Neanderthal Managing

Michael Silver takes NFL teams and coaches to task on Yahoo! Sports regarding Stone Age thinking about about training camp practices in extreme heat. This has long been sore subject with me, first from a personal standpoint and then as a professional head-scratcher. Growing up in North Texas, it was only my junior year (1977) that coaches permitted water to be consumed at any time during practice. In my freshman year, my one truly “psycho” coach would not permit us to take off our helmets during 3 hour practices in August. Even at those ages, my friends and I could see that heat exhaustion and dehydration reduced rather than enhanced the ability to train both physically and mentally. It was as if the coaches had the idea that the whatever team could enter a sauna and stand it the longest won. Games, by contrast, were played at night, with lots of breaks, water, and explicit attempts to make sure nobody got too worn out. What an idea!

As Silver points out, the “toughening up” in hot weather coach-think still widely persists.

I’d love to be able to tell you that [Korey] Stringer’s death provoked a pronounced change in the way NFL teams conduct their training camps, especially when so many respected doctors, exercise physiologists and even military commanders insist that most organizations are doing a horrible job of preparing their players to compete at an optimal physical level. Certainly, there have been some improvements in the way many teams monitor heat and dehydration, but the dangerous conditions remain.

A few owners and coaches do seem to “get it.” Dallas owner Jerry Jones says

“No medical person has ever deviated from the fact that trying to get a team ready in extreme heat is just not helpful,” said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “It isn’t helpful over the long-term or the short-term. I have letters from my medical people spelling it out. This whole business of conditioning can only go so far.”

Both Jones and long time NFL coach Jim Hanifan acknowledge that the old-school thinking was all about avoiding any sign of weakness. No doubt, some weather acclimation is sensible to prepare for early season games such as the Titans and Jacksonville in the 1 P.M. Florida sun, but tearing people down during the whole month of August is just stupid.

This is one of those areas that does cause me to scratch my head professionally-speaking. I understand that better information and ideas take a while to disperse — the innovation S-curve. Yet, it’s been 30 years since I was in high school and the mentality of many NFL coaches still appears to be driven more by some kind of we’re-tougher-than-you group think. Such outcomes don’t fit neatly in the rational choice framework.

A nice research project would be to examine winning percentages in opening or early season based on location, time, and temp of training camp practices. It’s a bit tricky because many teams now have “bubbles” and some use them more than others.

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Author: Brian Goff

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