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December 5, 2016
Guest Post: Houston’s Jason Russell, “Using the Force Plate: Don’t Lose Your Way”
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This week’s guest post comes from Jason Russell, Assistant Director for Sports Performance at the University of Houston. Jason is currently in his third year at UH working with Men’s and Women’s Basketball and has worked previously at Cal, La Tech, and Sam Houston State working with multiple sports. Jason has vast experience working with all types of athletes and has been using the Sparta system at UH since 2015.


“When you ask yourself ‘What are my goals of training?’ the first answer should be another question; something along the lines of ‘What do my athletes need?’ “

Let me first begin by saying that I think referring to the force plate as “new cutting-edge” technology is incorrect. The whole message I’m going to attempt to get across here is that it’s crucial to not let the force plate make you change your entire philosophy. The force plate is NOT cutting edge technology. It is a very advanced technology, but force plates have been around for some time. People in the field of human movement, whether it be a biomechanics graduate program or a Division I Strength and Conditioning department, have been testing and analyzing force-time curves for years.

My point behind saying this is that it’s important to realize that the force plate is measuring values that we know exist; information and concepts which we’ve essentially based our programming on for years. It’s the Sparta SOFTWARE, however, that gives us quantitative, reliable, and consistent feedback in a PRACTICAL manner.

What do you believe in?

Before we talk training, I think we have to step back and identify who we are as a coach. What is our philosophy, and what do we believe in? Are you Olympic? HIT? Functional? Do you use a Tier-based program? “Westside”? Everyone has a little different spin on whatever school of thought in which they believe, and that’s fine. Chances are, that school of thought is rooted in the same science as Sparta. So you have to identify who you are as a coach, and stick to your guns. It’s also important to remember what our goals are in training.

As a field in general, we often fall victim to confusing the means with the end. What we do is the means. The end is the competitive performance of our athletes. Performance is not hitting a heavy clean during “test week”, or spring pro-agility times. Don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in both of those. There’s something about the mindset and approach to these things that is crucial to succeeding at what we do. But these are simply tools and indicators of certain abilities and they only show where we are with our preparation. When you ask yourself “What are my goals of training?” the first answer should be another question; something along the lines of “What do my athletes need?” Athletes are in different places all over the spectrum. So we need to assess exactly where it is on that spectrum they fall, versus where they need to be. Then, decide what tools we can use to get them where they need to be.

Why are you collecting data?

I say all of that to say this: collecting data is also a tool. It’s another means to an end; an indicator of where we are in our preparation of the athletes. So we have to ask ourselves a question again: what data can we collect AND USE? One of the things that’s so fascinating to me is how much we use GPS monitoring in our sport practices. Maybe it’s because I’ve never worked in a system in which it’s been relevant; data has been presented to the staff, but never truly USED. The strength and conditioning coaches train the team, the sport coaches design and run the practice. That’s the way it’s been. Close-minded, some might say. But the fact of the matter is, we collected data but didn’t apply it. I think the information we gathered with this technology was incredible, and could’ve been very useful. But if it simply becomes a suggestion to the staff or jumbled data they really aren’t interested in taking into consideration, our efforts are all for naught. The saying “control what you can control” comes to mind here. I think we have to remind ourselves of that sometimes.

Another example: I don’t use the FMS (Sports Med does, and has specific protocol on their end). But if I were to FMS our team, I’m not 100% confident that what to do with the feedback would be cost-beneficial. My point is, you have to be able to apply what you use, and know what you do well and what you don’t do well. We’re asking our athletic departments, upper management, or in some cases private donors to invest relatively large sums of money so we can collect the data we want to collect. We have to make sure that their dollars, and the time, effort, and energy we ask of ourselves and our athletes are all going to an effective cause.

A means to an end…

I believe in using the force plate as a tool. I’m not going to abandon what I know and believe, rather I will find a way to apply it even better by using the data that Sparta helps me collect. Don’t lose your way; remember what makes it your way.

  • As strength and conditioning coaches, what do we know? OK, trust that.

  • What do we believe in? OK, use that.

  • What do we do well? OK, do that.

  (Medicine and Science in Sports Photo: Komi, P. V., & Bosco, C. (1978). Muscles by men and women. Med Sci Sport, 10, 261-265.)
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December 5, 2016
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