Excellence in athletics is a goal that many long for, yet few achieve. Most of us have desired, however briefly, to attain the level of neuromuscular skill and hand/eye coordination that would permit us to reach the pinnacle of pro sports that the NFL represents. Some of us guide young people on that path as coaches. Others teach their children and grandchildren a respect and appreciation for the game of football, that wonderful combination of human chess and unceasing effort and competition.
Charles and Erin Dimry run Velocity Sports Performance in Carlsbad, CA. This facility stands on the cutting edge of the development of the younger as well as the professional athlete. Walk inside with me and take a tour through the new ways we can maximize the performance of the players, whether they are preparing for the Combine, or preparing for an NFL career...
The athlete who wants to play professional football has different needs at different points in his professional life. As a high-school player, it is his responsibility to learn basic mechanics and to learn the game, to develop an understanding of the positions, the overall formations and of his individual role in the scheme provided by the coaches. His studies must come first, because education is truly more important, and because without his ability to learn, his career will be short indeed.
In college, there will be several changes. There is a higher level of competition. The player's knowledge of the mechanics of form will have to improve - how do you run the 40? How do you cut, keep your head up, discern the play, respond to visual cues or exactly how do you keep your pads low? What are the offensive and defensive schemes, and how can you maximize your role in them. And there is still the never-ending classroom - both the collegiate major and the study of film.
At this point, for those who qualify and who want to be professional football players there is a new need - preparation for the Combine. The Combine is a week-long job aptitude test that includes a wide range of experiences. There is a physical - the athlete will be weighted, measured, and analyzed from the viewpoint of their physical body. The exam is concerned with the athletes' gross genetic physical structure and the possibilities of future development.
The player's personality will be tested: their ability to present themselves and their ability to perform in a long line of interviews. They will be asked questions on their character, their personal history and their goals and desires for the future as well as their knowledge of football and their ability to respond to inquiries of all kinds.
They also will receive testing on a core series of basic skills that includes the 20-yard shuttle, the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap (among others) and various position-specific drills. This aspect cannot replace the film of their performances in college, but it can explain to the scouts and representatives a lot about why the film shows what it does and suggests what their future abilities may be. Finally, there will be the Pro Day workouts; for some, that will be their last chance to repair damage done or to put a last polish on the lens through which their skills will be seen.
For the college athlete who desires to improve their abilities and presentation on the Combine job test, there is the Velocity Sports Performance facility in Carlsbad, CA, owned by Charles and Erin Dimry. Charles grew up in nearby Oceanside and went to high school there. He then moved on to UNLV where he was a defensive back. Selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 5th round with pick number 110, he was a cornerback in the NFL for 12 seasons, playing for Atlanta, Denver, Tampa Bay and San Diego.
He was a Denver Bronco between 1991 and 1994, starting for them during the AFC Championship game against Buffalo. Broncos fans might recall him snatching a Steve DeBerg pass and scooting untouched into the end zone against Kansas City on November 17th of 1991. During his career, he played with such iconic talents as Deion Sanders, Hardy Nickerson and John Lynch.
Charles twice won the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award for off-field accomplishments (The award is given annually to one player from every team for sportsmanship and courage). He worked with the San Diego Chargers to develop a partnership with the National Marrow Donor's Registry, and that baton has been taken up by other teams in the NFL. A news release said,
"For more than 10 years, the team and the San Diego Blood Bank have had unprecedented success in recruiting bone marrow donors. Overall, more than 2,000 bone marrow donors have joined the registry as a result of the Chargers Annual Blood Drive." Charles is a man who has seen hardship as well as triumph, and has risen above them.
The Velocity concept emerged from the work of Loren Seagrave. Loren earned a BS in Physical Education from the University of Wisconsin. An athlete himself, Loren came to a radical conclusion while he was studying at UW. In a controversial contradistinction to the ethos of the sports world, Coach Seagrave came to believe a core principle: Speed can be taught. He would go on to co-author the SPEED DYNAMICS System.
As Seagrave applied his system to top athletes, word of his success grew like wildfire. A five-time NCAA Track and Field Champion coach, Loren soon found himself in the private coaching arena. Here Seagrave became sought-after by NFL 1st round draft picks, sprinters, and over 50 Olympic medal winners. In 1999, he co-founded the first Velocity in Marietta Georgia. The Carlsbad facility is owned by the Dimrys, as is a facility in San Diego Rancho Bernado.
Dimry was a coach himself, at the high school level and under Jim Harbaugh at USD for a year.
"The hours weren't conducive to family life," he said wryly. "Eventually I'd like to go back to it."
In person, Charles is a soft-spoken, pleasant man with an easy way of talking. We walked through the Velocity facility, past the athletes working on vertical explosion with resistance bands, across the 50-yard indoor field where specific skills can be practiced and drills can be run, and down the hallway to a conference room where we sat and chatted, and soon were joined by his wife, Erin. Erin is bright, energetic and quick-minded and she knows her subject inside and out. We sat for an hour, talking about the history of Velocity and the many things it offers athletes.
According to the Dimry's, the younger athlete has a need to learn the mechanics of movement. They are still in the building-block stage of development, but it's important to remember that the higher quality the blocks, the higher the level an athlete can achieve.
Charles, personally, as well as Velocity, works with youth organizations including the Boys and Girls Clubs. He also helped identify and train talented high-school players throughout San Diego County and advise them on the college recruiting process before buying into the Velocity franchise.
The athlete preparing for the Combine has a different set of needs. Velocity offers a unique 8-week program for those athletes who understand that they are going on a job interview. They are partnered in this with trainer Doug Hix, whose work on training in track has achieved national interest. Doug and Charles met through Santa Fe Christian, where Charles' children went to school, and where Charles coached under Brian Sipe. They also got together with Doug to form Pro Prep, a service that offers training to the professional athlete that is designed to extend their careers and elevate their game.
"Years ago, students would show up for the SATs cold and sit for the test," said Erin, “Today, any student who doesn’t prepare for the SATs is at a disadvantage. We provide that type of preparation for the athletes who will take the test of the NFL Combine."
“Many things influence a training regimen including age and goals. We look at the world of sports as a funnel. Young athletes are at the wide top of the funnel; there is a lot of them and they are just beginning. With a younger athlete, we can really change their mechanics and by doing that increase their athleticism and improve their enjoyment of sport."
By the time you get to an elite college athlete 8 weeks before the NFL Combine, you’re at the bottom of the funnel. There are not very many of them and they are already doing a lot of things well. So, we aren’t going to make big changes but we will do work to speed up their neuromuscular system and thus make them faster."
“With these elite athletes, we’ll use overspeed ” she smiled, "Yes, that's done via very large bungee cords. Basically, the body is forced to move quickly and the brain is forced to catch up, so it improves neuromuscular speed and coordination."
“The Combine test preparation program is also periodized, like a track workout, where our trainers regulate the distances athletes run, how any sprints and for how long. It also involves a lot of power work, which improves the athletes’ vertical jump and also how well they start: their explosiveness."
“Training for the Combine is also different from how a pro will train later in his career. When we train guys for the NFL Combine, we’re training them for a test that measures potential. When we train veteran players, we’re training them to be effective and durable, long term football players. Your training is going to change to include more functional movement mechanics and injury prevention in addition to working on speed and explosiveness.”
I asked Erin about one problem in particular. The Broncos were constantly plagued with hamstring injuries over the past two years. While I've talked about muscular and postural balance, hydration and range of motion in the past, Erin quickly nailed down their perspective, passing on the information from Stefan Alsop, a trainer at Velocity Sports Performance.
"A common reason for hamstring problems is over development of the quads in relation to the hamstring. This can come from machine based training that overemphasizes the quads or from movement mechanics that rely too heavily on the quads. The imbalance created between the strong quad and weak hamstring can create acute and chronic hamstring problems."
Velocity has a lot of tools to maximize the athletes' performance. The first and best, they told me, is the prolific knowledge of their coaches. Every coach is extensively trained. They know what to look for to improve their clients.
"We make sure that they (the coaches) have the tools," said Erin, "to know what to look for in the athlete's mechanics. When they run, are their toes in dorsa-flexion? Is the front foot out too far? If your car dies, you never pull it. You push a car, you don't pull it (Note -Yes, Peyton Hillis is an exception. Doc). The foot needs to be under them to develop power. Do they stand tall at top speed? They need to to be fast."
"Our coaches apply physics to make sure that the athlete is moving as efficiently as possible. They apply physiology to say, ‘What are the strongest muscle groups to execute that motion? What are the safest muscle groups to execute that motion?' Then they teach your brain to recruit those muscle groups in the proper way to be in the proper alignment for maximum force application, and then that's how you make the movement fast."
Velocity makes extensive use of video. They employ the Dartfish System, which many of us got familiar with on television during the Olympics. Dartfish permits the superimposing of multiple images to show changes in mechanic, form, speed, balance and angle. It's an invaluable training tool to maximize performance.
All of the coaches are knowledgeable about postural mechanics, but to make sure that the athletes receive the best training, they are sent to a functional-movement specialist to spot any imbalances. A physical therapy center is also on site to rectify any problems. The training is extremely well-individualized and very specific. Dimry said,
"We teach athletes to do the tasks that they are going to be asked to do. We're not concerned with how they look: we're concerned with how they perform. They must correctly run straight ahead. They're going to be asked to change direction. They are going to be asked to change direction in response to visual cues. They have to have good balance so they can plant and move, perform a hit and keep moving, to be explosive. Their first step has to count - tenths of a second make a big difference. They have to be efficient in their moves. So, we look at them and ask, how do you train them to have that good balance, to move, to be explosive?
"So, we look at proprioception, muscle involvement, small muscle, big muscles: Always asking, what's the best way to achieve that balance? The glutes are far more important than their quads, so we teach them how to activate the glutes. And that all goes into how we train them."
We talked in depth about preventing injuries, the importance of the ankle and knee in changing direction, and the differences between what you do in the weight room and what you need to do on the field. The discussion was wide-ranging, and I was very impressed with the knowledge they both had, their understanding of the process and their ability to utilize those things in the application of the training regime. They were passionate, friendly, and committed. In Charles' case, he had gathered everything he had learned in his career, and taken it a giant step further.
As we left the conference room, big Cameron Morrah passed by, the tight end from Cal who prepared for the Combine at Velocity. Erin and Charles took a few minutes to talk with the young man. Erin was praising him on his efforts at the Combine and teased him, saying that they would say that they knew him when. He smiled widely and talked to them in his big, slow voice. You could feel the bond they had developed.