The tragic death of Junior Seau has ignited conversations, calls, and debates across the country about the need for a more comprehensive program to help develop young players during their all too brief professional football careers and provide for post career counseling when the lights finally do go out.
My sixteen seasons in the National Football League saw a system that I feel genuinely cared for the players, as long as they were employed and as long as they were with your team. Like it or not, clubs respect the on and off field accomplishments of their opponents, but really don’t worry themselves at all about the eventual outcome of any player or his problems outside of their own. Professional football really doesn’t slow down long enough to allow for it.
This isn’t necessarily true with the fraternity of professional players. The cross connection of collegiate competition and movement through free agency has kept the player pool close. But for a League tasked with managing, caring for, disciplining and guiding individuals, that the majority don’t know personally, it’s a difficult and arduous task. Clubs must take it upon themselves to act a bit like “parents”, taking charge of the process of helping young players grow and develop from draft day to retirement and beyond.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. The Football Educator has been calling for the need for a comprehensive player development program (not the one currently in place with the NFL).
This program is designed to enhance the performance of players in six integrated areas; mental, physical, spiritual, social, intellectual and financial. A club would “establish a ‘Performance Council’ to identify requirements, develop curricula, administer programs, and operate as an integrated team for the purpose of maximizing individual and organizational performance.”
Many might argue this is already in place, but it’s not. There isn’t one individualized and closely monitored plan for each player. There’s nothing currently passed on from club to club. There’s no consistency after a player leaves the League between programs administered while active and post career. Argue all you want, it’s not there.
This detailed a program is extremely high maintenance on the part of the clubs. It takes time, manpower, money and other resources. It requires a lot of stop and start effort as players come and go on the roster. It might appear not to even be in the mission of the National Football League or of its individual clubs.
Grab from the military their comprehensive programs that travel with soldiers, sailors and airmen throughout their careers, regardless of rank or location of station. Take charge NFL, lighten up NFLPA.
Let’s start with the mental and physical categories. One is tied to other, the very nature and history of the game reminds us that this is a violent sport, leaving more than just scars on knees and shoulders.
Clubs need to put together Strength and Conditioning programs focused on the integration of enhancing a player’s dynamic flexibility, explosive power, speed, acceleration, strength, change of direction, and injury resistance. They should not be adverse to outside expertise, counsel and advice.
This works “hand in glove” with a club Nutritionist who would closely monitor a player’s weight and body fat as related to performance. They would develop individualized diets to meet requirements and create programs to ensure the adherence to required diets. They would establish menus and select providers for training camp and on season maintenance take home meal plans, etc. They would be responsible to educate the team on supplementation risks and benefits, and routinely consult with the staff on nutritional issues and diet goals.
Head Athletic Trainers would be primarily responsible for rehabilitation and injury prevention. They’d ensure coordination between doctors and strength & conditioning for proper maintenance and rehabilitation of players over the course of the season and in off season conditioning. They would provide performance testing feedback to Strength & Conditioning, along with coordinating extra-club medical and near-medical providers (chiropractors, massage therapists, et al).
Team Physicians would continue to diagnose injuries and illnesses, and prescribe recommended courses of treatment. They’re responsible for public health evaluation and the evaluation of the activities of adjunct medical staff, including chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and others.
Finally the L6L Director would create a sports psychology program enhancing overall performance of the individual player, team, and staff. They’d research and analyze individual requirements ensuring that players are performing at maximum abilities. They’d work with the player to develop individualized programs to attend to specific needs on & off the field, and be responsible to provide confidential counseling and referrals for clinical issues.