Articles

A Look Inside a Leading NFL Combine Training Program

By Keith Walker
February 07, 2013
 
Ken Vick, Velocity's VP High Performance, has been preparing elite football athletes for the NFL Combine and Pro Days for more than a decade, including 20+ first-round NFL Draft selections during that time.

Vick is currently directing the daily activities and preparation of 20+ athletes who are invited to this year's NFL Combine, including first-round projections Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee), Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas), and Mike Glennon (QB, NC State), in addition to numerous other potential NFL Draft picks.

QUESTION: Describe the process and athlete experience during the first few weeks of the program as these players begin preparing for the NFL Combine and Draft.

KEN VICK: Entering NFL Combine training is a big change for many athletes. First of all, they are no longer college students and as professionals, they have to start thinking like a business person as well as an athlete. We want them to start thinking strategically about the risk-to-benefit ratio and the cost of every decision they make. So at this point, instead of a coach telling them what to do, our coaches are guiding them, getting their input, and helping them to think about how to make decisions in their training and preparation.

The training is also very different as we prepare them for the NFL Combine. While the off-season in football is generally longer with a steady progression to training, this process is very short and intense. We have to very quickly load the athlete so that his body will peak for their key events like the Combine, the pro days, and even the early all-star bowl games. It's also a shock to the system because they're coming directly out of season and entering right back into full training. This is where the integration of sports medicine becomes very important. We can't just rehab and wait for them to feel good to begin training, but on the other hand, we can't just train and ignore the many bumps, bruises and injuries that they experienced during the college football season. This is also the time when we begin educating them on the risk factors that will affect their career longevity.

Another difference as these college athletes enter NFL Draft preparation is that they are now surrounded by many other elite, high-level athletes. This is their first taste of understanding that as a process to the NFL, everyone around them will play at a higher level. Their talent is no longer enough to just get by. I often say that talent is just the cover charge to get in the door. After that, it's up to you to do something more.

QUESTION: What are the main things you and your team of high performance coaches focus on during the program?

KEN VICK: Everything now revolves around creating the best possible programs for each individual athlete. We don't fit players into a preset program. We create a program to fit our players.

I think one of the very important factors that get overlooked in many training programs is basic communication. Day 1 begins by sitting down with the athlete and discussing his background, his goals, the way he sees himself as an athlete, and the way he wants to see his career unfold. We involve the agents and also gather feedback from NFL team scouts in an effort to understand how to put together an individual plan. Then we take our team of experts and look at the input from each of them to create a plan that is going to get the optimal results for each player in the timeframe we have to work with them.

One top priority of Combine training is getting the athlete as healthy as possible in a very short amount of time. Integrating all of our sports medicine experts, physical therapists, soft tissue specialists, nutritionists and physicians all play a role in getting our players healthy and functional again. This is critical because they have to train to improve their performance and because the medical evaluations are a very important factor at the NFL Combine. Another very important priority is not just the intensity of the training, but the specificity and the focus of the recovery. While training is the stimulus, it's during recovery that the body and brain adapt. So if we want the athlete to improve and to be able to handle more intense training, we have to implement a very intensive and specific regeneration plan. Regeneration has become a popular topic, but too many people still generalize in what they are doing. We look at four different types of stress on the body and break down a regeneration plan around those stresses.

QUESTION: Walk us through a typical day for these elite athletes right now as they prepare for the NFL Combine and other key evaluation events.

KEN VICK: Because we have such a short timeframe, our days have many objectives and a lot of things to get done. The players begin by eating a breakfast of custom food based on their nutritional needs and their individual tastes. Many will arrive before the first training session for therapy or other types of preparation. The first session each morning is focused on movement and depending on the day, will either be linear speed (working on acceleration and maximum velocity) or will be multi-directional (working on quickness, agility, and foot work). The movement training typically lasts 60-90 minutes, with a section for dynamic warm-up focused on the technical aspects of movement and then some apply drills to really stimulate optimal motor learning.

The athletes then go to position work, working on the specific skills with position coaches. They have a custom post-workout drink designed to meet the carbohydrate, protein, and other specific needs of each individual. Depending on the athlete, they may have more therapy or post-workout treatments on that day. Some may have an aquatic workout as well, and then lunch before the afternoon strength and power session.

In the afternoon, we focus on various aspects of strength and power development. This involves plyometrics, weight room, additional stretching, and conditioning. Again, they have a pre-workout drink designed to prepare them and minimize fatigue, and then also a post-workout drink to refuel their body and prepare them for the next workout. The regeneration process starts immediately and they go through various modalities to help the body adapt and recover for the next workout. This includes things like ice baths, showers, Normatec and Marc Pro recovery solutions. They will also review video of their training during a meeting with coaches, and be in a classroom to learn schemes and tactics on the field. Their day also includes additional stretching, soft tissue work, and physical therapy, when necessary.

QUESTION: These elite athletes quickly transition from college students across the U.S. to preparing full-time in Southern California for their first professional job and career. What have your observations been so far in terms of how they successfully manage this life change?

KEN VICK: This is an amazing group of athletes and really good young men who we have with us. It's always a challenge to leave a structured college environment and become a professional athlete, even more so in the spotlight, but with new stresses and demands in a very short amount of time. It's a great opportunity to work with these young men to help them take the outlook of being a professional to that of being the CEO of their company. Now they have to make decisions about what they will do.
 
Ken Vick, Velocity's VP High Performance, has been preparing elite football athletes for the NFL Combine and Pro Days for more than a decade, including 20+ first-round NFL Draft selections during that time.

Vick is currently directing the daily activities and preparation of 20+ athletes who are invited to this year's NFL Combine, including first-round projections Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee), Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas), and Mike Glennon (QB, NC State), in addition to numerous other potential NFL Draft picks.

QUESTION: Describe the process and athlete experience during the first few weeks of the program as these players begin preparing for the NFL Combine and Draft.

KEN VICK: Entering NFL Combine training is a big change for many athletes. First of all, they are no longer college students and as professionals, they have to start thinking like a business person as well as an athlete. We want them to start thinking strategically about the risk-to-benefit ratio and the cost of every decision they make. So at this point, instead of a coach telling them what to do, our coaches are guiding them, getting their input, and helping them to think about how to make decisions in their training and preparation.

The training is also very different as we prepare them for the NFL Combine. While the off-season in football is generally longer with a steady progression to training, this process is very short and intense. We have to very quickly load the athlete so that his body will peak for their key events like the Combine, the pro days, and even the early all-star bowl games. It's also a shock to the system because they're coming directly out of season and entering right back into full training. This is where the integration of sports medicine becomes very important. We can't just rehab and wait for them to feel good to begin training, but on the other hand, we can't just train and ignore the many bumps, bruises and injuries that they experienced during the college football season. This is also the time when we begin educating them on the risk factors that will affect their career longevity.

Another difference as these college athletes enter NFL Draft preparation is that they are now surrounded by many other elite, high-level athletes. This is their first taste of understanding that as a process to the NFL, everyone around them will play at a higher level. Their talent is no longer enough to just get by. I often say that talent is just the cover charge to get in the door. After that, it's up to you to do something more.

QUESTION: What are the main things you and your team of high performance coaches focus on during the program?

KEN VICK: Everything now revolves around creating the best possible programs for each individual athlete. We don't fit players into a preset program. We create a program to fit our players.

I think one of the very important factors that get overlooked in many training programs is basic communication. Day 1 begins by sitting down with the athlete and discussing his background, his goals, the way he sees himself as an athlete, and the way he wants to see his career unfold. We involve the agents and also gather feedback from NFL team scouts in an effort to understand how to put together an individual plan. Then we take our team of experts and look at the input from each of them to create a plan that is going to get the optimal results for each player in the timeframe we have to work with them.

One top priority of Combine training is getting the athlete as healthy as possible in a very short amount of time. Integrating all of our sports medicine experts, physical therapists, soft tissue specialists, nutritionists and physicians all play a role in getting our players healthy and functional again. This is critical because they have to train to improve their performance and because the medical evaluations are a very important factor at the NFL Combine. Another very important priority is not just the intensity of the training, but the specificity and the focus of the recovery. While training is the stimulus, it's during recovery that the body and brain adapt. So if we want the athlete to improve and to be able to handle more intense training, we have to implement a very intensive and specific regeneration plan. Regeneration has become a popular topic, but too many people still generalize in what they are doing. We look at four different types of stress on the body and break down a regeneration plan around those stresses.

QUESTION: Walk us through a typical day for these elite athletes right now as they prepare for the NFL Combine and other key evaluation events.

KEN VICK: Because we have such a short timeframe, our days have many objectives and a lot of things to get done. The players begin by eating a breakfast of custom food based on their nutritional needs and their individual tastes. Many will arrive before the first training session for therapy or other types of preparation. The first session each morning is focused on movement and depending on the day, will either be linear speed (working on acceleration and maximum velocity) or will be multi-directional (working on quickness, agility, and foot work). The movement training typically lasts 60-90 minutes, with a section for dynamic warm-up focused on the technical aspects of movement and then some apply drills to really stimulate optimal motor learning.

The athletes then go to position work, working on the specific skills with position coaches. They have a custom post-workout drink designed to meet the carbohydrate, protein, and other specific needs of each individual. Depending on the athlete, they may have more therapy or post-workout treatments on that day. Some may have an aquatic workout as well, and then lunch before the afternoon strength and power session.

In the afternoon, we focus on various aspects of strength and power development. This involves plyometrics, weight room, additional stretching, and conditioning. Again, they have a pre-workout drink designed to prepare them and minimize fatigue, and then also a post-workout drink to refuel their body and prepare them for the next workout. The regeneration process starts immediately and they go through various modalities to help the body adapt and recover for the next workout. This includes things like ice baths, showers, Normatec and Marc Pro recovery solutions. They will also review video of their training during a meeting with coaches, and be in a classroom to learn schemes and tactics on the field. Their day also includes additional stretching, soft tissue work, and physical therapy, when necessary.

QUESTION: These elite athletes quickly transition from college students across the U.S. to preparing full-time in Southern California for their first professional job and career. What have your observations been so far in terms of how they successfully manage this life change?

KEN VICK: This is an amazing group of athletes and really good young men who we have with us. It's always a challenge to leave a structured college environment and become a professional athlete, even more so in the spotlight, but with new stresses and demands in a very short amount of time. It's a great opportunity to work with these young men to help them take the outlook of being a professional to that of being the CEO of their company. Now they have to make decisions about what they will do. What's key is that they have to learn to ask questions and seek out guidance regarding what the cost and benefit of each of those decisions are. They have to develop the mental focus and the grit to be able to do the little details that are not exciting, but that pay dividends and speak of professionalism. Some of my most exciting moments are when we give the choice to the athlete of what passes they are going to take. We give them the feedback, the benefits, and the cost, and it's so rewarding to see when they are willing to sacrifice the short-term so that they can give it their best effort and get focused on long-term success.

What's key is that they have to learn to ask questions and seek out guidance regarding what the cost and benefit of each of those decisions are. They have to develop the mental focus and the grit to be able to do the little details that are not exciting, but that pay dividends and speak of professionalism. Some of my most exciting moments are when we give the choice to the athlete of what passes they are going to take. We give them the feedback, the benefits, and the cost, and it's so rewarding to see when they are willing to sacrifice the short-term so that they can give it their best effort and get focused on long-term success.