Podcast Master Instructor Roundtable

Master Instructor Roundtable: Training professional athletes

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine
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Many clients aspire to train like professional athletes but may not fully appreciate what goes into optimizing health and performance in elite sports.

In this special edition of the “Master Instructor Roundtable,” hosts Wendy Batts, and Tony Ambler-Wright, are joined by featured guests Aaron Nelson and Mike Elliott--two of the world's best when it comes to maximizing athletic performance and staying healthy in the process.

Topics will include what it takes to be a practitioner in elite sports, the goings on day-to-day behind the scenes to keep pro athletes in peak physical condition and injury-free, how athlete care has progressed over time, and what you can apply to optimize movement, performance, recovery, and longevity.
 

 

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TRANSCRIPT:
 
Wendy Batts:
Hello, everybody welcome to another episode of The Master Instructor Roundtable. My name is Wendy Batts and I am here with my fellow Master Instructor as well as my better half. Mr. Tony Ambler-Wright. So Tony, how are you?
 
Tony Ambler-Wright:
Doing fantastic everyone. Really, really excited about today's episode because we have two amazing special guests. We are joined today with Aaron Nelson, who is the vice president of player care and performance for the NBA is New Orleans Pelicans. So Aaron, thank you for being here. Yeah, we also have Mike Elliot, who is the VP of performance health care for the MBAs Utah Jazz. So Mike, thank you as well for being here.

Mike Elliott:
Thanks for having me. Thank you. Yeah, Tony, do you want to kick us off? We've got so many questions for you guys.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
You do, gosh, don't know where to begin, I guess probably the most obvious places to just start with, you know, what you do in your current role? So as a VP, Aaron as a VP of player care and performance for the pelicans, and, and Mike is a VP of performance healthcare for the jazz? What does that actually mean? What do you do day to day, and we can kind of dovetail from there and, and dive deeper into, into some topics as they come up.

Aaron Nelson:
I think the easiest way is, you know, come in at nine o'clock punchcard out and that's pretty much it for the day. No, you know, it's grown the rolls, the rolls really grown. And I know, Mike, we have some really good perspective, but you know, overseeing the sports medicine, the performance, the training, the mental health, nutrition, and, and having an incredible staff around to, to, you know, head up those areas, and just kind of, you know, direct to make sure that we have everything that that our players need to, you know, stay injury free and, and hopefully perform at a really high level. Awesome.

Mike Elliott:
Yeah, and I think is kind of Aaron alluded to, things have changed quite a bit over time. We were working together on a staff of three people back in the day, and now we've got a staff upwards of 10. And so it's, you know, managing those people in the in the, you know, the different diverse things that they represent with inside of the group, from athletic training, to strength and conditioning, to Sport Science, to nutrition, to mental health, and kind of, you know, creating a structure and a framework to be able to intervene with your players on a daily daily basis, but also maintain communication within our group so that we know where anyone is at any given time, that way that they're feeling and how we can, you know, further intervene to get them in a better place. 

Wendy Batts:
So, well, I have a, you know, question basically, for both of you, because, you know, you are in incredible roles, and you're working with, you know, the NBA, which is a dream for so many trainers as well as athletic trainers. And so can you tell us how did you get into your job like your position that you're in today? Like, where did your journey start? And then how did you get to where you are? You'll go first night, do you want me go?

Mike Elliott:
Sure, no, I'll go cuz you got me to where I am really at the end of the day. So I, I got interested in athletic training when I started as a ball boy for the sons. I think it was in seventh grade when I started. I got to know Aaron. While I was in high school, he came on to the son's athletic training staff as their assistant athletic trainer, I think in 92. Is that right? milling?

Aaron Nelson:
Yeah. 1993 season.

Mike Elliott:
Yeah, so I was definitely a youngster back then. But I realized kind of being around the training room and in the locker room that it was a cool environment. I was always interested in athletics, fancied myself as an athlete, but then kind of came to my senses and started studying athletic training when I was in high school because of everything that I've been around with. With the sun's back behind the scenes, and you know, I chose to go to school at Arizona State study athletic training there. I was working in the locker room for the sons during that time as well. And Aaron created an internship opportunity for me my fifth year at Arizona State took me five years for whatever reason that ASU graduate but you know, created that opportunity for me Got my foot in the door, got to meet a lot of people. And after that, I moved on to work in physical therapy clinic in Tempe Arizona just for a short period of time transition to the NBA. D League, which is now the GA but the minor league at the time in South Carolina, worked there for a season I came back to Phoenix and Erin had a job available on his staff. He hired me at that point in time. And I stayed there with him for 15 years and then served in various different roles there from assistant trainer to assistant strength coach to director of rehab, to head strength coach to director performance and then moved on to this current role to jazz have been here for four years now.

Aaron Nelson:
Yeah, Mike summed it up, you know, I want to say, obviously, part of success in a professional environment is as having a unique team and in a team that communicates and gets along very well. And you don't watch my grow up. Like he said, as a young fella, I was actually really young, I think, when I was 23, when I started as assistant 31, I took over as the head athletic trainer, and, you know, Mike is an incredible, incredible person, and, and even more so professional, you know, he fulfill roles and duties that we wanted to have in his interesting back then, because like Mike said, early on, we had three people and now staffs have, you know, eight to 12, or sometimes even more. And so to try to bring someone in and add someone that then wasn't always easy to do, but I couldn't wait to have Mike join us, especially at a young age and start similar to where I did at a young age and grow and man, he, you know, he stops he, then incredible, had an incredible journey and in doing great things. So that part's great. And, and so from where I came from similar, grew up small town in Iowa, played for sports, love sports, my mom was a nurse decided I wanted to go into sports medicine, no idea what an athletic trainer was. By the time I was a junior senior in high school, but what athletic trainer was and won Iowa State who at the time had won the both the guest internship program. So it's basically hands on, right right off the bat as a freshman, now it's all academic. What I was saying, was going to go to actually started out pre med, then went to pre PT, then decided I was going to go when I said I was going to go to PT school, got hired by the sons, I worked for a couple of their arena teams, got hired by the sons and end up going to ASU starting my master's there, and then finishing it later. at Cal, pa and with the sons from 1990 to 93. Season through 2000, I became the head athletic trainer. I was there for 26 total years 16 2026 whole years and then came to the pelicans two years ago. So I'm entering year 29. And that's, that's the course and it's been it's been a fun ride. It's been a lot of a lot of growth and looking for when I was the assistant athletic trainer to now the VP a player cam performance totally differently, totally different, you know, people were working with not only as athletes, but you know, within our environment and in people we have to deal with outside of our environment. So it's been an interesting journey to say the least. Yeah, sounds sounds like it. You guys miss working together? Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely. That's about it all the time. I mean, we love it. Mike Mike's awesome and you hate to break up something great. That's it, you think you might get over get over it at some point. But like said we were together 1516 years while you more so it is bulkier these, you, you know, us grow. And you you you like each other professionally and personally. And that doesn't always happen everywhere. 

Wendy Batts:
Yeah, for sure. Well, you know, you mentioned it before, Nellie, you know, you didn't know what athletic what an athletic trainer was, I think just for our audience, to create some distinction there. Would you guys mind sharing a little bit about what an athlete what an athletic trainer does? You know, what do you what do you wish that everybody kind of understood about being an athletic trainer? How is that different from, let's say, working as a personal trainer or as a strength and conditioning coach, obviously, there's a lot of different directions, you know, very similar maybe in terms of the school required from an undergraduate perspective. And then at some point, there's a branch off and, you know, if you if you're an athletic trainer, athletic training major, there's other requirements and things you have to do if you go into exercise science or exercise phys there's other things you have to do. So do you mind just breaking that down for the audience and kind of describe what what an athletic trainer does? Particularly in the pro sports environment, and then over time, or no We can discuss how that has evolved over time. Your time in the league.

Aaron Nelson:
I think we've we've obviously we've seen it evolve when when I started as an athletic trainer, so it's four years of school, minimum, you know, graduate with your degree and then sit for your board certification and take your exam. And then it's grown now to a point where you do your interview four years undergrad, and then it's a graduate degree program. So you're going to go the extra two years, and, and or however long it takes. And, you know, most of us have done that anyway, the ones that started out with four year program and have gone to get, get our masters and in that, so it's, it's grown dramatically, I guess the big thing is, there is a there is a difference, you know, we're recognized as medical professionals. So we have, we're trained in a lot of different areas. You know, from Exercise Science and injury prevention, and more from a sports medicine, and some strength and conditioning, nutrition, we get bits and pieces of everything, and but the big bulk party is, you know, for people that don't know what an athletic trainer is, I think most do, but if you watch for those that run out on the floor, under the corner on the field, and attend to the athlete when they get injured, that's usually the athletic trainer, and sometimes in our, in ours. At this level, the team doctor may may come out as well. Mike, do you have anything to add from that? 

Mike Elliott:
No, not really, I think, you know, when Aaron and I kind of worked together, we talked about athletic training, and Aaron was big on kind of like varying your background. So when I went to school, you know, I wasn't just gonna specialize in basketball, even though I knew I wanted to be there, he was like you to work as many different sports as you can, you know, get exposed to all those different sports, the injuries that accompany those sports. And then at the same time, you know, consider strengthening strength conditioning certifications, to again, vary your background and make you a little more versatile, when it when it comes to entering the workplace at some point in time. So you know it, at some point for us, we kind of blurred the lines between the two. And a big thing for Aaron. And big thing that I took here was, you know, when he stepped into the role as the head athletic, athletic trainer for the suns in the role that he sits in now, it's kind of knocking down the walls that figuratively can exist between the weight room and the training room, and try to bring your staffs together so that they can communicate effectively. You know, he, he's realized, and I realized over the years, that's the only way you can really provide, you know, great quality care to your athletes, and to be able to serve your organization, the way that you need, it should be served. So yeah, there certainly is a distinction kind of on the medical side for an athletic trainer. But we both carry strictly patients, as well as to make sure that we understand what our staff is experiencing on a day to day, but we can also pull everyone together and try to speak the same language.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Awesome. But you know, Mike Elliot, you obviously know that, you know, having the importance of having a mentor, which I know that you have a you know, a huge respect for Aaron and Aaron, of course, you've been around in the league for so long as well. But you know, we all have kind of a mentor that we that's a common person. So we look at someone like Mike Clark, and when you guys were introduced, and you actually took the nasn methodologies, and implemented it into the suns, you guys were the first team to really do that. And you had such success with low injury rates. And you were able to take the methodologies and put it into what you guys do with your athletes. And then we saw, so like an increase in performance, and we saw more players actually playing. So how was that? Because you guys were the first to really do that. And you took kind of a leap of faith and this, you know, protocol that not a lot of people had really started out using so was it a shock to you, when you saw it? Did it make sense to you? Like how did you really start to use especially the CES or the corrective exercise? How did you put that into play? And then you know, what made you just go all in? Because you guys did and there was there was a positive of you know, there was positive reinforcement after the fact. But you didn't really know that when you started, I'm guessing. Right?

Aaron Nelson:
Yeah, I mean, the approaches is different than what was traditional. And, you know, working with my mark early on, and getting to know him at 98. And I'm listening to him and watching the way things are approached. I was like, wow, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I don't understand it fully. It just wasn't my background and he would rattle it off and I'd asked him to call me messages so I can actually listen to the message over a few times for i o okay. And that being said, when we initially gave manuscript. So I have the old binder, like handwritten notes and stuff in it in a box, and I have it, I think I brought it to New Orleans with me. So hopefully I have that for all time saved, it's historical documents.

Mike Elliott:
I'm gonna take pictures of that and turn it into like an NF T or something, you know, for a lot of money.

Aaron Nelson:
Right? I mean, it's there's like, I don't know how many dozen 20 different little binder little binders of it. But that being said, you know, when, when talking to him and trying to figure out a different approach, and and early on, I guess this, this filled the void of injury prevention. And you know, that's a lot of what athletic training is about is injury, injury prevention, and then obviously, care and rehab that performance wasn't as big as it is now. And then now recovery and everything else. We talk about that later if we want. But going back to that, trying to initiate a plan or a philosophy around a different approach to treat individuals and help keep them on the court. And in our case, in and then finding the people around, like like Mike and Casey and a strong enough unit that could support that and do it. And, you know, we were fortunate. I think NSM was in Calabasas at that point. And you know, I was spending a lot of time flying back and forth, alone in with athletes meet with Mike and some of the NSM staff and learning a lot about it. And then going to our general manager was Brian climsel at the time and just saying, Hey, you know, here's what I'd like to do. And I was still within, you know, my first contract, I might get this better go well, or we're out and it won't, it won't go well. And fortunately, fortunately for us, it went really well. And we're, you know, to be able to dramatically decrease the games lawsuit Angie was huge, but guys were playing at a much better level. But we don't know that because performance wasn't talked about it is the way it's talked about now. So that's kind of the beginning of it. And then Mike Mike was coming right out of college. So he probably give you a better feel for the the bridging the gap. You know, so quickly between college where I was actually out of college for, you know, at that point when I took over seven, probably eight years. So there's there's a little bit of gap, Mike, Mike jumped in pretty quickly. So yeah, I mean, I had a pretty similar experience with Mike where he would work with us game nights. And I would learn from him as he was kind of working with players on the table. So he would assess range of motion, and he would kind of inhibit certain structures length and others, he would do mobilizations and I would sit there and if beginning just kind of watch as an intern, and try to figure out what the world was going on.
 
Mike Elliott:
And as Aaron said, he could speak for two minutes, but there's probably two hours worth of material in those two minutes. And I would unpack it, I honestly would unpack it for days or weeks at a time, each game night. And things would start to make sense over this long period of time for me. And then when he published, the PDS and the CES pulled everything together for me. I certainly had a leg up on on a lot of people to be able to learn from him and directly, you know, teach me hand placement to teach me kind of how the kinetic chain functions, what his functions, you know, could lead to what all sorts of different things that certainly are in the PS and the CES. But, you know, Aaron and I and our group was extremely lucky to learn from him himself, kind of one on one.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Yeah, that's, that's great. And I know, Wendy mentioned this, but we both benefited as well from some direct mentorship and guidance from Mike. And so that's, that's great to hear. You know, obviously, the transition from you know, focusing more on acute care management and rehab to injury prevention is is huge. And at the time, you know, that movement focused approach movement first approach wasn't as popular probably as it is today. Would you agree that, you know, more more teams, more organizations approach, how they they take care of their athletes from a movement first perspective? Or is it still not as prevalent as you think it should be?

Aaron Nelson:
No, I think it's much more scientific now. I think everyone has some sort of an assessment that they utilize to kind of apprise where their athlete is at any point in time, and then they design their own interventions based off of those assessments. For us, that was introduced to us by Mike and you know, I think when I was in school, it was a, you know, this guy sprained his knee. Okay, what are we going to do for his knee? Or, you know, he sprained his ankle. What do we do for his ankle he strained his hamstring, what do we can do for his hamstring? And Mike, you know, was the first person to introduce me, hey, there's other things going on within this person's body that have led to these certain injuries and ailments, you know, if you can intervene ahead of time you can possibly prevent these things. And certainly took a lot of learning and as Aaron said, a leap of faith. But you know, certainly certainly saw the benefit of that. But I think we're at the point now, where, where everyone has some sort of scientific method that they employ with their athletes, and it certainly I think, has benefited everyone. Shout out.

Wendy Batts:
Well, I know for me if it makes you guys feel better when Mike talk to me, I would say the same thing like Okay, wait a minute, you got to come down to my level, because I have no idea what you're saying to me right now. And I thought I was super smart at the time. But realize very quickly that those are both ASE grads, right? Oh, there we go. All right, you know, you're gonna stay in that basement. listening and watching that I've been relegated to the basement. I was joking isn't the first time but well, I was gonna ask if you guys can share, share some insight on this. Because you know, as as someone that doesn't understand what goes on behind the scenes, when you're watching a game, or if you go to a game, and you're a spectator and you're watching your team play, you see the guys come out, they're running and they're doing their their shots. And every once in a while, they'll get down and one of you guys are some strength and conditioning coach will stretch them or do some stuff. But can you just give the listeners an understanding of what happens pregame behind the scenes, because it's not just Hey, they show up, they put on their uniform, and they go out and they shoot some free throws? Or whatever. And I think it's important for you to understand there is the process and then how do you manage that with the team? Because there's just one or two of you, even if you had a staff of 10? There's more guys there, then then you have staff for so how do you manage that and get everyone ready to play their best?

Aaron Nelson:
I think that's grown as well, you know, initially, it might have to tell you early on, because of the staffs are so small, he take care of your starters, or at least your main guys, and you know, in daily stuff, getting ready for practice post practice pregame postgame guys that you can handle, you know, you you can get everybody through, and then it's grown our, you know, in our case, all 15 players that are here, we'll get table work, and then go on and do corrective exercise, before practice and before games. And and everybody's a little bit different. So it's important that everybody's tailored to what they need is it's different. So we get on, get him on the table. And doing one thing for one guy is different than the next guy, and then putting them in. So you can do some group stuff in the corrective exercise area. And we have a great staff here that, you know, is really good about moving guys through and grouping guys when they need to get grouped or individualizing. And that's where it is now and Mike will tell you to it's grown, more and more guys want something immediately before the game. So more and more staff is going out whether it's stretching and doing some some type of a warm up, extra warm up. Maybe even some joint mobilization, maybe it's a little bit of everything in all honesty and maybe that run back to the locker room and get get a little extra work on the table as well. But but Mike can share, share that too. That's really evolved and grown over the years. If you go to a game, you'll see a lot of players at center quarter on each side doing a little bit different things.

Mike Elliott:
Yes, as Nelly said, back in the day, you can only see a handful of guys really before the game, because they were really at one point in time it was Aaron and myself in the training room. And then we had a strength coach in the weight room. And so the two of us are trying to get through as many people as we could. You know, and the staffs have grown at this point in time to where we've got, you know, eight to 10 depending on what organization you work for eight to 10 staff members were with the team, you know, various roles, athletic trainers, pts strength conditioning coaches. And so from a pregame perspective, we try to take a regimented approach where we schedule time for guys on the table. We schedule time for them to get in the weight into the weight room and then they schedule time to get onto the court to get their pregame warmup that affords us the opportunity you know if we've got four people or so, providing the manual therapy and joint mobilizations, it gives them time to see each individual person that they are accustomed to working with and then we can send those four people to the waiting room, which depending on where you are in the league is different sides are some places where you you're working in the tunnel and on the way out to the court. There's places where you're working back in the hallway, place have like a nice proper weight room for you. But that affords kind of small group opportunities to get in there and to get moving. And then it gives an opportunity to get to the court as well. So we try to schedule everything out. So everyone knows where they're supposed to be at any given time so that nothing falls between the cracks. And then what we try to do is keep that the same 234 people that I work with, I try to do that every single game night so that I can see impairments are over time and try to intervene accordingly. All update corrective exercise, walk straight into our strength and conditioning and step staff and say, Hey, I saw these two new things on the table today, can you tweak his corrective exercise to reflect those things? You know, can you change some of this targeted self stretch, that sort of thing. And then, you know, during the course of the game, when the fans are watching to see whether or not their team wins or loses, I think, you know, Aaron would agree, two of us are out there kind of looking more at that, how people are moving at any point in time. So try to identify, you know, any impairments that might be popping up or anything that we might need to intervene with after the game or even the next morning. 

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Yeah, that's awesome. You know, there's quite a bit, I want to dive a little bit deeper on there. One, I guess, when you talk about that process from getting on the table, doing soft tissue, or joint mobilizations and so forth, and then the athlete transitioning into the weight room for some correctives to finally getting on the court, you know, how long does that process usually take just to give our listeners some perspective? So I think one of the challenges that, that we continually run into at NASM, with some of our courses, and the methodology is the practical application and the utility of corrective exercise, how do you fit all this stuff into a comprehensive program, and still have enough time to do some training, strengthening auditioning, you know, stuff that's going to move the needle as a relates to fitness or performance goals. And so, I think any opportunity to highlight that, you know, corrective exercise doesn't have to be this, you know, super long blown out program, but something that if you address continually on a regular basis, you know, that the time that you need to dedicate to it may be much less than what what people realize. And so if you could shed some light on that process, and also just kind of go into what drives that process? How do you determine what areas to do soft tissue and joint moves on prior to going into the the correctives, I think that would be really beneficial and valuable for our listeners.

Aaron Nelson:
Tony, I think you hit it right on the head that you've got to be consistent and, and, you know, as long as you're doing the corrective exercise, and the table work and stuff consistently, then then sure, you don't have to spend an exorbitant amount of time to do it. Now, you might have a guy that wakes up with something that he will happen in the game the night before, from a bus rider from airplane, slept in the bedroom, whatever, anybody have to spend some extra time but you know, in typically on from a table work, getting them on the table 20 to 30 minutes max, and we could reduce that we could literally hit specific areas, but we tried to go a little extra and you know, as long as the guys are here, and we have the time to do it. So it's 20 to 30 minutes. And then same thing in the weight room, 2030 minutes of corrective exercise and then lifting if they need to live, what we've done, which again, you have communication and and understand and appreciate the people you're working with. If for whatever reason, a wrench gets thrown in the coach, once these four guys out on the court to do some extra walkthrough stuff, instructional stuff, and if something gets messed up, now we have to decide what's more important, the table work or the corrective exercise? Well, they're both important. So if there's four guys, we might know, they might need to do a little bit more stuff on the table, the others can go in the weight room, more will flip it. So then the time gets split up more, or if they're like, you have one hour or you have 45 minutes today to do your routine with the guys. And we'll be like, Okay, today, we can probably get through and you do hypervolt. And we'll get the guys out in 15 minutes. And then we can have full 30 minutes in the weight room and do extra stuff. But in all honesty, I've heard that in a lot of different levels and a lot of different sports that I still have time. So I have that you can make time because even even if you pick three or four corrective exercises, and three or four things on the table to do it, and then maybe followed up with some dynamic stretches or something, you can be done with a person if it's just one person in 20 minutes if you wanted to, if you wanted to just by doing the bare minimum, you're still going to make some changes. Now at this level we're not. We're trying to give them as much time as we can. So maybe some ads stuffs done after. But if you really want to bring in you have 30 guys and you want to get them through, you probably can get them through in, you know, in groups depending on the size yourself in a much smaller amount of time by isolating and figuring out what group needs to be, you know, maybe it's a hip group that they really have tight hip internal rotation, this is a lower extremity foot ankle because their, their toe or their ankles, the dorsiflexion is terrible. And we want them to do some, so you can do different things in different ways to set it up. It's It's not difficult. And again, it doesn't have to be, we got to get 20 exercise done in the weight room, we've got to get an hour's worth of work on the table with the guys love to lay on the table for an hour. Absolutely. It's like going to get a massage, but more painful. So, you know, to that extent, you can facilitate whatever whatever time is allotted. Mike?

Mike Elliott:
Yeah, so we take an approach kind of on a game night where everybody, we try to get everybody slotted for 20 minutes on the table and 15 minutes in the weight room. And corrective exercise for us in the game night looks a little bit different than it does on a practice day. And same thing really from a manual manual therapy perspective. On a game night, we take a really targeted approach with 20 minutes. And we have an understanding with each individual athlete kind of where they are at any point in time, we certainly use a goniometer to measure range of motion before we intervene. And then we measure again after to make sure that that what we did was effective, and then that we gained the desired result. And then kind of on a game night from an activation, corrective exercise perspective, we may target one or two things on the table to activate before they get to the weight room. And then in the weight room, you know, we try to turn on their CVA, we try to try to turn on their glute meet or Max, we take a more dynamic approach with like a multi joint multi planar movement. And then we use something that's more reactive, because we're about to play in a game. So we really got to try to get them feeling reactive prior to that. Then on a on a practice day a little bit different where we can take a more kind of deliberate approach to corrective exercise. You know, as Aaron said, if you have someone who has limited hip internal rotation, we can spend some more time diving into that dysfunction. On a practice day, because we're afforded more time to do so, game night, you're certainly trying to get everybody feeling good feeling ready for the game, feeling bouncy, get them out to the court, on a practice day, we can really dive into some of those some of those dysfunctions those impairments. Try to try to make some changes,

Wendy Batts:
I think. Yeah, I mean, I think the way that you guys are telling us a lot about this corrective exercise and be able to identify with each player what they need, specifically. And obviously we're all about individualization because that's, you know, every person is different, we move different, we play differently, we do everything differently. And but when do you guys do? Like how do you do your assessments? Do you do it at the beginning of the season? And then what assessments Do you feel are the most important to give you the information for each player? Because, you know, we hear Oh, they must, you know, they play at a high level? So is it how much they bench how much they squat? Or is that even important? You know, because we think if they're at a high level, we need to do the most high level and get you know, these these numbers, but in your, in your experience? Is that true? And also what what assessments Do you feel are most important and why?

Aaron Nelson:
I think this strength is incredibly important. But movements more important than anything, you could be as strong as an artist and not move well, and you're gonna underperform. And you know, when things that we're measuring as far as like train loads go, you're working a lot harder, so you're going to wear out a lot faster. So number one, you need to move well. So I don't want to take that away from strength to strength is important. But again, moving well is number one. So that being said, you know, we do preseason postseason assessments, and then do every 80 pounds two to two to four weeks assessments. And then we'll do Quick, quick check assessments, when they come in. And particularly if they came in, they'd like my ankle feel stuck or have a look knee tendinitis or my back's a little stiff. I might spend a little more time but using a goniometer. Like Mike says check hip internal rotation, 90, hamstring 9090 ankle dorsiflexion first empty p joint, you know, you can do all that in two minutes, and have a pretty good idea of what's going on and, and looking for symmetry, you know, right to left, maybe, you know, they feel something on the left side, but it's actually coming from the right side so we can address that really quickly. Spend literally, you know from manual therapy or joint mobilization, some neuromuscular stretching, you can spend five minutes in and probably correct most of that stuff. So if you didn't address that, particularly in a practice, like Mike said, you don't have as much time on a game night but in practice, if you For guys coming in, we know they're going to be out on the court, if we can eliminate some of the risk factors that that could cause injury. At this point, we're not worried about them performing well, because it's not a game where they're in a practice, don't want them to get hurt. So if we can eliminate that and save us some headaches down the road, and spend literally less than five minutes to solve it, it's a no brainer.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
What are you doing in your your preseason? Like for what what are your your go to assessments when they come in the door.

Mike Elliott:
So for us range of motion, movement efficiency, and then we'll do some other testing, we'll do some horseplay testing some CMJ, we'll do less testing. Certainly over the course of the season, try to hit those in a serial fashion. So hit moving deficiency, kind of first week, first week of the month, second week of the month, hit range of motion, get back to the forceplates. And the various testing that we do there. And then the last testing, and then try to start over the following month. We do we do a biometric questionnaire with our guys try to do that on a daily basis. So whether it's pushed to their phones, or there's an iPad, or or there's a kiosk set up, they can input some information for us on a daily basis about the prior night's sleep, any soreness they might have, how their mood is diet from the previous day, etc. It's just 10 questions, it's very quick to fill out. And we get some good information for that. And then it really just gives us an opportunity to have a one on one discussion with an athlete and say, Hey, man, I saw that your left knee is sore, you know what's going on? Tell me about that. Which which is really helpful for us. You know, like we were saying earlier, back in the day, there were three of us on staff, and you were having those one on one conversations every day. And now we've got more athletes, bigger staffs. there's a there's a bigger fight for time. So you know, can we get some of that information to, to kind of neat allow us to go have a conversation? I think that's been helpful for for our group, certainly. So a number of things that we follow over time. And we try to use all of them, we really do, the only thing that we're going to employ are those that are going to inform our decision making process, change our interventions, and really kind of get our athletes to feel different over time. If we come across something that seems interesting, but we don't think it can be actionable, that we won't utilize it.

Wendy Batts:
So cool. Now, Mike, you mentioned a few things. So movement efficiency just for our audience, moving efficiency testing would be looking at stuff like the overhead squat, single leg squat, certain range of motion or mobility assessments. You mentioned CMJ, counter movement jump, and then the last test landing error scoring system, would you mind just kind of sharing how with the counter movement job and the last, how you incorporate those or what you're looking for from those particular assessments? Just because those are, those are things that we highlight in some of our courses, but I don't know if you know how often they get used. So it's nice to hear that you guys are using stuff like that, and and would be great to get an understanding, you know, what do you take away from that? Why do you do those types of assessments? Yeah.

Mike Elliott:
So you know, Aaron said earlier, that movement is that, you know, proper movement is what is the biggest thing in the world. And a big part of that is symmetry. So, so using force plates, to assess symmetry on an exercise like a CMJ, it's big for us. So you know, are they overloading one side or the other when they're trying to create force are they overloading one side of the other when they're trying to dissipate force. And to follow that serially overtime will help us change our interventions on the table and in the weight room with our players. When it comes to the less test, we follow that over over time as well. And that's a great way for us to see how you know, they're, they're able to dissipate and create force as well, because we do those on the force plates as well. And that's a little bit more dynamic task, asking them to to step off of a box land and explode up again. And that just really kind of for us allows us to kind of attack the tip of the pyramid. Some of the the interventions that we design from a jump landing perspective, changing planes, those sorts of things to make sure that they can do that properly. In a dynamic environment, because at the end of the day, that's where they operate.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Yep. Yeah. pretty important for basketball for sure. And then, you know, with symmetry, is there a particular benchmark or something that you guys are looking for as ideal, you know, or a certain range?

Aaron Nelson:
It really depends on the individual athlete for us. We'll follow each one of them over time and try to see where they live. You know, there's certain certainly some, some benchmarks for each one of those guys that we design over time, and to be able to follow them on a serial The basis to get a monthly metric is huge. You know, just to try to prevent injury, because again, we can we can change the way that we intervene in the weight room, and even in the training room. But then also, from a return to play perspective, we understand where we need to get them back to safely returned to the court.

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Gotcha. You know, it's interesting to you mentioned, just this battery of assessments that you guys do. You know, typically, you might find with like a counter movement jump or some other force plate testing, if there's a discrepancy between one side or the other, you know, it's probably common to just try to attack the, the underperforming side with more strength or power work. But that's where I think the importance of all the other assessments that you guys do come into play because somebody can display asymmetry is on one side, either essential, or concentrically. And it may not have anything to do with their actual strength or power capabilities, it could be range of motion driven, right? So do you guys find that after looking at some of the range of motion data, overlaying that with the with the force play data, and then addressing some of those range of motion or mobility limitations, that it has a positive impact on their strength and performance?

Mike Elliott:
Every single time with our guys, we've actually got our own website that our Director of performance science has created. So everybody, each one of our guys has a page that we can pull up, and it has all of their metrics side by side. And it affords us the opportunity as a group, and we have our morning meetings to go through each individual guy are targeted guys on on a given day to say, hey, look, here's where they are following testing, we can overlay everything and say, Look, you know, his his ability to create force on the CMJ on the right sides down a little bit, let's dive into his range of motion, his movement efficiency today, we can quickly check those. And then we say, okay, right sided, hip and internal rotation is decreased. Let's inhibit structures, X, Y, and Z will turn, you know, structures A, B, and C on let's get back to the, to the force points, and let's see if that's changed anything. So to be able to use that, in that, that information, to overlay it, to make sure everything's married up is huge, because a lot of times that, that lets us be really efficient in the way that we that we care for our athletes. Yeah,

Aaron Nelson:
Tony, couple couple things on that. One, obviously, that are breaking out forceplates for sex, and when we you know, most professional teams, if not all do. So it's nice to be able to add, like Mike says we just same thing we do not everybody does the last test, they might use the 474 or forceplates. But we do a same thing going on to a four stack. And so we get to basically two tests in one. And that's, that's nice. And it's great, because to your point, a lot of times historically, it's Oh, there's a weakness there, there's something going on in strength. And it's really not, we can pull someone off and look how they're landing, do while the other guy's going through, if we have four players come through at a time, do a couple quick, you know, some myofascial stuff, or you know, some release techniques or joint mobilization that takes literally less than a minute, get them back on there, and everything's fine. You know, you can look at the numbers in real time, which is great. Not everybody has that. And that being said, I think it's important. You know, if as clinicians and practitioners that are training the average population, or training your kids at home, or training friends or whatever, if you have any type of baseline assessment, that's the most important thing. So you can go back to the traditional like the left test, start skills test. The white SC, you know, get, I think the last S is great, particularly if you're training athletes, just so you can look at, you know, potential ACL injury prevention issues. So you as long as you have a baseline, and again, outside of like what Mike talked about, we do a lot of similar testing. We also have just baseline testing that we only do once we do it at the very beginning of the year, there's maybe six tests, these other things that we do every couple of weeks or monthly are additional tests, but when an individual gets hurt, so if you're a practitioner, a clinician training, you know, someone that wants to play softball, you know, or they want to play in a kickball League, whatever, whatever that ends up being, and they get hurt, you can go back now and at least you have a baseline to see are they within 10 15% of what their what the number was, you know, two months ago, three months ago or whatever, and it becomes very easy, but I think having some type of baseline you know, for everybody, not only you Know, the personal trainer, but all the way up to people working with professional athletes, you have to have something and you have to have something that that you can track and then make, like Mike said, Make actionable that you can now look at the numbers and start looking, you know, over a period of time and I seen a decrease in hamstring strength, is it? What's the reason for that? Is it fatigue? Is there an injury, you know, what's actually going on. So there's a lot of different uses a lot of different ways. But I think as long as you have a baseline, and then you can start building around that baseline, you'll always have something to go back to if you're going to continue because they think about you probably hear this from your clinicians, practitioners that are just training people on daily basis, once they get hurt, they don't want to train anymore, they you know, they might lose clients and patients because they don't, they just don't want to train anymore that what I'm doing didn't work or didn't help, or I'm just mad, and I'm not going to pay for someone to train me and I'm going to be hurt. So having something having a way and being able to show and visualize, to that person to that athlete, here's where you were, here's where you are now. And here's where they get you back. And all these things. And these tools we have these have to pick and choose the right ones.

Wendy Batts:
Yeah, so well said so important. Especially for for trainers and practitioners and coaches at all levels. You know, you guys mentioned this before, but recovery. You know, Mike, you mentioned the the questionnaire that you have the the guys do? You know, what impact does sleep soreness? What impact does that have on recovery? How does that change? You know, let's say a guy scores lower on a on that subjective questionnaire, you know, how does that impact what you might do with them on a given day? And to piggyback off of that, sorry, I've got multiple questions here. You know, with, with the advent of all these new recovery, technologies and modalities, you know, what, what type of impact have? Have you seen those things have on, you know, how players respond to playing and, and training?

Unknown Speaker 47:11
Yeah, so the daily questionnaire, gives us the opportunity to sit down with a player and kind of dive into what might be happening when they're away from basketball and away from our facility or the game. And then allows us to have a conversation with them sort of an educational one about sleep and diet, nutrition. And, you know, for each individual guy, it's going to depend on what they have, where they're coming home to what their habits are. And it's going to be, you know, if a player's exhibiting kind of some sleep interruption, or can't get into a proper routine, we've got to understand it's going to be it's going to be a long kind of battle to get them to change that side of their life. Somebody guys, this day and age are really young, and they want to stay up late and play video games. These guys are new fathers and they have young children and they're trying to help their wives get those kids down to sleep and their kid sleeps can be interrupted their sleeps gonna be interrupted, all those sorts of things. So, you know, what strategies can we could put into place to help our guys, you know, get to sleep quicker? So can they turn off the blue lights? Can they get into a habit of reading? Can they get into a habit of turning down the lights and foam rolling and stretching before they go to bed? You know, can they? Can they try to get 15 minutes earlier on a given night? And then can we two weeks later say hey, can you try to go to sleep another 15 minutes. So there are there a lot of education around sleep these days with our athletes, and then a lot of education as well with our coaching staff to try and tailor the start a practice to afford our guys the opportunity to sleep a little bit more. You know that that's a huge one right now. Certainly diet nutrition is big. We have guys come to our team with with really terrible habits when it comes to that. We're lucky we have our chef as an RD our players think is the best restaurant in town and he is phenomenal when it comes to hiding veggies and all sorts of good things and their food and they don't know what's in there. And all of a sudden he's like, Hey, man, you you had a hamburger today but it had X amount of mushrooms in it. Did you know that? No, I had no idea. I hate mushrooms. Well, okay, actually now you like mushrooms. And so he's he's great about that. And that that really gets a lot of buy in for him an opportunity to sit down with guys and have one on one conversations about body composition, and then nutritional interventions that can help them improve that over time. And those are kind of two big things for us asleep in nutrition that can help really impact the way that a guy feels the day after a game of the day after a practice so that he can maintain energy levels. Really, at the end of the day, maintain his readiness and be able to play and stay healthy over time. Yeah. Awesome.

Mike Elliott:
Well, I know that we're kind of coming up onto time, and I could literally talk to you guys all day. And I'm sure you have better things to do than to hang out with Tony and I and our crew, or whatever episode. Yeah, right. Hey, if you got the time, I'm here all day. But, um, but you know, I have actually one final question. And it's really more about you guys, not just about the team, but you have been doing this for so many years. And you're both married, you have beautiful children? Like, how do you find the work life balance because Tony and I, I mean, we have one kid, and we struggle, and we're here all the time you guys travel and have, you know, multiple athletes to look out, you know, look after and literally make sure that they're healthy enough to play. So you guys get the stats on the board, however, you got How do you make it work personally,

Aaron Nelson:
it's challenging, and, you know, my god to see before he got married, I was already married, and you got to see my kids, you know, going through it. And it's hard. Trying to find that balance, you know, to spend time with your wife, let alone your your kids and missing birthdays and school events I missed. I missed two, two games and going on 29 years. And one of them was the birth of my second son. And my daughter was born as we came back from a trip from Portland, coming to Phoenix, which is a long flight as mica tell you that going from Portland to Phoenix and the time change. And had that had that had a back to back and actually got back for the birth and then made the game back to two days without sleeping. So you make sacrifices, you know, for your family to do it. I'm leaving. We have the draft on Thursday, and I'm leaving Friday for my daughter, my nine year old daughter who's in the softball World Series and Florida. So I'm going to see that literally turn around after they win the championship. And fly to Vegas for summer league. So it's finding the gap and right now before school starts have two older boys one that's going to be a freshman in high school, another one that's going to be in sixth grade. And my time is lifting, doing corrective exercise, working on vert, doing some plyometric training with my old my older one and then doing some stability training with my 11 year old and throwing throwing 500 balls in the batting cage everyday doing to the point where I can't see I probably have dead arm in petrol. So it's finally time to do it. And Mike and I talked about this a lot, man, it's it's hard. So it's it's a long winded answer. But if anybody deserves any, any credit for anything we do, it's probably our wives for all the extra time that they have to stand getting the kids to and from school and practices and games and all the activities they want to do on friends houses, and, and we're not around because a man when when the season's over, I come back, I'm like, how did you do all this? So?

Tony Ambler-Wright:
Yeah, and when somebody asked that question, because I think, you know, for many professionals and practitioners, you know, they aspire to be where the two of you are working in professional sports. And I think, you know, that side of things is is greatly under appreciated, just the the time commitment that you have to put into doing your job, ensuring that everything gets done that needs to get done, and the sacrifices that have to be made. And so you know, it's certainly commendable. Wendy and I have both been able to kind of experience that as outsiders looking in. And it's just, it's amazing. And I don't think people really understand how much work it takes for you guys to do what you do behind the scenes and then, you know, secondary to that, what your family's the amount of work and effort they have to put in when you're not there. And so, you know, Mike, I'd love to hear your your insights to and then just talk about, you know, Nelly, you mentioned the summer league, I mean, literally, do you guys get how much time do you get off?
 
Mike Elliott:
You know, if you think about the, the typical person working individual or, you know, fitness professional, where there's some flexibility and latitude with scheduling. Like what is a what is the year look like at the end of the day, in terms of how much time you get off, and you're not you're not working
during COVID or not during COVID really. There's no such thing as a weekend seemingly even in the summer now. You know whether they're pre draft workouts where players come to town to spend some time I'm with us. In the summer, somebody is always in the building. And so we try to, you know, coordinate coverage with our staff to afford people some time off. Certainly. Aaron was always big about pushing us out to have vacation. I do the same thing with my staff now. So you know, I think we're, we're a bigger staff now. So we're able to get people out of the building and to go have vacation and spend time with their families and reconnect. Shoot my youngest last night came walking down the stairs with my phone in his hand, and he's like, Look, I'm Daddy, and he's two years old. I'm like, Okay, awesome. So, you know, it's, it's, it certainly is a very demanding job. You know, like I said, that a lot of weekends, not a ton of vacation time, traditionally, summer league is in Las Vegas in July. And when that ceases, everyone kind of, there's a smacks of mass exodus out of town, people stay out of the building, and then you kind of reconvene after Labor Day. So, you know, everyone sort of, from a time off perspective looks forward to August, that's really your opportunity to get out. But otherwise, it's it's demanding in season, there's not a lot of days off. plenty of times where you have an off day on the road, which doesn't mean that you have an opportunity to connect with your family or get any errands done or offload anything, you know, for your better half. And really, if you if you do the math, at the end of the day, and you have a wife and kids and you're you're out of town for 120 130 plus days a year, you're missing out on years of people's lives, you know, doing doing these, these sorts of jobs. So, you know, before you get into it, you got to have a good understanding of that, you know, it takes a lot of dedication, it takes an understanding a spouse, a partner, and you've got to do everything you can when you have that time with your family to take advantage of it. Got a our oldest is five years old, and he had 10 soccer games this year, and I got the two of them. So you have to have that understanding before you get into this as to as to what that means, from a time spent perspective. And I really take advantage of the opportunities, the small opportunities, you do have to dive into your families.

Aaron Nelson:
To put that in perspective of Mike, let's see. And I think I shared this with Mike I've shared shared with just a few people, not very many. But right before I left Phoenix to come here, I was looking, I went back, I also did travel for the team. So I knew when we were leaving when we're out of town. So I went back from the point that all three of my kids were born until at that point, and I my my oldest son at the time was 11, my middle son was about eight and a half, my daughter was about 666 and a half and put in perspective, my 11 year old at the time I had missed, I think it came out to 3.8 years of his life just from road travel. So that to put it in perspective. And then on top of that, how often do we get a team at home At home games to get up before they go to school, they go to school, they come home, we're already back at the arena for the game. So you go days at home where you don't even see them. So, you know, it's hard. And particularly I think, like Mike said, pre pre COVID or post COVID it's, you know, with a combat season, you know, I think I went in at one point like seven, seven or so days when I was in town where I saw my kids maybe once or twice, so it comes in, it's not great. So again, you have to take advantage and let them know that, that you love them and you're there for them and do whatever you can.

Wendy Batts:
I think that's a it's amazing, because, you know, I know I hear so many times, especially with me teaching that people aspire to be you guys. But then again, their family life is the most important thing and they don't want to give any of that up. And it's like you know what I think with you guys being as honest as you have been, it lets the world know that there. It's way harder than it looks because it looks like it's a fantastic lifestyle. You get to travel and work with all these professionals. However, there's a ton of work, there's so much education you have to have. And you have to be committed not only to your team, but you know your wife really needs to be committed to you. Guys, I know that that this went a little long, but I have one final question. And this is actually for Mike and Mike we did a a podcast with Grant Hill and you were brought up multiple times as well as you Aaron but Mike, because Mike worked one on one with grant especially before the games, and he was calling you cowboy. And so can you tell everyone why they call you cowboy and so We can clear up you know, any any confusion?

Mike Elliott:
I think most people only think that that's my actual name. They certainly don't know what my last name is. I got that nickname during my fifth year at ASU, Tony. Place, yes. supervised by the way, it is super fun. Which why that's why it takes five years to graduate there. But my fifth year during my internship with the sons, the team went on a road trip. I have this kind of a Ferris presentation of my knee and he's nice. Both legs. team goes on a road trip. I decided to go snowboarding for the first time. Friends go up a lift, they go off to the right. It's the easy one easy run. I was separated behind them on the lift. I thought they went left that was a bad choice. Fell winter, grabbed my board to get up herniated disc in my back and went down, had a couple beers took a nap. Couldn't get out of bed. Once I woke up. And for I don't know nearly How long was it like a two year period I tried to rehab and not have surgery. Yeah. I, you know, got this presentation of my knees and all of a sudden I have to walk in like a lumbar extension. And I'm swaying side to side and one of our players, Stephon Marbury is like, you look like you just got off a horse. And then he started calling me cowboy. And like literally, that day everyone's like, okay, you're not Mike anymore.
 
Tony Ambler-Wright:
That's a great story. Yeah. Now Wendy mentioned that other our other show that that she does with Ken, "Random Fit." Great interview with Grant Hill, but that's awesome. That's a great story. Nellie, Nellie, that's an easy one to kind of figure out her Nelson. But yeah, boy.

Wendy Batts:
That is a great one. Well, guys, we want to say thank you so much for spending your time with us, you know, talking to her audience, letting everyone know, you know, what it takes to do what you do. And also just sharing your experiences as well as you know how you guys have become so so great at your profession. So we want to say thank you. Thank you so much. And, and hopefully we can do this again soon.
 
Aaron Nelson:
Oh, for sure. Thank you. And thanks for pulling us together.
 
Mike Elliott:
It was awesome. Yeah, thank you very much.
 
Wendy Batts:
All right. As always, enjoy the rest of your week and enjoy your vacations coming up.
 
Tony Ambler-Wright:
Thank you guys.
 
 
 

 

 

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