Stop The Guessing Game

All of us working in sports have heard a version of the following:

"Athlete A sucks at 'Insert sport skill here'. We just need to get them 'Insert Non-contextual physical skill here' !"

"Johnny sucks at tackling, we just need to get him stronger"

"Jillian sucks at beating her defender, we need to get her more explosive."

"Devaughn sucks at 1v1 defending, we need to get him better at decelerating."

And the list could go on forever. While this could be true, how do we know? Defining sport success needs to have a clear language that every piece of the puzzle can understand and see through the same lens. If not, you have the coach saying they need to work on technique (another BS term for most, but we will save that for another day), the strength coach saying we need to work on strength, the fitness coach saying we need to work on fitness, and so on as far as you want to go.

In his book, The Original Guide to Football Conditioning, Raymond Verheijen provides a clear path to evaluate football actions. This consists of 4 components:

Position- "From Where?"

The starting position in relation to opposition, teammates, the field and the ball

Moment- "When?"

The point when the player decides to initiate the action

Direction- "To Where?"

The directional component of the action.

Speed- "How Fast?"

The speed component of an action

Narrative Approach to Sport Actions

The brilliant mind that Raymond is, he decides to take a shot at another sport. One evening at an airport, he runs into the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. After a short conversation about what he does, and getting to know each other he makes a bold claim:

Raymond: "Usain, I can guarantee that if you let me handle your race day that you will win the next two Olympics, and I can prove it!"
Usain: "I am getting a little older Raymond, exactly how are you going to do that?"
Raymond: "4 simple ways Usain. If you follow my lead, it doesn't matter how old you get, or if you lose a step or two, we will win. First, as everyone lines up on the starting line, I want you to take your blocks and move them up 10m. Second, we are getting rid of this outdated starting gun, and the other racers will have to start when you say go. Third, if any of the others sprinters begin to gain ground, you can cross into their lanes and cut them off. And lastly, I just need you to run as fast as you can."

Now obviously, this is not a true story, but hopefully it gives you a glimpse into how important Position, Moment, Direction and Speed are in a sport context. When working with sprinters, the majority of sport success is determined by speed. On the other hand, with team sport athletes, if you do not take into account these other factors, you can get lost in thinking that speed is something that defines sport success.

Usain Bolt the Footballer and The Speed Gods

As far fetched as the story above seems, Usain Bolt actually did have a go at trying to be a professional footballer. The fastest man in the world undoubtedly had success at the professional level, right? Well not quite. He had a trial, put some fans in the stands, and then was not offered a contract. How could this be? Having a player as fast as Bolt is a dream right? Not if he doesn't have the understanding of Position, Moment, Direction and Speed.

Above you see an example from Bolt's debut game for Central Coast Mariners. We have all been in a film session where coaches look at a moment in a game like this. It is easy to say "If he was faster, he would have got to that ball", but to truly evaluate the action allows for a better starting point. If we can have a better understanding of PMDS, language becomes significantly clearer, and the context becomes the sport. Without that, each part of the performance team will have a different lens to look through and the solution becomes very unclear.

It reminds me of the Greek gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and many more. As a man in 4th Century BCE, watching water overtake ships, the mysterious event could only be described by their reference: The Gods. Now that we know why storms start, and where waves come from, our reference becomes the weather patterns.

This is a perfect example of why strength coaches think speed and strength is the end all be all. They don't understand the surface winds and weather patterns, so it is much easier to go back to their reference:

The Speed Gods