No proposed program or pilot project will bring back Junior Seau, but it’s not out of line to explore ways to prevent such a tragedy in the future.
I feel an NFL club’s number one asset is its players. Everything should center towards ensuring they are mentally and physically prepared; before, during and after their careers.
I learned in the Air Force; take care of, train and prepare your pilots/airmen for battle. Coaches, scouts and front office people come and go, your primary investment (time and money) is in the success of your players. You have to build a sense of confidence, that they know they are prepared and ready. Veteran teams draw on experience, but young teams need to be taught, developed and led.
I propose an idea that would have a number of different aspects in football operations fall under the umbrella of a Director of Player Performance. It fits hand in hand finding the best players (talent, character, competitiveness, attitude, etc…), indoctrinating them into the culture of your organization (train & develop) and then prepare for competition.
I’m thinking about what we do with our NFL players once they walk through the doors of the facility for the first time. Player Performance covers the mental and physical aspects of maximizing a player’s talents to their fullest. Something Shane Richardson of the South Sydney rugby team called “high performance” training. They borrowed a number of similar concepts from Australian Swimming.
- Strength and conditioning split into two disciplines; strength & explosion, speed & flexibility. This aspect works independent of coaching. S&C interfaces with the trainers, medical doctors and team nutritionists/supplement experts.
- Baseline standards measured & monitored throughout training towards specific & individualized goals set to maximize a player’s needs for his position. There are no “cookie cutter”, “one size fits all” program.
- A comprehensive goal setting process, dovetailing into a digital monitoring system for continuous updates and feedback.
- L6L Leadership skills and performance enhancement, more or less the use of sports psychology to influence the upward development of performance.
- Public & Media Communications (not PR) helping to focus the players on the importance of their outward message sent through body language and verbal cues.
- I’ve had detailed discussions with one of the country’s foremost sleep study experts on the effects of travel, sleep apnea and pain management (as related to sleep) on athletic performance.
- A centralized and comprehensive “security arm” that works WITH the player to make sound decisions.
- Expanding on going educational and internship opportunities, as well as small business start up & charitable training.
- Management and motivation of Generation Y or “Millennials”, team building and leading the new generation of athlete in the National Football League. Above all else, the most misunderstood and poorly executed aspect in professional football today.
Bringing it all together
The Director of Player Performance is responsible for the integration of all these areas (and some not listed) into a single, individualized and well monitored plan for the player. He (the player) would know that we are meeting him half way in the process of preparing him for Sundays (and for life), we (the club) only ask that he meet us the other half. This is where it is paramount to draft and sign the type of players that are committed to the team and to each other.
The idea is to then hand over to the coaching staff (another important topic) the most talented & best mentally/physically trained athletes to execute their game plans.
A lot would go into educating the player specifics of success and detailed explanations of how improvements in various areas affect their own on and off field performance. Present a well thought out, highly detailed program, built into the system just as easy as Wednesday morning position meetings.
Changing the culture of development
Success and winning start with an attitude, confidence from fully knowing you’re as prepared as you can possibly be. Professional football has come a long way in its marketing of the game and how coaches put together game plans via computers and digital media. But the actual training and development of young players may even lag behind the collegiate level. Some might argue we already have these ideas in place; High school player development? Sure. Rookie Symposium? Yes. Individual NFL Player Programs? Most certainly. Integrated, customized, detailed and monitored on and off the field career/life plan? No.
I propose that a club change its culture, its entire approach towards preparation and development. If young players know you’re 100% behind their success (I don’t mean coddle them), they will perform. If not, get the players that understand & buy into the concept.
If you’re going in the direction of youth, you must find a way to maximize their talent and build that confidence level to its fullest. Players will want to come and play for your organization. Players will bypass opportunities elsewhere to stay with your club. Word will spread that this is a place where you want to be. Cutting edge training and preparation, individualized development, investment in your “assets” – this should be the culture.