus, the associated characteristics that are being displayed, gathered, and investigated still have a great deal of limitation.
-Let’s say data is collected via a GPS tracking system. We then know basic information regarding the overall workload as well as general kinematics of that particular athlete while practicing or in game-like situations. Terrific! However, let’s say that 2 players on a given day have the same overall workload that at first glance is deemed extremely high. ‘Player A’ moves with what could be coined terrible, dysfunctional, or suboptimal movement mechanics in the majority of his commonly executed movement tasks. ‘Player B’ has been to me the last 2 offseasons and of course then is very, very efficient! Though they have endured very similar loads over the course of a practice, which one was more stressed while doing so? ‘Player A’ of course!
-Another common example to illustrate this problem is when Sports Scientists (or S&C Coaches) who have been employing systems such as this brag about how fast their players move (if I had a dollar for each time I saw a Strength Coach on Twitter brag about his player going from 20 to 21 mph over the last year I could buy myself more than a few lunches). However, what if when that player was running 20mph he was doing so with suboptimal & inefficient movement mechanics? And in going from 20 to 21 mph he did so only by increasing his motor potential (i.e. you added overall power) but not by making any changes to the technical movement compensations that he was already displaying? And what if that was the straw that broke the inefficient camel’s back as you simply added more strength to an already dysfunctional movement pattern? Think a Movement Coach could’ve come in handy now?!
A Sample Job Description – The Movement Coach
So if it’s true that the on-field movement mastery of players is not currently being addressed in an adequate fashion then what can really be done? Well, I think you can probably guess what I am going to suggest…I believe someone should be entrusted with this all-important but currently neglected role. It’s time for a Movement Coach! But just what would a Movement Coach look like & exactly what would this person do on a day-to-day basis?
The Movement Coach would be entrusted with taking measures to assist each player on the team in raising his level of on-field movement mastery in both individual and position-specific ways.
-Analyze players on the team to identify current movement strategies that the athlete is utilizing on-field. This includes, but is not limited to, factors related to kinetics, kinematics, and cognitive & perceptual processing.
-Based on this thorough detailed analysis, work directly with players to make technical adjustments to their movement strategies and the biomechanical positions that they assume in the execution of common movement tasks specific to the position the player plays.
-Inform, educate, and guide players as to how their daily behaviors both on & off field will affect their movement & performance.
-Conduct objective testing of position-specific movement skills & patterns which will be done to assess & monitor the athlete’s kinetics (e.g. force-time data, force/pressure sensoring, accelerometers, etc), kinematics (e.g. 2D video analysis, 3D motion capture, surface EMG, etc), and kinesiological patterning (e.g. behavior comparison of each of the above in closed vs. open tasks specific to the position).
-Work hand in hand with other members within the organization such as:
Team S&C Coaches; provide information to them regarding player & team-wide movement tendencies and individual-specific physical qualities which will need development to further elevate the player’s movement mastery level
Team Position Coaches; cross-communicate regarding tactical demands the player will be placed under and how both parties can further go about impacting & optimizing the player’s movement mechanics respective of the position and the demands of it
Team Athletic Trainers; help determine movement tendencies & compensations that could’ve occurred and/or contributed pre-injury which would drastically influence ideal rehab strategies for currently injured players to ensure that the player comes back in a more timely fashion while being better prepared when he does
Team Sports Scientists; work alongside with to evaluate the testing protocols and interpret the data that is conducted regarding the player’s on-field movement behaviors
Team General Managers & Player Personnel; evaluate potential draft picks and free agents regarding their movement strategies to help determine players who may possess untapped on-field potential or those who have current movement compensations & deficiencies (which could decrease performance & increase risk of injury).
The Ideal Candidate
This is a very important position that will not be taken lightly to fill. If successful, the inclusion of a Movement Coach can change the entire performance landscape of the team as well as the League as a whole. The individual will have to have an extensive understanding of dynamic movement analysis along with a background working with higher level athletes would be highly preferred. In addition, the understanding of the process of accurately influencing movement is vital for without this, the Movement Coach would be someone who is just dishing out more information that won’t have the impact it is capable of.
Call to Action
Believe it or not, there is a point to my rather incessant & redundant rambling in this 2-part blog post though I think you know it by now: it IS time for an NFL team to take the plunge and hire a Movement Coach/Specialist for their team. Though someone with this role designation and appropriate responsibilities would be optimal; maybe the first person to be entrusted with the flexibility to buck the traditional thoughts of what regarding the understanding & development of the most optimal technical execution styles per position could be an existing staff member such as one of the team’s Strength & Conditioning Coaches, Athletic Trainers, or Sport Science team members.
If (and when!) this occurs, the level of mastery of the average NFL player as well as the guys who already reside on the top of the heap will be taken to a whole different level that is far superior to that which are currently roaming around the gridiron on Sundays. This area and aspect of performance in the League has only hit the tip of the iceberg and has so much further than it can go; luckily, the benefits of doing so will be both short and long-term for all involved from the players and all the way down to fan as the quality of the game they witness will be even more spectacular than it currently is.