If you don’t watch the game tape, don’t turn up on Monday

Former NFL Quarterback, Matt Robinson, discusses the similarities between a top level quarterback and a surgeon.

Moneyball changed sport. Period.

For those who don’t know, it was two men, General Manager Billy Beane and Peter Brand, a Yale graduate, who together challenged the old-school selection methods and reinvented the penniless Oakland Athletics baseball team using a sabermetric model that had never been used before.

The pair took The Athletics to the 2002 American League West title, but lost to the Minnesota Twins in the 2002 American League Division Series. This set the path for a new approach to sport’s selection, training and game analysis.

There’s a curious ending to the film, which will resonate with Liverpool soccer/football fans, given their Premier League win this week; Beane is contacted by the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John W. Henry, who realizes that sabermetrics is the future of baseball. For him and his stable of sport’s teams — he was the early advocate, and the results are now there for people to see. Two years later the Boston Red Sox went on to dominate Baseball, and the approach is now bearing fruit at Anfield.

The birth of marginal gains

Data has been adopted in sport en masse ever since. The marginal gain became the edge in sport. And data is the most efficient way to find those margins. But, could this approach have the same impact in healthcare?

Finding those margins in any walk of life, where dedication, sacrifice and training is needed, has now become the norm, but how does one hone their craft in surgery, and what can the clinical landscape learn from the adoption of technology and data science?

In a new series for The Link, we interview sport’s stars and coaches from across the board, to draw on how they get better, constantly optimise and search for their own marginal gains. At Proximie, we call it the three Ps — Prepare | Perform | Perfect — and for our first stop, we head to the NFL, to see just how the age old Quarterback is finding the edge in the modern world.

We wanted to speak to a former Quarterback; one who had played the game at the highest level, but also one that played during a time when major changes occurred within the sport. No mean feat. However one weekend, the phone rang, and it was Matt Robinson. Matt was QB for the New York Jets between 1977–79 & Denver Broncos in the early 80’s, and continued to work in the sport post retirement from 1995 to 2004 in the Jacksonville Jaguars Broadcast Division. He had seen the game change, and he has been in one seat the entire journey: quarterback.

The football bug

“I played quarterback from the 4th grade until I retired. When I was in High School, we won a couple of state championships in football and baseball. Then at Georgia we won an SEC Championship and played for a National Championship. Truth be told I really loved baseball more, but football was what brought in the money for the university, and while I wanted to play baseball, I had to make a decision and commit to one. This is happening more and more now. Be a specialist. After four good years at UGA, I managed to get drafted by the Jets and played there for three years. I won the job in my third year, but broke my thumb in the opening game against Cleveland and didn’t play the rest of the year. Since I had taken the job from a #1 draft pick (I was a 9th rounder) our coaches didn’t like the potential QB controversy that was brewing, so I was traded to Denver. Then from the Broncos onto Buffalo, and basically called it a day from there to look after my Dad who got cancer.”

“I had a great run! I was a lightweight guy in terms of physique, but I made sure I studied the game. I knew it inside out, because that gave me my edge over more gifted players. Early on, most people didn’t bother to look at their games. It was hard work, because I was working harder than any other guy — just to keep up. Looking back, I made it my interest to outsmart people. I was just 6ft2in and 182 pounds.”

The right ingredients

“Being a good quarterback is about talent, communication and now, science. You have to have great leadership skills, bravery at your core and a discipline to get your team over the line no matter what. Managing a host of different personalities along the way. In a split second, you have to process a lot, and everyone judges the end product. When you win you are the hero, when you lose, it’s your fault. You learn more about yourself being a QB, but the best ones are those that ask questions of themselves — constantly. It’s imperative for me, and it’s clear to see from the best in this position who have played the game, what they did something everyone else didn’t: they studied.

They left no stone unturned, they knew everything about everyone and every play — students of the game in the most classical and influential sense of the phrase.

From the edge to the age of data

“I have seen the game change completely. Between 2000–2009 I was doing broadcast work for the Jaguars, and I saw up close how the game had changed. It’s all down to technology and data. Mark Brunell, the Jaguars’ QB at the time, said that he had never hated football so much. With a record of 7–1, I was a bit confused. He said that as soon as the team did something good, the playbook expanded and the data knowledge increased. More study. More analysis. It became too hard to stay on top of everything else, because you had too much to think about. And he admitted he had forgotten how to react…his instincts were suppressed due to mental overload. The instinct should still be natural. That’s still one of the most important things — but it’s how you prepare for that moment. As a moment in time, this transition to understanding data, patterns of play and the opposition, kept increasing. If you were smart you could see the road map…even then.

Innovative technology enables adoption

“The advancement in technology has helped enable the coach and the QB to manage a new age of analysis and data, but it needs to be adopted as a seamless part of the overall approach. Not an extra burden — that’s why mass adoption is needed to facilitate the advantages of technology. I guess there are always problems at the beginning but now technological analysis is as much a part of training as gym work.

“If you aren’t looking at the game tape, don’t bother coming in on Monday.”

Because from there it’s video analysis from every aspect of your game; from how you see yourself, to how an opponent sees you in real time, from any place on the pitch. Nowadays, if you’re not a student of the game, you won’t get into the game.”

Talking with Matt, it’s fascinating to get a perspective on not just how a sport has changed, but the very definition of what it means to be a good QB. The simile with those at the top of their craft from a clinician perspective, is that dedication to getting better, being prepared through analysing your craft, receiving real-time feedback and then review your performances alone and with peers.

What makes an Eli Manning or a Tom Brady the best isn’t pure ability, it’s the understanding that you can get better by studying and optimising. And then picking the right tools to get you to the next level.

As we say: prepare, perform, perfect.

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