Freelap Friday Five with Nick DiMarco
Nick DiMarco is the director of sports performance at Elon University, a position that he has held since 2018. He is a leader in the NCAA University coaching system in the area of high performance ideology. As a former professional athlete (New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker in 2014), DiMarco is well-versed in the intuitive aspects of what it takes to be a high-achieving athlete. With a thorough understanding of training loads and the components behind transferable agility training, he brings a unique array of insights to the coaching table.
DiMarco received his undergraduate degree from William Penn and a master’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania, both in the sports performance sector. He is on track to finish his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University of Chicago by early 2020.
Freelap USA: How are sports such as American football advancing in terms of a high-performance training model?
Nick DiMarco: Every sport/organization can be advanced with a high-performance model. By breaking down silos and working backward from the game, you can create a model that maximizes performance. Currently, the number of teams implementing such a model in American football is extremely low. More so than in most sports, those involved in football typically take great pride in outworking people and thinking that more is always better. Very few teams seem to understand the fact that quality work trumps quantity, and that going into a Saturday game beat down from a brutal week of practice probably isn’t the best idea.By breaking down silos and working backward from the game, you can create a model that maximizes performance, says @Nick__DiMarco. Click To Tweet
Luckily, on the positive side of the coin, a few teams in American football have shown that such a model can succeed. Outside of American football, many sports regularly embody this model, with MLB being the best example in American sports. By implementing a team approach based on a five-coactive model consisting of physical, psychological, technical, tactical, and cultural development, teams can maximize performance. When the entire group has the same mission and goals, speaks one unified language, and works together in an optimized system, great things can happen. If each member of the team brings their expertise together without ego for a common cause, they can accomplish a lot more.
Sports coaches greatly understand the technical and tactical elements of sport, while sports performance coaches have a far greater understanding of the physical elements. If both parties can work together to piece together practice plans, off-season development, etc., they can put players in a better position to succeed. Understanding the five coactives and being able to develop a system that enhances all five utilizing the strengths of the entire staff can deliver superior results.
Freelap USA: What are some examples of weekly training templates, from a team sport perspective (not lifting schedule), that you find effective?
Nick DiMarco: I have observed a few different variations that I think can be quite successful. All things being equal, the fresher and more tactically prepared team will win at a higher rate. Based on this, it is critical to set up the weekly schedule in accordance with those goals.
Here is an example of a weekly football outline:
To clarify the variables in figure 1, I have listed an explanation of each below.
- Volume: Total distance + total time on feet.
- Density: Work per minute.
- Intensity: High-speed distance.
- Speed: Intent of velocity.
When analyzing this, it is important to keep the goals of the weekly schedule in mind. I’ll briefly touch on each day of the weekly outline.
I believe this is the most important day of the week. Recovery is paramount following a game where the nervous system is stressed to an incredibly high capacity through a large amount of time spent in high states of arousal, focus, speed, and collisions. Many people think of recovery only in terms of the physical, but the psychological component is just as important, if not more so. Having this day off to enjoy time with family, relax, and get away from the game for an additional 24 hours can go a long way.
A review of the film from the last game to improve upon mistakes, followed by installation of the game plan for the upcoming week. After meetings, athletes perform a brief light practice to address individual periods focused on technical improvement and execute the newly installed game plan at lower velocities (50%).
This is a high-intensity day with a focus on full-field execution. Players take the principles learned at lower velocities and apply them to full-speed small-sided games first, followed by full-squad games. Players reach higher intensity on this day with a focus on deeper downfield routes, longer down and distances, and an emphasis on the middle of the field.
A high-volume and high-density day that focuses on short yardage and the red zone. Shrinking the field space autoregulates the intensity, and because of the drop in intensity, athletes can run more plays at a higher rate, allowing them to cover more tactical scenarios.
This day has a tactical and regeneration focus, and it features a walk-through review of the game plan. Eliminating workload on this day allows for players to achieve a greater degree of freshness on game day while still having a chance to improve tactically.
Potentiation focus. The goal of this day is to put the icing on the cake from a physical and psychological preparation standpoint. Athletes on both sides of the ball will run 15–20 plays at full speed (starters get half the reps) to potentiate the CNS for the following day and increase confidence.
For team sports playing 2–3 games a week, the outline would change but the goals of it would not. Start from the game and work backward. As I stated earlier, I have observed other successful models and suggest you look into Cam Josse and Fergus Connolly’s book, The Process, for a deeper understanding of how to implement a successful weekly model.
Freelap USA: In perception reaction agility, what are some of your favorite setups, and why (e.g., 1v1, 1v2, 2v2, etc.)?
Nick DiMarco: Virtually all field and court sports require the offensive players to create space, while the defense attempts to constrain space. As sports performance professionals, we can directly improve these skills by focusing on individual and small group matchups. I prefer starting general with 1v1 matchups and progressing to matchups of 2v2 or more and adding in more tactical elements.
I like the 1v1 matchup because, in many cases, that is a great deal of sport. If you can improve the ability of your offensive players to create space and defensive players to take space away, when they enter a full-team game, the team will have a dramatic boost in potential to succeed.
I like the 2v2 matchups because they force communication and offer more tactical elements. Increasing the ability to understand where they are in space and how to constrain or create space as a unit is greatly beneficial within team sports, but this requires a greater understanding of the game to create applicable scenarios.Skill movements are task-specific, so by focusing on each matchup, you can create a more robust athlete than by only focusing on one matchup type, says @Nick__DiMarco. Click To Tweet
Skill improvements are task-specific, so by focusing on each matchup, you can create a more robust athlete than by only focusing on one matchup type. By exposing athletes to a wide array of scenarios and matchups, they can become better equipped to handle the chaotic environment of sport.
Freelap USA: What are some principles of technology and data integration into sport and sport performance that you are seeing?
Nick DiMarco: I think the use of data is extremely powerful when applied correctly and within context, and the most important data you can gather is free. We created a daily wellness questionnaire that all of our athletes fill out each morning. From this, we can track freshness, internal workloads, sleep quality/quantity, nutrition, hydration, and mood. This data, coupled with daily conversations, can have a very big impact. While this data drives some of our decision-making regarding loads, it also offers a great opportunity to help athletes create better habits for long-term success on and off the field.
Outside of internal monitoring, I have experience with GPS, HRV, sleep tracking, force plate analysis, VBT, and more. These are all extremely useful tools if used in the right context. A lot of people collect data to collect data, rather than collecting data to inform decision-making.
GPS, for example, is often used without any context. In my experience, using previous data to build out practices and weekly models and using data to better prepare athletes throughout the off-season and improve RTP protocols are all extremely valuable sports science practices. Using HRV and/or VBT to autoregulate training of more advanced athletes is also extremely beneficial. Overall, the integration of technology and data into sport has provided a very positive impact for the organizations that use it within the context of improving performance.
Freelap USA: What are some ways you see sports performance evolving in the next 5–10 years?
Nick DiMarco: Within the next 5–10 years, I believe a lot of teams will adopt a true high-performance model and have more sports performance/sports medicine professionals in senior administrator roles. This will improve the hiring processes of organizations and continue to push the field in a more positive direction by eliminating many of the uneducated meatheads that currently litter the field. I think, because of this, the field will continue evolving toward being sports performance-oriented instead of the older styles of strength and conditioning.Within the next 5–10 years, many teams will adopt a true high-performance model and have more sports performance/sports medicine pros in senior administrator roles, says @Nick__DiMarco. Click To Tweet
More coaches seem to be evolving toward a more skill-oriented approach rather than the old-school back squat, bench press, and 110’s approach. This field has never had more jobs or better wages, and I think these will only continue to grow within the model.