Apr 26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly (center) congratulates members of the victorious Oregon 4 x mile relay at the 120th Penn Relays at Franklin Field. From left: Mac Fleet and Edward Cheserek and Kelly and Eric Jenkins and Sam Prakel. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Chip Kelly’s Sports Science Roundup
So now that we’ve nearly placed you to sleep with the techno-jargon babble, how does this all fit into Chip Kelly’s vision for the Eagles?
Fair question. And the answer is equally obvious. Chip Kelly takes this science and simply applies the knowledge to the way athletes train to prepare to play football.
From the nutrition side, athletes cannot all simply eat a steak for dinner and a salad for lunch and call it good. Some athletes’ diets are dairy free, some are vegan, some are gluten free, some need high doses of carbohydrates and some need virtually no carbs. So how does a coach ensure each athlete receives adequate nutrition? He distributes nutritional smoothies individually designed to supplement the diets of each athlete. As each smoothie is formulated for a specific athlete, the nutrition matches the athletes eating habits with his needs. As the body trains, it needs massive amounts of protein to “build” those upgrades we discussed previously. But immediately for an event, many athletes load up on carbohydrates – overloading the body with starches which are ready to use energy throughout the event. Kelly simply uses the science to his advantage.
So how does Kelly’s training sessions differ? Simply put, he trains like a football game. In a game, a squad e takes the field and plays until the offense scores or until the defense forces them to punt. Then they sit on the sidelines and review photos, discuss plays, and rest while the other squad takes the field and attempts to do the opposite. There is no coaching during the plays. There is no question and answer periods during the snap count.
It’s that mechanism that Kelly replicates. He trains his team to perform in conditions that are as identical to game day as he can. By doing so, not only does he build proficiency, but he builds familiarity with each player. The more familiar a player is, the less thinking is required. The ability to “zone out” while playing is oftentimes referred to as muscle memory. The characteristics are simple – when you no longer have to consciously instruct your body to perform the various complex steps to a task – you’ve developed muscle memory.
How many times do you consciously tell your foot where the brake pedal is? You can drive an automobile and apply brakes without conscious thought to do so. If you travel and rent a new car, you will soon find yourself thinking about the location of each pedal until your body adjusts to the new car.
Chippah gives the Eagles players, all Eagles players, training so that they don’t have to keep their mind on each individual steps. Is this an earth-shattering breakthrough? No. But Kelly adds realism to the training to add game complexities. In passing drills, coaches wear huge “fly swatter” like devices to train the quarterbacks to throw the ball outside the outstretched reach of a defensive lineman. Running backs run through “wickets”, small upside down u shapes that for the carrier to crouch low. Meanwhile, all ball carriers carry a ball with a rope attached- and must learn to hold onto that ball when the rope is pulled.
For each game situation, Kelly has developed practice aids to familiarize players with areas of risk which can change a games momentum.
Does it work? Well consider the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles inability to control the football. Even in a good year, the hope could only be that the team broke even. Fortunately, in 2013, the Eagles did better, ending up tied for third in the NFL with a positive ten turnovers (where positive means defense took more balls from opposing team).
Practice breeds familiarity. Familiarity breeds comfort and proficiency. Proficiency and comfort breeds success. Success breeds championships.