The 'Supplementalists' - a New Era of a Player Development
It used to be ‘one coach fits all’ in professional sports. Now, as the margins for improvement have become even more significant, top athletes with a desire to maximize their ability are turning their attention to specialist coaches. This blog post focuses on three pioneering specialist trainers in three different sports - Baseball, Basketball, and Soccer. Who are they, what do these three trainers have in common, and what keeps the pro athletes such as Trevor Bauer, Lebron James, and Harry Kane coming back to them?
Owner of Driveline Baseball
Boddy began a blog called ‘Driveline Mechanics’ in October 2009. As with a lot of aspiring coaches that never played the game professionally, he was seen as an outsider for coaching player development (usually those coaching positions in the Major Leagues are reserved for ex players.) Boddy played college ball, pitching for the baseball team at Baldwin College, and began coaching little league and high school teams while working a job at Microsoft. A job described by Boddy as “babysitting” the Xbox Live network at Microsoft, he utilized his time to focus on the process of developing pitchers.
Boddy was unsatisfied with the methods of professional player development at the time. Coaches and organizations (formed of ex professional players) were merely copying or slightly varying what they used to do when they were playing. He believed that little original thinking had been done on what actually mattered in talent development (The MVP Machine P70). Believing the sport was in need of modern thinking, Boddy used the Aristotelian ‘first principles’ method of reasoning to tear off the layers that were coated around the theories or methods of player development for so long. His meticulous research on topics such as athletic training and throwing mechanics led to interesting blog posts that were acknowledged by some big names in the game.
Boddy also set up his own lab for individualized player development, ‘Driveline Baseball.’ Striving to research, design, and implement theories again and again to find what actually develops baseball pitchers, his approach is very diligent. For example, he read roughly thirty books and 120 papers about athletic training over the course of a year and learned linear algebra because he wanted to be able to conduct three-dimensional analysis of the pitch. The design process was equally as diligent and extraordinary. Boddy often invented his own contraptions in his relentless pursuit of trying to maximize skill acquisition - He once built an arm sleeve from parts of a Nintendo Wii console to measure the throwing motion.
Driveline’s success took time to build. In the first few years Boddy placed ads on Craigslist seeking athletes to train. It was actually a stroke of good fortune when a box of weighted balls was mistakenly shipped to Driveline. He did some research on weighted-balls for pitching, and found that ‘work with weighted balls had improved velocity in high-school and college test subjects without any adverse health effects’ (MVP 76). Building on this and other research, he caught the attention of MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer had been looking to change certain aspects of his pitch. The two used technology in the form of a synchronized high speed camera to breakdown Bauer’s pitch, from finger placement to the pitch’s precise spin axis, giving a level of detail Bauer had not seen before.
In 2012, Boddy quit his $120,000 annual salary job as a software-development job at Microsoft to run Driveline full time. Now, Driveline employs more than thirty people, in the fall of 2018, the Puget Sound Business Journal recognized Driveline as Seattle’s second-fastest-growing minority-owned business. In the same year, Boddy offered MLB teams ninety minute meetings to explain the latest innovations at Driveline, and he filled all of the available slots" (MVP 346). On October 2, 2019, The Cincinnati Reds hired Boddy as 'Director of Pitching Initiative/Pitching Coordinator' getting to team up with Trevor Bauer year-round.
Owner of Black Ops Basketball
Brickley is the most known specialized trainer in Basketball. He attracts hundreds of NBA players and prospects to his luxury gym in Manhattan each year. As owner of ‘Black Ops Basketball,’ he has an eight episode ESPN+ show, a Puma deal, and a ‘Brickley workout’ section on NBA 2K20’s MyCareer mode, among other things.
Such is the popularity of Brickley who classes himself as an ‘influencer’ by entwining training, fashion, and music in his basketball lifestyle. It is something he would have never expected from humble beginnings growing up in New Hampshire. Playing Division I college at Northeastern before transferring to as a walk-on at the University of Louisville, Brickley (like Boddy) didn’t play professionally. His first coaching experience was at Ole Miss as Administrative Assistant focusing on player development, before becoming the youngest Division I assistant coach in the NCAA at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Soon after that the New York Knicks wanted his services. Thanks the connections of his former coach Rick Pitino and friend J.R. Smith (who Brickley had been training at the time), he was hired as a player development coach in 2013. During his stint with the Knicks he struck up a friendship with Carmelo Anthony, with whom he shares a close friendship with to this day and is a regular at the Black Ops gym. The access of working with professionals such as Anthony, expanded his network and allowing Brickley to gain a reputation as a student of the game for player development, and a damn good trainer.
He left the Knicks after five years to focus on solo Basketball training. When asked about the profession of a specialized trainer, he commented, “It’s extremely relationship based, and time consuming and you need to show you care and know what your doing, and show you are willing to give them everything you have to make a better Basketball player. It’s a lot. It’s like investing your whole life into these guys, and if you love it you enjoy it.” Whether thats video analysis, everyday texts, tailor-made sessions, or waking up at 2am to go and workout some players. Brickley’s work ethic is relentless.
Commenting that his methodology “isn’t anything crazy, it’s just dedication and passion, and sacrifice,” he is certainly popular with NBA players - Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden are a few of the players that have walked into the Black Ops gym this summer to train with Brickley. Musicians are also seeking our Brickley to improve their game - a video of J. Cole’s workout was recently posted on Brickley’s instagram page, and he even gone on tour with Travis Scott.
Owner of Superior Striker
Allan Russell’s 3 year rise from a coach in Los Angeles to becoming the striker coach for the England national team has spurned a level we all want to aspire to as supplemental trainers. Russell played professionally in his home country of Scotland before coming to the States to play for the Carolina Railhawks, and Orange County Blues.
It was while he was at Orange County Blues when he founded ‘Dominate Soccer Training’. His methods were unique back then - using a go pro on his head to film sessions, and having a professional film crew video his attacking sessions led to an engaging social media following, and brought with it professional players as clients. Within a year, he rebranded to ‘Superior Striker’ and found a niche in the market focusing specifically on attacking and finishing. Taken from the ‘Superior Striker’ website, ‘Superior Striker is an elite attacking specific training program that uses intricate statistics combined with detailed match and training analysis to improve players that are already at the top of their game’.
The professionalism not only in the design and implementation of Allan’s finishing drills, but also the post production of the content, turned ‘Superior Striker’ into a recognizable brand, bringing an appeal to his social media accounts, namely Instagram. Allan demonstrating his drills with sharp movement off the ball, and a clean technique in his ball striking with some eye opening finishes into the top corner meant that his videos were quickly going viral.
Allan decided to move back to the UK, and was employed by Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United to work specifically with Aleksandar Mitrovic. Allan also built his clientele of Premier League players, with the likes of Wilfred Zaha, Andre Gray, and Andros Townsend requesting Russell’s services. In 2017, Gareth Southgate and England came calling. He was given the task of leading drills for the attackers in training, scouting the oppositions defenders, focusing on the attacking set-pieces and penalties in preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In the tournament, nine of England’s twelve goals came from set-pieces, earning Russell praise from Southgate. Additionally, Harry Kane won the ‘Golden Boot’ finishing as the tournament’s top goalscorer (and England even managed to win a penalty shootout!). Allan has also appeared on segments of Soccer AM and is a global ambassador for Sure deodorant, traveling around Premier League clubs to put on attacking sessions.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE THREE
Now that we know more about each of these specialized trainers, there are a few things they all share in common along with their tireless work ethic...
Background - None have reached the highest level in the profession as a player, which should be viewed as a blessing, giving them the time to study the game from another perspective, and find their niche as a coach in the profession. They have forged a unique position and worked to become pioneers for specialized training. Russell’s response summed it up perfectly, "Just because you've not played at the highest level, it doesn't mean you can't coach at the highest level. You've got to be comfortable with that which I am and the fact I didn't play at the highest level made me hungry to help players and train players in order for them to hit their peaks.”
Unique Methods - Out of the three coaches mentioned, Kyle Boddy has the most unique methods of training in his arsenal. Whether that’s using plyo balls to build velocity, data-driven analysis from Sabermetrics, or having his athletes hold a two pound-ball in their glove hand while throwing to practice a ‘linear distraction,’ his methods may seem unorthodox but he can explain why the pitchers are doing it, and what he wants them to get out of it. Brickley’s most unprecedented method correlates with the success of Black Ops - his ability to attract the best NBA players in one facility in the off-season, and for them to play with the same intensity in pick-up as if they were in season. Nowhere else can give you that. For Russell, a mixture of programs on his iPad to improve awareness and reactions, detailed clip breakdown from players in games and drills designed from that all make players feel as though Allan understands their game inside out.
Why do the professionals keep coming back?
Unique methods don’t make the pro athletes keep coming back to train with these specialists but tangible results of improvement do. In the world of Baseball, Trevor Bauer has a reputation for being a little difficult to work with, always questioning coaches methods. His dad states, “Trevor is very coachable if someone is presenting useful information and can explain its logic” (The MVP Machine P26). Boddy was not only able to explain the logic for his unique methods, he is able to deliver results for Bauer - throughout his first nine starts of the 2018 MLB season, Bauer ‘had struck out sixty-seven batters in fifty-nine innings and allowed just forty-five hits” (The MVP Machine P162).
Likewise, Black Ops trainee CJ McCollum’s game improved last season, after his and Brickley’s rookie offseason,with increases in field goal percentage (44.8 percent to 48 percent), free-throw percentage (82.7 percent to a league leading 91.2 percent) and points per game (20.8 to 23.0). They’re in their second summer together. McCollum gave credit to the summer’s marathon sessions with Brickley for his improvement (theundefeated.com), and I have previously stated the impact of Allan’s tangible results to measure his methods with the England national team.
The power of social media has aided the trainers to expand their network and build their brands as supplemental trainers or influencers. For Boddy, his interesting blog posts attracted the attention of big names in baseball, which ultimately led him to present research with Bauer in the audience. Brickley invited professional photographers to his workouts, and the summer workouts posted on NBA players has led to him going from a reach of 20,000 to 781,000 followers on Instagram. For Allan, his appealing social media presence came in the form of quality drills, demonstrations, and professionally produced videos to build a brand.
These specialized trainers are becoming the sort after coaches for pro players at the highest-level to improve their game. By going solo and forming their own businesses to implement their philosophies of player development, Boddy, Brickley, and Russell have spearheaded their way through their respective sports, and found a niche which they are thriving off. I would love to observe each trainer in action in the near future.
- James Beeston
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Disclaimer - I wanted to do this post the justice it deserved regarding my admiration for these three people. Without being able to interview Kyle, Chris, or Allan, the basis of my research came from reading books and articles of each person to gain a better understanding. I have tried to the best of my ability to reference everything that I used, with no copyright infringement intended. All of the materials used to research were well-written pieces of information providing much more detail and insight than I have accomplished in this post...
Books and articles used:
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