Many young quarterbacks turn on the TV today to watch their favorite NFL players and try to emulate what it is they do. They focus on the furiously-quick pattering feet of Peyton Manning; they see the cannon arm of Matthew Stafford dropping in sidearm; they see Mike Vick launch the ball downfield with a flick of the wrist. In all this, sometimes we lose perspective. The guys on TV do some great things, but just because they can do it doesn't make them the model. Many quarterbacks succeed because of superior athleticism, not because of superior fundamentals. Let's identify who's worth copying, and who's not.
Poor Model: Matthew Stafford - The Lions quarterback has some of the best tools in the game, and perhaps the strongest arm of any NFL quarterback. However, his footwork and ability to go match his feet to his progressions is awful, which leads to very inconsistent performance, lots of turnovers, and poor accuracy. The throwing motion derives power from the ground (as does every athletic movement). When you're feet are out of position, the rest of the body has to compensate. While we do need to make throws under pressure from different foot positions and arm angles, these unique cases should be the exception, not the norm, and when the pocket is good, we should have good mechanics from the ground up. Failing in this area can decrease performance and potentially create a bad habit that leads to an injury. This is Matt Stafford's issue; his feet are often open and his stride doesn't work towards his target, forcing his lower body to over rotate, giving him open shoulders at the release point, which causes his arm to drop low and wide. This makes the ball float downfield and have a flatter trajectory, i.e. an inaccurate ball thrown straight to the safety.
Copy Instead: Andrew Luck - The heir apparent to Brady and Manning, Andrew Luck may have the best footwork in the NFL. His feet match his reads whenever possible, maintaining a throwing-ready base and setting him up to be able to stride properly to his target. This gives him consistency and a discipline to his progressions. He's accurate and on time with his throws. When the pocket does break down, and he's forced to make throws from unusual positions, he still somehow manages to get his arm into the right slot despite his misaligned feet, which speaks to Luck's incredible strength and athleticism. Copy Andrew Luck's feet and aim to be as physically capable as him.
Poor Model: Michael Vick - Ever since Mike Vick entered the league, an increasing number of young quarterbacks have been trying to play with the "wing and flick," as I call it. That is to mean that they wing their elbow above the ball, then release the ball with a bent arm and strong wrist flick. Not only is this inaccurate, it's also bad for the shoulder (any throwing mechanics expert will tell you that "wing" is a bad thing). Vick might be able to pull it off at a high level sometimes, but he has been prone to inconsistency and has never been thought of as a great passer of the ball despite his incredible arm strength. I am actually surprised that he has not needed to have shoulder surgery to this point.
Copy Instead: Aaron Rodgers - Perhaps the best throwing motion in the game, Aaron Rodgers does a great job throwing with minimal wing (having zero is very rare), proper extension through the power channel, and turning the wrist down and pronating. This allows the axis of the spiral to follow the path of the ball's natural trajectory, making downfield throws turn down properly (the nose of the football should point down towards the receiver when it begins it's descent). Aaron Rodgers is thought of as the most accurate downfield passer in the game; Michael Vick is known for having a loose cannon when the throws the ball downfield. That's the difference copying the right model makes.
It is true that all NFL quarterbacks do some things extremely well - they have made it to the highest level. What we must decipher is whether they play at that level because of their fundamentals, or in spite of their fundamentals. When we figure that out, we know who to copy, and who not to copy.
With off-season fundamental work and passing leagues becoming a much more normal part of a quarterback’s development, we have begun to see an increase in overuse injuries. Generally, if the throwing motion is done correctly, the quarterback won’t feel any pain, but so few quarterbacks throw the ball with great mechanics that injuries do occur. Adding to this issue are some issues in training – so many quarterbacks do the same workouts as their teammates, which is potentially a problem for two reasons: who’s to say their teammates have a good workout written by their coach in the first place? And a quarterback needs a different workout because of the extreme specificity of their position.
Quarterbacks overuse a relatively unstable joint with a lot of force, which can lead to many overuse injuries. Quarterbacks are also dissimilar to pitchers in that a football is much heavier than a baseball and forces the arm to externally rotate, putting a lot more stress on the arm. The task of coaching a quarterback to be both effective and healthy is a difficult one, and not one that should be undertaken by an under-qualified coach. So many head coaches want to be the ones to coach their quarterbacks, which makes sense, however, if their knowledge on biomechanics and fundamentals is lacking in any way, they put their quarterback at a much higher risk of overuse and chronic injuries.
Let’s start by taking a look at kinetic sequencing, which is how the body transfers power into the throw. All of our power starts from the ground; as we push and twist into our feet we use the force the ground returns to us to power our throw (as you Isaac Newton followers will remember, for every force, there is an equal and opposite force, so when we push and twist into the ground, the ground returns that same force). From there, we twist our hips out in front of our shoulders, then shoulders out in front of our arm, then eventually the arm catches up, the elbow extends, the arm pronates down and we release the ball. Each segment of the body goes a bit behind the one before it, which creates power and torque. This is the same effect as a whip or a trebuchet (see: ancient but brilliant catapult system). This kinetic chain is extremely effective for creative power, but if one part of this chain doesn’t work right, all the successive parts of the chain are forced to compensate, which can lead to poor throws and injuries, particularly when done for hundreds and thousands of repetitions.
The first thing we must do to prevent throwing injuries is check biomechanical integrity. For those of you who have been with us for a while or regularly read our blogs, you know that biomechanical integrity is essentially the body’s ability to move correctly. A quarterback must have good thoracic spine mobility (which allows the hips to go in front of the shoulders in the chain), good external rotation in the shoulder (which allows the shoulders to lead before the ball), and a stable scapula (to stop the shoulder from leaving the back too soon, helping to support the smaller muscles inside the shoulder complex). While biomechanical is by far the most important part of preventing throwing injuries, it has been discussed in other posts and this entry will focus on some other items. Just keep in mind that all I’m about to write is a moot point without biomechanical integrity.
The common injuries we’re going to examine today are rotator cuff/labrum issues, biceps tendinitis, and UCL strains. These are what I feel are the three most common and easily preventable injuries in quarterbacks. Often times, these are brought on more from bad training habits and throwing mechanic issues.
The rotator cuff and labrum are fairly small items in the shoulder that require the support of the scapula in order really maintain any stability. When a quarterbacks tells me he has pain or injuries in the rotator cuff or labrum (which would really have to be a doctor’s diagnosis), the first thing to look at is the scapula. If the scapula doesn’t stabilize to the back well, it will put extra pressure into the cuff and labrum. This is what some physical therapists refer to as winging – as the hands move up, the scapula comes quickly away from the spine. To fix this, do exercises such as Y, T, W’s, pillow presses, wall sits with scapula mobility, or anything that creates scapula retraction. This should help train the scapula to hold onto the back better, and begin to save the shoulder.
Biceps tendinitis is a very painful injury, and is particularly damaging to a quarterback as the rotator cuff and biceps are two links of the same chain. A quarterback with biceps tendinitis often times causes the injury through his training regimen. By doing straight-bar bench presses and curls, we tighten the complex of muscles and tissue around the connection of the shoulder, chest, and arm. In doing so, we inwardly rotate the shoulders, creating a slightly hunched look, and put extra pressure into the rotator cuff and biceps. Because of this, I highly suggest all quarterbacks remove curls and bench press from their training regimens. Instead of curls and barbell bench press, increase pulling exercises such as chins up and inverted rows, and use dumbbells instead of a barbell (this allows a free movement of the shoulder because dumbbells can rotate, as opposed to being locked into position by a barbell which stops the shoulder from being able to rotate). Chin ups and inverted rows will help the quarterback open up their posture and still strengthen the smaller muscles in the arm without tightening the front of the shoulder, biceps, and chest.
UCL injuries (the ligament that runs along the inside of the elbow and associated with Tommy John surgery) generally arise from throwing mechanic issues (which generally arise from physical limitations or poor coaching). To prevent these elbow injuries, first make sure the shoulder and scapula are functioning properly. As we discussed before, when one part of the kinetic chain doesn’t work, the successive ones are forced to compensate. So, if the shoulder isn’t working right, the elbow compensates. Next, look at the mechanics involved. During the time in which the arm is moving forward into the throw, does the elbow ever move below the level of the shoulder? Or, does the angle between the forearm and upper arm ever go below 90? If either of these things are true, it is probably contributing to the pain in the elbow. To put in a few bench marks, the elbow should have approximately a 90 degree angle when it is cocked back, ready to begin moving forwards. At release, the elbow shoulder be at about ear height, still with a slight bend.
When designing a training program, make sure to include plenty of work on scapula stability and mobility, helping consistently prep the shoulder to be properly functional during activity. Also work on thoracic rotation, as that will help the parts of the chain coming before the shoulder and elbow to work properly. This would include stretches that help separate the hips and shoulders, like a half kneeling twist. Avoid pressing exercises with the exception of push-ups and dumbbell presses (nothing that locks the hand and shoulders, preventing them from rotating), and increase the amount of pulling exercises like chin ups, inverted rows, and dumbbell rows, etc. Also avoid overhead pressing, as this puts the shoulder in a fairly compromising position and generally isn’t done properly (most athletes over-extend their spine to save the shoulder, which ends up just hurting the back).
A couple red flags in the throwing motion that can lead to injuries:
-A low elbow through the release: make sure the elbow is about ear height at the release.
-A straight elbow at release: this tends to lead to AC joint pain in the shoulder. Full extension in the arm shoulder only be reached after the release, not before.
-An elbow that rises above the height of the ball: the elbow should never be higher than the ball at any point in the throwing motion, even while we are just cocking the arm back to throw. This creates wing, which in both quarterbacks and pitchers is a huge red flag. This will lead to both rotator cuff and UCL issues, as well as potentially erratic accuracy.
-A long strider: quarterbacks who over-stride lock their hips into place early, instead of allowing rotation. This decreases hip to shoulder separation, which causes the release point to be further in front of the body, which causes the rotator cuff to be overstressed AND the elbow to drop at release, which sends the ball high (see: Mark Sanchez). The proper stride length is approximately the athlete’s tibial tuberosity X 1.5, or about 26-30 inches in most quarterbacks.
Finally, even if a quarterback does all over the throwing mechanic and training items correctly, they still need to take care of their shoulder. Ice properly, warm-up properly, and tell your coach if your arm is feeling overly fatigued. Repetitions are not a problem; bad repetitions with an uncared-for shoulder are a problem.
If you have any questions, please feel free to write me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
One of the fastest growing movements in sport performance today is players training through CrossFit. Everyone wants to get an edge – to be faster, stronger, bigger, more skilled, more explosive, and all those other buzzwords too. And, logic would dictate that if one place makes you work until you drop then that place is getting the most out of you. However, this is not true, and for football players (or any athlete who is training for a particular sport) CrossFit is one of the worst things you can do.
Let’s just examine the name of the company – CrossFit, playing on the term of “cross
training” which was at one point very popular. This idea is built off of people doing a wide variety of workouts, including different levels of endurance, strength, power and speed during every workout, to force the body to adapt to a great diversity of stimuli. However, in football, we know exactly what we are training for – we know the rest intervals, the strength-endurance and power-endurance requirements, the exact movements that translate to our sport. This begs the question: why in the world would we cross train? Why would we spend hours and sweat preparing out bodies for things we already know we won’t encounter?
(I should mention that there is a portion of the population that cross training works for. Some folks who are already extremely athletic and well versed in exercise and technique, and are exercising for the sake of exercise rather than to train for a specific sport, could find that a cross training program is quite good. Additionally, people who don’t know the demands on their daily life and need to be in shape for a wide variety of demands needs cross training as well. When talking to a Navy Seal friend of mine, his workouts very much resemble cross training workouts. If he were still playing football, however, his workouts would be considerably different. So, while this post is somewhat an indictment of CrossFit, it is not meant to be an indictment of cross training itself).
The next point on today’s agenda talks of the basic principle of CrossFit’s programming. They use their “workout of the day,” so that everyone who walks through the door does the same workout. Essentially, a one-size-fits-none model. Every single person who wants to train has different needs – they have different restrictions, different goals, different training experience, play different positions, just to name a few variables. There is never a good excuse to have everyone doing the same workout. The idea of every individual doing the same workout is idiotic, moronic, whatever word you want to use. Different people need different exercises.
Now to address CrossFit’s programming specifically. The number of videos I have seen with folks doing as many snatches as they can in five minutes, or trying to do a hang clean variation blatantly wrong, or fighting to learn a deadlift when their body simply cannot do it, is appalling. The workout of the day does not follow the basic principles of physiology or biomechanical integrity. Snatches are exhausting – it is downright dangerous to have someone hoisting a barbell overhead for five minutes. Hang cleans are complicated – allowing inexperienced lifters to max out their hang clean is simply asking for injury. Deadlifts require proper hip mechanics, which only a certain percentage of the population has - ignoring individual biomechanics will lead to chronic back pain for many CrossFit participants. The fact of the matter is that the way exercises are programmed and taught is important, and CrossFit misses many of the basics that even our interns knew without having to be told.
Take a look at some of the best professionals in the country when it comes to sport performance – think of Eric Cressey and Mike Boyle up in Boston; think of Gray Cook and Lee Burton of FMS; think of some of the great staff members of Athlete’s Performance out West; take a look at the programs here at SportPerformanceU. In all cases, the people who write the programs have years upon years of education and experience. They never stop pursuing great information and research. They are constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap between theory and application. Now take a look at a CrossFit trainer – in many cases, the trainer took a weekend course to get certified, and is then allowed to train others. That is a dangerous situation. Add to that the fact that their workout of the day is based on making people do crazy workouts (CrossFit’s owner recently told a magazine that he basically came up with ways to screw with people when designed his workouts as a personal trainer, and that strategy grew into CrossFit), and what you have is under-qualified people teaching less than intelligent workout programs. Does this really make sense?
In any instance, if you are looking to train properly, make sure you are working with a well-qualified individual, who has done their due diligence on finding training methods that are right for you. Make sure biomechanical integrity is included before any training actually starts. Do NOT join “class” structured workouts. Each and every athlete has individual needs – make sure yours are being met.
Sport has become a year-round endeavor. At the younger levels, I would highly encourage giving kids a few months off after the season. So many times, I hear kids saying they cramming games in to make the season as long as possible (this is generally true in sports like baseball and basketball more so than football). Because of the busy nature of the season, getting some proper rest in the off-season from the sport is crucial to allowing the body to recover, decrease the chances of burnout, and decrease the risk of overuse injuries. However, as an athlete gets older, and begins to enter the high school arena, the off-season becomes critical for reasons other than rest.
While it is important for high school football players to rest during the off-season, it is also important for them to train. Let me make clear that training does not mean 7 days a week of conditioning, lifting, and all-out effort. An off-season training regimen means 3-5 sessions per week of about 60-75 minutes, focusing on movement quality, soft tissue work, and the appropriate strength, power, and speed exercises, with conditioning added in a few months before the season starts. In addition to these training sessions, those who play skill-intensive positions like quarterback, kicker, punter, and receiver, should spend a few hours each week on skill development.
By making use of the off-season, we allow the athlete to do 2 major things: develop fundamentals and work on process orientated drills, and increase physical outputs.
Developing Fundamentals: During the season, players are forced to practice under a results-orientated microscope. They worry about the outcome of their movement, not the process of how they execute a skill. During the season, this is ok, so long as we understand the bigger picture. A quarterback who needs to make a grip change will most likely struggle for a few days, or even weeks, as he makes that change. During the season, this could be disastrous, impede drills, and potentially cost him his job. That’s why so many coaches and players shy away from making certain fundamentals changes during the season. However, that also means every repetition that quarterback takes during the season is ingraining the wrong mechanics. Take each off-season to make those mechanic changes, where the athlete can worry about developing the skill and not have to be concerned about the result until a few weeks into the process.
Increasing Physical Outputs: It is near impossible to gain speed, power, or strength during the season. With the rigors of games and practices, the only thing a player can really hope to do from a strength standpoint is maintain. The time to get faster, stronger, bigger, and more powerful is the off-season. And, a well-designed training program will also help reduce the risk of injury. When signing up for a program, just be sure that your coach or trainer is teaching lifts correctly, creating an individualized program that fits your needs and abilities, has analyzed your body for biomechanical integrity, and is addressing any physical limitations you might have. A good training program can reduce risk of injury, increase your physical outputs, and get you ready for your season. A bad training program with a coach who doesn’t know how to program correctly could cost you your season.
If you have any comments or questions about this article, please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rivalry of Ohio State and Michigan goes well beyond the sports fields – it extends into the classroom, and in this particular example, into leadership research. Both schools conducted study on what qualities comprise a leader. They both compiled huge, long lists of the behaviors a leader could show, and began to try to categorize those behaviors into categories. And, both schools narrowed it down to two categories, coined by Ohio State as “Personal Consideration” and “Initiating Structure.” These terms are now largely referred
to as Concern for People and Concern for Product, as seen on Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid. Essentially, these studies showed that leader behaviors can either be directed at developing relationships and showing concern for followers, or be directed towards reaching an end goal, to accomplishing the task. Michigan initially stipulated that those two behaviors were indirectly linked, meaning if a leader was good at one, they were bad at the other. They were wrong, and eventually adapted to see these items as separate, so that a leader could be good at one and not the other, be good at both, or be bad at both. That basic premise is what leads to Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid.
While this leadership theory does not relate itself perfectly to effective leadership, it starts taking a step in that direction. If a leader has both concern for the product and concern for the people it is considered the optimal leadership style. The leader who cares only for production and not for the individuals involved is considered a drill sergeant. The leader who cares only about the people, and not about the organization’s effectiveness is called a “country club” leader. Those who lack concern for both product and people is referred to as impoverished.
This does relate to football quite well – a coach like Bill Belichick would very much be considered a drill sergeant. A coach like Tony Dungy might be considered a bit more of a balanced leader. And, those coaches who only care about the players, and not about the outcome, and more well suited to younger levels of football, where the stakes aren’t quite as high and individual empathy is more important.
I would highly encourage anyone interested in leadership theory to look up Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid, and read through their questionnaire on determining concern for product and concern for people.
The next installment of leadership posts is going to focus on what the researcher Katz referred to as Skills Theory. His basic premise was that instead of focusing on personality traits, as the last post discussed, we should focus on skill sets. The strengths of an individual would be indicative of leadership ability, or lack thereof.
Katz broke down skills into three different categories: conceptual, interpersonal, and technical. Conceptual skills were essentially the ability to see the big picture, to understand how items fit within the larger scheme. Interpersonal skills were the ability to develop and maintain good relationships. Technical skills were the ability to do the more detailed, inner-workings of a process, like installing car parts on an assembly line.
The end result of Katz’s theory was that those with great conceptual skills, but lacking the technical skills, were better suited to upper management type positions, executives who didn’t have to work in the trenches, but who could fit the different pieces of the process together. On the other hand, people with great technical skills, but lacking conceptual skills, were better suited to be in the front lines, working with the details of the process. People who
possessed all three skill sets were best suited for middle management, acting as the bridge between the technically inclined and the conceptually inclined.
One point of note in Katz’s research is that not only did his system on finding out an individual’s skills look at their ability, but also at their desire for that particular skill. He didn’t just ask if they were good at technical work, he asked if they liked technical work. This does make it difficult to interpret results at times, as what someone is good at is not always what they want.
How does this relate to football or sports in general? A head football coach, according to Katz, would need to be very conceptual, focused on the bigger picture. A position coach, on the other hand, would need to be more technically inclined, able to install the small pieces and details of the system. A coordinator should possess both conceptual and technical skills, as it will be their job to make sure the two match.
While Katz’s research does provide more insight versus the trait theory, it really is not a good indicator of leadership ability, rather, just what sort of position a person is best suited for. The upcoming theories help delve deeper into leadership and how to analyze effective leadership.
This entry marks the first of a few entries on leadership theories. The idea is to present a few different theories on the topic, and allow readers to take what pieces they like from each. No one theory is definitively right or wrong, or even comprehensive in nature, but they each allow some insight into what makes a good leader.
This entry is going to talk about trait theory, which is based on a very simple concept: leaders possess certain traits. This line of research and discussion gained momentum around WWII, as there was an interest in what made a good military officer or leader. Initially, traits were very straightforward; being tall, strong, attractive, having a deep voice and other similar items were considered beneficial for leadership. These traits certainly help cast a good first impression, however, it is quite obvious to see that they do not carry muster much beyond that without the good to back them up.
Trait theory has since that point developed into more of a personality inventory. Tests like the Myers-Briggs and NEO-PI identify the personality traits of an individual, which help indicate what roles the individual would be well suited for, including leadership. Many organizations use this for incoming employees, team building, role distribution, and other purposes, and with some level of success. It is a good tool. However, most leadership experts will tell you in isn’t necessarily a great test of leadership.
The next few entries will discuss some more leadership theories that will help better uncover the sort of leader an individual might be.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or email me at adrayson@SportPerformanceU.com.
It’s always difficult as a coach to try to dictate what a parent’s role should be in their child’s athletic career, particular as a coach who has no kids of his own. But, over the years, I’ve encountered a number of great parents, and a number of parents who seemingly hindered their young athlete more than helped. I figure I would sum up each set of parents from a coach’s perspective.
The great parents encourage their child to participate, and support them in their efforts. They attend games, cheer for the good plays, and show their appreciation for the entire team, not just their own child.
The hindering parents try to coach from the sideline, and make it clear that he or she knows more than the coach, referees, and players. They openly show their frustration towards their kid after bad plays. They believe they can devise an off-season plan, skill development program, and psychological profile. They force their athlete to play particular sports or to do particular drills. They badger coaches about playing time, position, and points. They find it to be their role to break down the athlete’s performance after each game, and dole out punishment and rewards based on game performances.
What you’ll notice is that the paragraph for the good parent is the shorter of the two. There are many more ways to do things wrong as a parent than there are to do things right. So, my only advice would be to keep it simple when it comes to parenting an athlete. Enjoy the ride with them, and encourage them to do their best (both their own child and the team) –simple as that. Don’t try to coach, analyze, dictate, or meddle. Just enjoy. From what I’m told, parenting is difficult; sport is one area where a parent should just sit back and enjoy!
This blog article will about the role of the football coach. Before we get into the principles, I feel I should add a disclaimer that this is an opinionated entry – these are my own personal feelings, so please, take them as you see fit.
The first and most important role of the coach is role model. This is true for any level of football, from Pop Warner to the NFL. Coaches have a very profound and unique impact on their players, and by extension the community around them. This impact can be good or bad, depending on the values and principles he instills in his players. Before any of us are football players, or coaches, or fans, or businessmen, or anything else, we are people, and our greatest responsibility lies in treating other people properly. Football coaches have a visibility above that of most others within the community, and when that visibility is used to present a hardworking, disciplined, high character individual, the community benefits. Furthermore, a team full of hardworking, disciplined, high character individuals is likely to be a good team; winning will take care of itself when the individuals involved have the right mindset.
The second role is as a trusted teacher. It is a coach’s responsibility to pass down the correct information. When an athlete hears a coach’s instruction, those words become law. The coach must seek out the right information. A coach who teaches fundamentals incorrectly, schemes incorrectly, conditions his players incorrectly, is doing a disservice to his players. A coach must be objective and proactive in seeking out the best coaching methods. Don’t be stuck in the past, using methods of yesteryear, because your players are members of a different era, one with more available research, science, and empirical data to improve the level of coaching.
The third role of the coach is to help the team achieve success. This is ranked last for two reasons. First, I believe it is less important than showing character and coaching the players properly. A coach who wins, but in doing so promotes bad character, a lack of discipline, and other undesirable traits, is really doing more harm to his team than good. A coach who sacrifices fundamentals and proper scheming for a win is really not setting a good foundation for future success; he is likely to fail sooner or later, even if he won early on by taking shortcuts instead of teaching good football. The second reason achieving success is third is because if the first two things get taken care of, winning will come easily. That said, achieving success is most certainly part of the coach’s job, one of the three roles I would list under their job description.
So, what are the roles of a coach?
1) Be a role a model, a benefit to the community.
2) Teach players the right way to play the game.
3) Lead the team to success.
Those are three thing I would list, and in that order.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
There is no sport in America quite like football when it comes to training. Every athlete wants to be bigger, stronger, faster; they all want to be able leap tall buildings in a single bound, run through brick walls, fire passes seventy yards downfield, and make moves better than the roadrunner on the coyote. However, football coaches are susceptible to the same errors that the rest of the world is – we tend to teach how we were taught, train how we were trained. This generally means that our coaching and training methods are rooted in ideas of yesteryear, leaving our players without the advantage of the most cutting edge research. With that in mind, let’s examine a few topics in training for football that should provide a good outline for an off-season training program.
Topic #1 – Testing Biomechanical Integrity
A freshman football player walks into his first day at the high school weight training program. He follows in behind a friend of his who is a sophomore. The sophomore hops in the squat rack, and does a back squat. So, in turn, the freshman does. But, to what end? The coaching staff has completely missed finding out whether or not the athlete can even do a deep squat. At that age, when most kids are gaining height and losing range of motion, many athletes can’t squat properly. First and foremost, the athlete should be tested for biomechanical integrity – does he have the ability to get into the positions he will need to be in? If the staff isn’t qualified to do this, which is possible and reasonable, then find someone who is and get analyzed. Where there are restrictions, address them and create biomechanical integrity.
Topic #2 – Creating Strength, Power, Speed
Too many coaches confuse these three and how they are trained. Some coaches focus only on speed, not realizing that speed is only a component of how much force can be imparted into the ground (Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance wrote a great article on this). Other coaches only look for their athletes to get stronger, looking at bench reps and strength endurance, like the NFL combine. However, how useful is it that a defensive lineman can bench 225lbs 50 times in a row? It’s a useless skill, as it doesn’t measure maximal output. Unless he ends up on his back pushing offensive linemen off him all day, his 50 bench reps don’t help. The truth is, strength, power, and speed all build off one another, and coaches must train all three. So, when organizing the workout, make sure to start with speed work, which should include a quick, explosive running period with plenty of rest between reps. Speed work is NOT conditioning! The athlete should be moving at more than 90% of his maximal speed, otherwise he is no longer training to get faster, he is just conditioning. After the speed work, move on to power, which should consist of moving weight quickly, such as med ball slams, Olympic lifting, box jumps, or other similar activities. Again, use plenty of rest between sets. After that, do strength. You need components of all three; an athlete with only one or two is missing something and won’t perform his best.
Topic #3 – Conditioning the Right Way
No more long runs! No more testing mile times! Football is played in quick, explosive bursts. The coach who asks his players to go running on a track for a long time is training his players to run slowly for a long duration. Football is played quickly for short durations. In reality, football conditioning is not about how long you can run, rather, it is about how quickly you can recover. So, work on interval training. Have the players do a cone drill or hill run or something similar that takes about 5-10 seconds of extreme effort. Then, give a 30-45 second break, and repeat. This simulates a football game. As time goes on, decrease the break to 15-20 seconds, forcing the players to recover faster. This is different from the speed training, as players will be working as hard as they can, but with shorter breaks and at possibly less than 90% of their maximal speed.
There is no one perfect training program, but this should help provide a real basic outline to get into great football shape. First, test for biomechanical integrity, and be aware of any limitations when designing the workout plan. Second, train speed, power, and strength properly and in the right order. Third, condition for football, not for marathons. Use decreasing intervals to improve recovery time.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back soon for the next blog post.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.