“It becomes more important to understand the strategy of the game before the game takes place. That can only be done with film work, constant study, and attention to detail.”
–Kobe Bryant, in his new series, “Detail”
If you ask any high-performing professional athlete or sport coach to discuss the most consistent practices through each phase of their career, you will undoubtedly hear two words on repeat: film study. No matter the sport or era, most elite performers in history are on record giving praise to film study and the many benefits it brought them in their playing or coaching days.No matter the sport or era, most elite performers in history are on record giving praise to film study and the many benefits it brought them in their playing or coaching days, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
Two of my favorite athletes growing up, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant, both have their own film breakdown shows on various networks now, which drives this point home even further.
Studying the game is a prerequisite if you want to truly master your craft. With the ever-growing popularity of technology in sports and the expanded resources available, this should be one of the most non-negotiable methods of improvement for every single coach and athlete at the high school level and above.
The Shrinking Gap
As you advance in levels of play, such as from high school to college, the gap between talent gets much smaller. As that gap gets smaller, athletes and coaches must find ways to separate themselves or their teams.
When taking it to the next level, from college to professional, that small gap between talent gets even tighter. There’s less room for error. There’s more need for separation from your competition.
Over the past few years, I’ve found unique ways to connect with many sport coaches to give them a strength and conditioning coach’s perspective on what I see. Team sports go beyond offensive and defensive play-calling. There is a lot of movement to study, and that is what a strength and conditioning coach specializes in.
Don’t get me wrong: Being big, fast, and strong is never a bad idea…but what if everyone else if big, fast, and strong too? Get smarter. Be more prepared. Fight the mental battle so you can pull away from the competition.
Weight Room to Film Room
Of course, team-wide and personal film study sessions are a phenomenal way to gain the edge, but what can the strength coach do to help the team in this realm?
From a pure movement perspective, we are the experts in analysis. We have valuable intel from years in the trenches that can help our sport coaches and our athletes gain a competitive edge. We may not know every X and O of the sport, but we know great movement and how to achieve and improve it, as well as how to reduce injury likelihood. All of these things can help both the team and the individuals involved.
Following are some great ways you can get in on film sessions and offer some helpful insight. This includes looking at compensation drivers, center of mass, body language, and biomechanics.
Through my experience with Reflexive Performance Reset (RPR), I’ve adopted a key term from Chris Korfist: “compensation driver.” Every human has compensation patterns in their movement, and something drives those compensation patterns. By finding out what that something is, you can then assess and correct the pattern.
For instance, if your hip flexors’ (psoas) function and strength is suboptimal, you may be compensating with your quad. Or your jaw (clenching). Or your fist (also clenching). Maybe it’s a combination of things, but something along the kinetic chain will assist your body in movement when the muscles being targeted cannot perform. This goes for weight room and competition as well. (See here for context of an “arm driver” when it comes to psoas strength.)
These compensation drivers work because they provide us with a sense of stability, strength, or general comfort. This is really important to know, because now you can identify compensatory movements and habits on film.
Most recently, someone caught onto the trend of Lamar Jackson wiping his hands on his towel before every designed pass play. When it was a designed run, he did not wipe his hands. Unfortunately, the mass media caught wind of this and blew it up, so it’s probably no longer of use for defenses. But, in general, subconsciously wiping his hands gave Jackson comfort when he knew he was going to have to throw the ball.
I recently watched basketball film with one of our athletes and noticed the star player on the other team constantly adjusted his arm sleeve. Not just once or twice, but at almost every single break in the action. Obviously, the player really likes that sleeve to fit and feel a certain way—it makes him feel comfortable.
As a defender, you can disrupt that. Throughout the game, our athlete subtly messed with the other player’s arm sleeve. Nothing crazy or malicious, of course. But the two constantly bumped, rubbed, and came into contact with each other, so a little tug on the sleeve here and there was free game.
On multiple occasions, that player adjusted his arm sleeve during play. Twice, he adjusted it as the ball was being passed to him, which threw off his rhythm for a potential catch-and-shoot situation. Once, he adjusted it as the ball was being passed to him and it caused him to bobble the catch, which created a turnover.
This valuable insight was ALL from watching film and taking a chance at thinking outside the box.
Some of things coaches can look for on film include:
- Arm action in sprints: Clenched fists? If you play a contact sport, beat up those hands throughout the game and see if you can break up the athlete’s comfort level.
- Shallow mouth breathing: If you notice on film or within the game that someone is a poor breather, expose that by making them do extra work. Never stop moving, extend plays, do anything you can to keep them heavily and poorly breathing. This will shatter their movement patterns.
- Low knees during sprints: Athletes lack knee drive? They may lack hip flexion. Expose them to high-velocity attacks to put them at a disadvantage. They are either tired or slow, or both.
These drivers of compensation can be movement-driven or comfort-driven. Athletes generally leave clues as to what they like and dislike during competition. If you can identify those factors, you may be able to take them away and make the game a little more difficult.Athletes often leave clues as to what they like/dislike. If you can spot those factors in your opponents, you may be able to take them away and make the game a little more difficult. Click To Tweet
Center of Mass
As a strength coach watching film, you’re more interested in weight distribution, angles, leverages, and management of forces than you are in the playbook.
There is a such thing as a unique-to-sport skill and execution of that skill. However, high-quality movement is universal and can be applied to every sport skill. Some principles of athletics can span across every sport and tactical skill.
One way to get a feel for an athlete’s movement capabilities is to look at how they manipulate their center of mass during competition. For example, in basketball there are two primary defensive close-out methods: both hands high or one hand high and one hand low (high-low). Neither is right or wrong, but as a movement expert, you can explain the non-sport benefits and drawbacks of each method.
In this example, the high hands closeout has some pros and cons. One of the pros is that your athletes don’t have to travel as much distance because the hands-up posture makes them appear closer to the offensive player than they really are. This can cause some hesitation by the ball handler due to the depth perception illusion it creates.
On the flip side, if the offensive player knows this, they can comfortably just shoot over the defender. They know the defense didn’t cover enough ground to contest the shot, and this is not a great position to change directions or jump from. So, if the offensive player doesn’t hesitate to shoot or drive, your defender could be late to recover due to the position they closed out in, as seen in video 1.
In terms of the high-low method, there are both pros and cons here too. The major pro is that defenders are in a much better position to change directions because of the improved control of the center of mass. In video 2 below, you see the defenders maintain great balance, contest the shot and drive simultaneously, and force a quick pass or hesitation from the ball handler.
The major drawback is the defender has to travel more distance on this closeout since the illusion of being close is no longer there. This increases output demands and total workload, which can increase fatigue as the game goes on. This high-low hand closeout could also expose the defender to disadvantageous angles that allow clear driving lines for the ball handler, as shown in video 3. The ball handler attacks the high arm, which causes the defender to make a false step (NOT a plyo step), and he gets blown by.
Of course, these are just a few of the examples we can recognize in the sport of basketball. You can spot these trends across every sport because these aren’t actually sport skills, but movement habits. Now you can serve as another set of eyes on film and communicate what you see to your team for consideration when creating not only opponent-specific game plans, but situational game plans as well.
Some other examples that come to mind are:
- Breaking on a ball as a defensive back.
- Lateral change of direction as a ball carrier.
- Acceleration mechanics in all sports.
- Top-speed mechanics in all sports.
- Hip internal rotation in tennis or baseball swings.
Note: Thank you to Coach Garrett Winegar from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis for allowing me to showcase real game film from his #5 ranked boy’s basketball team.
Please take 2 minutes and 38 seconds to listen to this clip by Geno Auriemma. He mentions so many hidden gems relevant to this article, but most of all, at the end he says, “When I watch game film, I’m checking what’s going on on the bench. If somebody is asleep over there, somebody doesn’t care, somebody’s not engaged in the game, they will never get in the game. Ever. And they know that. They know I’m not kidding.”
I think this is one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck coaching methods you can follow. After you get finished breaking down the X’s and O’s of the game, take a look at your own bench. Take a look at what the athletes on the sideline are doing. Study how a player reacts when you get all over them and then walk away. What did they do or say behind your back that you didn’t catch in real time?
Studying the body language trends of your own team can tell you a lot about the culture of the team. As strength coaches, we are a key component of a healthy team environment (or culture, if you will). We judge weight room body language pretty accurately, so we may as well extend this into the real game. We may not be able to make assumptions based on one-time things we see, but if we notice repetitive behavior, it can be a major tip-off for the staff.Studying your team’s body language trends can tell you a lot about the team’s culture; studying the opponent’s body language can help you identify dysfunction to exploit, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
You can also study the opponent’s body language and see if you can identify any dysfunction on their end to potentially expose them. If you’ve got hotheaded players on the opposing team, you can attack and exploit that to your advantage.
Some concerning things to look for within your own locker room or with your opponents include:
- Blatant avoiding of teammates.
- Arms crossed.
- Fingernail biting.
- Attention away from the action.
- Anger outside of passion for the game.
- Non-participation in celebrations, high-fives, etc.
- Joking or talking during huddles, time out, etc.
- Trying to look “cool.”
The intensity of the game may not allow you to see these things in real time, but studying the bench or sideline on film can assist. The eye in the sky never lies.
Last, but not least, strength coaches can use game film to evaluate simple biomechanics of their athletes. Training can never, ever mimic the chaotic environment of a game or the demands that athletes must meet, so what you see on film may tell a different story compared to how you see an athlete perform in the weight room.
Sports and strength training usually won’t look similar, so don’t overly concern yourself with strength training movement principles that don’t transfer to the game. However, the effects of that strength training should transfer. If you perform squats to develop strength and power in the lower body, but you see an athlete on film who clearly lacks those qualities, you can take it upon yourself to program them accordingly.
Getting the Most Value From Film Study
Watching the movements of your athletes on film can potentially tell you what they lack in terms of transfer of training. This gives you extremely valuable programming insight because you can make micro-adjustments to the program of an athlete who may need a little more of this and a little less of that, or you can simply prescribe some supplemental work tailored to their needs.
The possibilities are endless, and the results are real.
If you want to be a great coach or athlete, you have to be willing to put in the extra work. Actually, scratch that—if you want to be good at anything in life, you have to be willing to work for it. To me, film study is a no-brainer, but what you look for and how you watch the film can differentiate you even more.
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