Let the Research Catch Up to Us
“When you don’t have any data, you have to use sense.” – Richard Feynman, physicist and Nobel laureate
This topic has been fascinating to dive into because of the current state of player development. I think we have developed a tendency to gravitate towards peer reviewed research. Since we can measure it and write a conclusion about it, it comes off as factual and as something we can trust – but that’s not always the case. Reading and understanding the research is very important, but taking it as absolute truth is a huge mistake. There are plenty of coaches that do things that aren’t validated by research, but it doesn’t mean they don’t work. Every day in the trenches is a research project. Using a lack of research as a barrier to actually coaching is a problem because the best coaches are doing research every single day. They just don’t need to know it’s peer reviewed to know it works.
There are plenty of coaches that do things that aren’t validated by research, but it doesn’t mean they don’t work. Every day in the trenches is a research project.
If we look to the strength and conditioning field, Michael Boyle – owner of Boyle Strength & Conditioning – explained the fallacies of research in the Muscles and Management podcast by bringing up how much it’s changed. When research came out arguing against static stretching, Boyle jumped on the trend and eliminated all of the static stretching in his programs – until he started to see more injuries. When he discovered a lot of the physical therapy work being prescribed to injured clients included a lot of stretching, he rethought his stance and decided to incorporate static stretching again. Sure enough, injuries started to go down.
Boyle does plenty of stuff in his gym that doesn’t have any “evidence” behind it, but he argues he actually has plenty of evidence: The people he actually trains. He doesn’t really care there isn’t any peer reviewed research that supports foam rolling because he has plenty of clients who feel better after foam rolling. He’s not interested in rethinking his stance against bilateral back squatting just because some study used it to test for lower body strength; a deadlift, split squat, or front squat could have proved the same point without throwing the L5 under the bus. Invalidating someone’s experience because there isn’t any “research” to support it is not only stupid; it’s a lazy way to poke holes in someone else’s training.
“A wise man once said research is sports history. The researchers study what we’ve already done to figure out why we did it.” – Michael Boyle, from Muscles and Management podcast episode 57
Eugene didn’t need a research study to figure out the arm recoil and kick back were good ideas. He used common sense. If basically all guys who throw fuel recoil, why would recoiling be a bad thing? If some of the best hitters in the world kick back with their back leg, why wouldn’t we try to teach it? Better yet, why would we take it away from someone who naturally does it?
“We have to consider the research process and what it entails to even get things out,” said Eugene. “While they are busy trying to get large enough samples for their work and making sure they eliminate variables, boots on the ground are figuring out stuff considerably faster. After seeing exit velocities improve 10+ mph in as little as 20 minutes by adding a kick back, and seeing similar improvements in others, I knew it needed to be tested. After testing it with like 30 players and seeing ridiculous differences, I didn’t need to wait for some bullshit study to tell me it’s good.
“I’m trying to get results today, not wait for someone to give me the okay. We should always be 20 years ahead of the research. Let them catch up to us; not the other way around.”
Before we pull out the research card, let’s start by using common sense card. New information is going to come out that will shape our beliefs and change how we train, but it cannot be used to confirm agendas, discredit experience, or ignore empirical observation. Research is used to enhance our understanding of why things work and why they don’t work; it should not be a barrier to actually coaching. It you want to be right rather than be helpful, do us a favor and don’t research.