Random Thoughts from NFL Training Camps

Introduction

Most people know that during this time of the year, I run around to attend NFL team training camps nearly every day to watch my individual players perform. During this time, I see a variety of different drills and practice structures…from team to team, position group to position group, player to player.

And while this occurs, you don’t even want to begin to know everything that is circulating around this head of mine. But, in case you want to know some of the reoccurring thoughts, here they are below.

Thought #1 –

Have Position Coaches (or anyone) read any Motor Learning research from the last 20 years? How about Biomechanics? Anything Movement-related?

This seems like a question I know the answer to…but each day I find myself asking it anyway.

When in ‘Individual’ practice periods, position drills are obviously the concern/focus. And this is one of my main areas of scrutiny. Why? Well, I truly believe that “we are what we repeatedly do” and the best indication of how a guy may perform in 1 vs. 1’s or in 7-on-7, or in live time, will be what patterns of behavior show itself during ‘Indo.’

In these situations though, I see two major issues that reflect the lack of understanding of motor performance & skill acquisition (control & learning).

The first; the drills that are practiced do not usually reflect the execution of movement patterns of a very realistic nature. There is no contextual interference…no chaos (often not even a little bit)…no stimuli to read, recognize, and then react to. Even then, many of the instructions of Coaches regarding movement strategies and patterns are not what will assist that player in performing the pattern in their sensory, perception, or actions when more players get on the field (including opponents).

The second; blocked practice is not only highly emphasized but it’s pretty much the only thing you will see. Thus, there is no randomization of skills…shoot, on most days, the drills are identical as the day before, and there is little-to-no improvement found from that day to the next or even week to week.

To learn more about Block vs. Random practice, watch here:

https://youtu.be/DvR4y0gnYH8

Now, I am all for improving technical execution (in fact, if you read or watch any of my content you will know this focus of mine)…and the mastery of it. But, in football, mastery of any movement can only be reflected in the execution of that pattern/skill in the ever-changing chaotic environment of sport.

All in all, ‘perfect practice’ should not be simply rote repeat rehearsal of some idealized movement pattern. Instead it should be deliberate in nature and specific to the demands of the movement problems to be solved in the sport.

So, what is perfect practice in the sport movement sense? Watch this video to find out more!

https://youtu.be/fHfCXEDBJuc

Thought #2 –

So, then where is the deliberate practice?

Obviously, you can see that this will piggyback Thought #1.

Even if Coaches are going to structure practice in a mostly Blocked fashion, they could at least still require deliberate intention to change and an attention to details. However, that rote repetition that I mentioned above is the norm, and many of the guys almost always appear to simply be going through the motions.

So you mean to tell me that every pattern these guys do are doing is already autonomously engrained and subconsciously controlled? If that is the excuse, then why practice that skill with the same old drill.

When deliberate practice is undertaken, all work is always individualized towards weaknesses, errors are detected and then focus is on correcting them. A learning environment of deliberate practice design will involve mistakes. In order to get better at anything, a guy almost has to make a mistake before they can get better…that applies to everything in life (not just movement tasks).

However, in most NFL training camps’ drills, of course, mistakes are not tolerated in anyway whatsoever. If a guy can’t make a mistake in practice (even if it’s to find a more optimal movement solution and test out that solution in a drill setting), then how can we expect improvement to really occur at the level that they need to. I am not saying that mistakes should always be tolerated. We surely must demand excellence in all of our habits as they will lead to certain behaviors when the coin has been flipped and the ball has been kicked. However, I am saying that if a player is partaking in deliberately practice, then maybe improvement (in the form of movement skill acquisition) is actually happening even if the mistakes are occurring.

Learn more about mistakes and movement optimization here:

https://youtu.be/1nLzP8HAsA8

It seems as though Coaches are more than willing to push the envelope with the tactical demands (X’s & O’s) and that improvement of the Players…but couldn’t we just as easily do this more than we do with the finer nuances of the physical movement characteristics, as well? I say yes.

To cap these previous two thoughts off, don’t even get me started on the issues of Cueing (i.e. specific instructions) or Feedback (information regarding the performance or outcome)! Let’s just say that I believe neither area is one that I believe is often eliciting the most optimal execution and performance.

Thought #3 –

Can warm-up routines ever get emphasized?

If you’ve followed this site for any length of time you know how this topic fires me up.

It is 2015 (just a reminder if you haven’t checked a calendar for awhile). How is it that something that seems as simple as an athlete’s warm-up routine, yet so important at the same time, left to chance on nearly every team that I see?

Players get to do whatever they want (cue a few squats and hamstring stretches now) and perform it however they want to do it (usually while laughing with their teammates or looking in the crowd for the hot girls in attendance that day).

I understand what we’ve always done (as a whole as a profession) is not put that much emphasis on the warm-up protocols. Let’s let the players come out, taking their own sweet time, toss a few balls around, wave at the crowd, and then go into some football-specific work running through things at half-speed before doing a team-wide group stretch. Ummm…but for the love of all that is holy…you are getting ready for battle here! This applies each and every day…even if it’s only against your teammates. Coaches have to be aware that there are ways to warm-up and prep for movement performance better than what most are incorporating.

Even you personally want to hear more about this particular topic, you can watch this video of mine here:

https://youtu.be/xsVbRzGV1a0

Conclusion

Okay; that’s probably enough thoughts from this head for now. If you made it to the end, I am impressed! Maybe, just maybe, I will continue to provide some additional thoughts each week regarding what I am seeing…and maybe what else needs some changing.

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