by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Brady Howe, MS, ATC, CSCS, RSCC
Coaching Podcast May 2023
As performance staffs grow and develop, professional athletes today have a broad array of services and expertise available to them in the locker room ...
As performance staffs grow and develop, professional athletes today have a broad array of services and expertise available to them in the locker room and around competition. This episode features the Vice President of Health and Performance for the National Basketball Association (NBA) Phoenix Suns, Brady Howe. Howe tells Eric McMahon, the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, how humble beginnings as an NBA Developmental League athletic trainer contributed to his current performance-first mindset for leading a multifaceted health and performance department. Topics include often misunderstood developmental factors for training elite athletes and advice for how to serve your athletes at the highest level. Connect with Brady on Instagram: @bhowe6 or Twitter: @brady_howe | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
As performance staffs grow and develop, professional athletes today have a broad array of services and expertise available to them in the locker room and around competition. This episode features the Vice President of Health and Performance for the National Basketball Association (NBA) Phoenix Suns, Brady Howe. Howe tells Eric McMahon, the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, how humble beginnings as an NBA Developmental League athletic trainer contributed to his current performance-first mindset for leading a multifaceted health and performance department. Topics include often misunderstood developmental factors for training elite athletes and advice for how to serve your athletes at the highest level.
You can learn more about NBA strength and conditioning from the National Basketball Strength and Conditioning Association (NBSCA), an Official Sport Partner of the NSCA.
“Sports has always been my medium. I always wanted to be working with athletes, working in sports.” 3:30
“This is the thing for young strength coaches that I learned at a very early age, is you have-- you probably spent all night building this program or tomorrow's workout. This is how it's going to go to a T, to the reps. I can envision it. And they get there, and you do the eye test. And that athlete walks in, and it's just not happening today. So very quickly, can you adjust and adapt? And you changed everything on the fly to get what that athlete needs for today, because again, we've got to remind ourselves, why are we here? Why is everybody here? It's for that athlete to be able to perform at a high level on their sport, right?” 9:55
“You got to meet them. You've got to meet their energy. Meet them where they're at.” 18:10
“You got to find a way to reach these guys and get them to understand that there is value in it, no matter what it is.” 22:05
[00:00:04.38] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, season 7, episode 3.
[00:00:11.28] You have probably spent all night building this program, right? And tomorrow's workout. This is how it's going to go to a T, to the reps. I can envision it. And they get there, and you do the eye test. And that athlete walks in, and it's just not happening today. So very quickly, can you adjust and adapt? And you changed everything on the fly to get what that athlete needs for today, because again, we've got to remind ourselves, why are we here? Why is everybody here? It's for that athlete to be able to perform at a high level on their sport.
[00:00:40.77] [ROCK MUSIC]
[00:00:42.92] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:53.77] This is the NSCA Coaching Podcast, and I'm Eric McMahon, joined today by Brady Howe of the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team. Brady is a certified athletic trainer and certified strength conditioning specialist. He is currently the vice president of Health and Performance with the Suns. In his current role, he pulls from both areas, sports medicine and strength and conditioning, to oversee the Suns' performance department. Brady, welcome.
[00:01:22.68] Thanks for having me, Eric. It's going to be good. It's going to be a lot of fun.
[00:01:25.48] Yeah, man. We got to talking, and it's pretty cool seeing your role with the Suns being at the NBA, the highest level of basketball, and really bridging the gap. We talk about that a lot with the NSCA between sports medicine, between performance and all the different disciplines. So I'm excited to talk about that today. Would you kick this thing off usual podcast fashion by telling us about your background and how that led you to the NBA?
[00:01:58.31] Yeah, absolutely. So I think we'll give you the abstract version and let you know I'm like many of us in the field, where the ultimate goal for me was to be an aspiring athlete. And along the way, you get all these experiences, whether it's you're an undersized athlete, like myself, and you've got to find a way to live in the weight room before the weight room was fashionable. I think we all probably can go back to having the garage weight room set, where you've got the plastic-molded plates with sand in them.
[00:02:31.07] So but for me, I wanted to be an athlete. And I rode that dream as long as I could, up until the college level. And then by that point, I was living through a lot of experiences-- surgeries, rehab, casts, highs, lows, successes. And so for me, it-- I was thankful that my parents were very active and introduced me to the weight room. And that was something that I valued and I've lived by.
[00:02:59.83] And as sports ended for me, which is a hard pill for many of us to swallow, I was introduced to athletic training. And so before anything-- we've talked about before, I like to highlight in my mind, I have always been a strength coach, first and foremost, before I've been a practitioner and athletic trainer. And so that goes back long before I ever knew what sports medicine, athletic training, or even physical therapy was. So that's a little bit of my background as far as where this came from and putting all the pieces together.
[00:03:30.85] And sports has always been my medium. I always wanted to be working with athletes, working in sports. And both of these roles have served me well and given me the capacity to do that. So here I am. Mark and myself have a great little spot in Phoenix. We absolutely love it there. That's home for us. And we've got a great group. And I enjoy every opportunity I get to experience.
[00:03:55.48] Yeah, I'm excited to talk about your staff. I follow Corey on Instagram. You have a great staff. And it seems like you have a great rapport with everybody there across all disciplines. Brady, what are the key elements that you see as important in overseeing a combined Health and Performance department?
[00:04:18.88] It's interesting, because believe it or not, I think both sports medicine, but also certified strength and conditioning specialists-- and it's still relatively a new field. Many of us have seen it, but it's still a lot that we can learn from it. And so I think we pull from each bucket, left and right. I think that the teams who do it really well, whether you're in high school, or you're in the elite level pros, there's just incredible people you can learn from. I truly have seen strength coaches who are the smartest minds as practitioners.
[00:04:55.57] Of course, they don't have the credentials behind them, but they're just so intelligent that they get it. I've seen that. I've also seen the practitioners who are some of the best strength coaches I've ever seen. And so particularly for our staff in my role, I've taken all my experiences as both an athletic trainer and a strength coach in the elite level sports. And it's always been to repurpose it into, how can I serve the athlete the best? How can I be a one-stop shop?
[00:05:25.25] And that's just my own way of finding the information I need to be able to help them to the deepest level. And so because of that, I've found myself in great places, around great people, and right place, right time. I was asked to be in this role of supporting really-- really, the exciting part is creating. And I think many of us would like to be in these roles because you see yourself as, man, I really want to build something. I want to build a staff. I want to build a model.
[00:05:54.02] And that's been the funnest part for me over the last five years, is being able to bring in a staff, see it all come together. Of course, there's ups and downs with that when you think that as a strength coach, you're on the ground level, and you're coaching guys. And you think, man, this would be really cool. I want to build all this. And that pendulum swings a little bit. Like all of a sudden, you find yourself leading, let's say, 12 amazing practitioners and coaches, right? They're some of the brightest minds in the field, and I'm really eager to learn from them.
[00:06:25.88] But sometimes challenges come with that, too, of putting everything together. How does the model work? How does everybody get on the same page? And so for us, our model, if you will, our approach has always been performance-based. There's people who try to preach we're a high-performance model. I don't want to put a label on it. I just want to say that our staff is driven towards performance, because at the end of the day, who is the end user? It's the player, right? And they have to perform.
[00:06:56.73] So no matter what it is, what role they're getting service from, we all work together to make sure that we're all pulling from the same bucket, because-- I use this example often. If a player walks into the facility, and you're not all on the same page in proper alignment, whether it's the sport coach, it's the executive, you name it. If that athlete walks into the facility and crosses five disciplines, whether it's nutrition, shifts, RDs it's sports medicine, PTs, athletic trainers, strength coaches, sports medicine-- sports science with testing-- and then the coaches-- if every single one of those areas is pulling for 100% of the athlete's energy that day because they're not on the same page, well, then by the time the athlete gets to the court or field, they're completely drained.
[00:07:45.44] And they've been pulled in so many different ways. So for us, it's how do we come together and drive performance? Because the athlete is here to perform. They're not here to be amazing rehab cases. They're not here to be professional weightlifters. So for us, everything is driven to performance. And the exciting thing that I like to highlight with our staff is every single team member has their CSCS. And so they are very qualified and knowledgeable. And that's where our vision goes, is just all being on the same page to drive performance.
[00:08:18.63] And so a lot of times, you'll see staff do the opposite, and it's a little bit more driven towards athletic training or physical therapy. There's nothing wrong with that. That's the beauty of it. There's no right, no wrong. It's just what makes sense. And sometimes that has to be built around what the coach's vision and the front office vision believes in as well. So we've got all the tools. We've got amazing people. But for us, it's putting that in a care package that brings the best value out for the players.
[00:08:48.20] I like that on your staff, you emphasize the importance of strength and conditioning almost as the bridge to performance from the training room, from the physical therapist, from the RD, from all these different areas. What is it about strength and conditioning that makes that a successful bridge to the player?
[00:09:12.21] Well, in my mind, movement is medicine. That truly is. And you can find a lot of value in that in the weight room and anywhere. But the best strength coaches that I've seen, they just know how to plug and play, no matter where they're at. Whatever the resources, whatever the location, they to look at movement qualities. They know how the athlete's status might currently be and figure out at that moment, what do they need today?
[00:09:42.27] What's the theme of the day, if you will, which is another thing that Corey does extremely well, is just finding out-- doing the eye test. You might have a plan. This is the thing for young strength coaches that I learned at a very early age, is you have-- you probably spent all night building this program or tomorrow's workout. This is how it's going to go to a T, to the reps. I can envision it. And they get there, and you do the eye test.
[00:10:08.22] And that athlete walks in, and it's just not happening today. So very quickly, can you adjust and adapt? And you changed everything on the fly to get what that athlete needs for today, because again, we've got to remind ourselves, why are we here? Why is everybody here? It's for that athlete to be able to perform at a high level on their sport, right?
[00:10:26.22] And sometimes, I do think that that slips our mind a little bit, because we get a little too far in the forest that-- we're too far in the trees that we can't see the forest, if you will. So some of those things are just subtle reminders that-- be ready to adjust and adapt. And so that's some of the key points that we go off of here in Phoenix.
[00:10:46.54] Sports science technology-- obviously, that's probably a lot different than it was when you were working in the G League. And in those G League roles, you really have to wear all hats. You might be the only staff member overseeing athletic training and strength and conditioning. But when you get to the NBA, and you have all the different disciplines, what's that transition like? What are some of the key elements of data integration and sports science that you are seeing in the NBA?
[00:11:17.53] Yeah, that's evolving pretty quickly. It can very quickly become information overload at the NBA level and I'm sure other professional sports and high-level colleges across the board. My experience in the G League, which, one, I'm a huge advocate for, but it's evolved a bit since I was in it. My first year was 2009. You were a one-man army. You truly were. And I valued that. It made you realize very quickly, are you built for this? Do you truly love this?
[00:11:48.01] I go back to my education at Weber State becoming an athlete trainer. I think 95% of the students I went to school with for years, they worked one year, and then found another job. They just realized it wasn't for them. And that, that was very humbling for me to experience with the G League. And at the time when I first started, it was the D League. It was the development league. Now it's the Gatorade League.
[00:12:11.14] But it's changed a lot. So it's not so much-- you're still going to learn a lot, but now they've made the requirements to where you have to have two athletic trainers. You have to have a strength and conditioning specialist. You have to have somebody dedicated for equipment, where I can tell you stories for hours of the things I've experienced, when you are the one-man band, you're doing the laundry.
[00:12:31.99] And if you have to categorize that level of importance, the hard truth that I had to swallow was I was there. I want to be a strength coach. I want to be an athletic trainer. And then you're like, well, guess what comes first? The laundry does, because you've got to have the equipment to be able to do these things. And so I'm doing laundry for the whole team. I was the bus driver. I'm booking flights. It was wild, but it was very humbling.
[00:12:56.81] So since, it's changed. But as the years went on, I was very fortunate to be integrated with the Utah Jazz staff. And they were, at the time, I think, at the forefront of integrating data. They were one of the first teams to truly ever work with P3, Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara. And Marcus Elliott and those guys are phenomenal.
[00:13:18.28] At a very young age, I was able to see that before-- I won't say became popular, but became a little bit more notarized, if you will. And so I tried a lot of things at the G League level that were just life hacks, if you will. I was using the Just Jump Mat. I was doing a lot of that. So now here we are today. And fortunately, there's a lot of technology to use, from IMU Steps to triaxial force plates, the biomechanics labs, all these things that you can integrate.
[00:13:50.74] And I'll be the first to tell you that it's a lot. It is a lot. And it's endless, and it's going to continue to be endless. And as we start to see AI integrations and everything else from a data component, there's going to be some amazing questions asked. But there's going to be more questions that come up than there will be answers. I'll tell you that. So I try not to put a whole lot of stock in the technology and data as I do a little bit more of the artistic side of it, which is building the relationships and buy-ins.
[00:14:22.24] But, yes, the data, the technology, and all that, it's incredible. It amazes me each and every year, the stuff that's coming out. You just got to find the most value out of it, if you will. So if you really need something-- let's use an example is like a return to play, like long-term rehab. We've integrated some really cool stuff with our staff that hits every category, from sports medicine as the acute phases to physical therapy, taking that bridge, and then taking them into the weight room. And then at the right point, they're handing it off to the strength staff. And everybody is on the same page with the data we're acquiring day to day and the things that we're trying to get from our benchmarks.
[00:15:04.04] It speaks to the importance of having someone like yourself with the qualifications in a leadership role to really explain this to the front office when you're budgeting for equipment or making sense of data, maybe from a scouting side, crossing that bridge. I think that's one that's often overlooked, is these players come in highly touted, highly scouted. And they can do no wrong. But all athletes have things they're great at, things they're not great at, things they like, things they don't like. And that really gets uncovered through the sports science and analysis process.
[00:15:45.17] So that's an exciting growth for these performance director roles. I want to ask you about NBA bodies a little bit. We know these are phenomenal athletes, but they're huge athletes. They are really big guys. I went to a G League game a few years ago, and there were three 7-footers on the court. And I was up in the stands. I remember having to go down to the floor just to really realize how big that is. I've never seen three 7-footers in my life until that day. But I'm wondering, is the training process a little bit different when you're dealing with those long levers?
[00:16:25.21] Absolutely. I mean, think-- you highlighted the average for us. And I think, truly, the average player in the NBA-- I could be wrong by a little bit, but it's like 6' 6, 6' 7. So we got guys even on our own team across the board. We've got 7-footers. We've got guys who are barely touching 6 feet, you know what I mean? And not only that, but at this level, you're also seeing the age factors. You've got veteran players. You've got young players.
[00:16:53.48] And so those are one of many factors to this, which is also important factors like training, like training age. Like, who has experience training? And so a lot of it for us, we go back to, what is their experience? What is their buy-in? What is their belief system? Because by the time they've reached us and our own staff-- Corey, Larry, Kohei, the guys on our staff-- phenomenal. And-- or most NBA staffs, you know all the strength stats.
[00:17:24.13] But by the time they reach us, even the young players, they've already had probably half a dozen strength coaches in their life. And some of them they really rely on, from their high school strength coach that they connected with, or maybe it's the college strength coach. But by this point, it's become such a specialization that in basketball particularly, they're so skilled, and they have such amazing features, like their bodies, that they also have their own teams surrounding them that are preparing them at a younger age. Like they're 14, 15, they already have their own personal staffs that families and their AA teams are surrounding them with so that they can build them up to ideally be an NBA player, right?
[00:18:07.59] And so they have a lot of experiences. Now, some of them don't believe in it and buy in it, and that's cool. But you got to meet them. You've got to meet their energy. Meet them where they're at. But there's a lot of things that we will look into. But particularly with their bodies, yeah, it's a different ball game, man. I get asked all the time, man, what is that guy's training like? What does he do to look like that?
[00:18:28.03] I'm like, you know what? That dude was born that way. He trains, but you can't train for that. Like you said, the long levers, it's-- so there are a lot of qualities that go into figuring out, what is that fingerprint of that athlete's makeup? And how do we train appropriately to get what he needs?
[00:18:45.60] That's a great approach. I think it's something where finding something they do well and building on that, that's always what I did when I had long-lever pitchers, for example, in professional baseball that you-- you said it really well. They've had a lot of training experiences up to that point, some good, maybe some not so good. And our role really is to hone in on how to make this a productive program for that year and hopefully bridge that into upcoming years and their entire time with the organization.
[00:19:18.97] I like how you tied in the age range of the athlete, the experience level, the weight room age, just where they're at in their training, training experience. There's a lot of developmental elements to professional sports, that we typically only talk about LTAD, Long-Term Athlete Development with youth. But I see a lot of connections there on the pro sports side because we get thrown into that journey. And we really have to figure out where we are in that.
[00:19:58.23] Yeah. It's admirable, I'll tell you that. I was one of these. Another bit of advice for the up and coming or aspiring strength coach, which is whether you're young or old, and you're trying to get it at this level is you just got to realize it's not about us. You know what I mean? We're in the industry of serving others, no matter what role you're in. If you're surrounded by the players, and you're part of the team, you are in the service industry.
[00:20:22.96] And so, side note-- that's one of the questions I love to ask people in interviews. So if you're ever get interviews, I love asking, hey, have you ever worked in the service industry? Have you ever served tables? Have you ever served others? Because it's a very real thing to understand that you're not here for you. And you've got to find, how do you serve others at the highest level? And so that's definitely just a part of it. You've got to realize-- I use examples all the time where my first couple of years, I had top five picks, like top five picks coming from the biggest programs of Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, all these teams.
[00:20:56.28] And when you come in, my advice is don't get your feelings hurt if they're not going to eagerly be so excited to lift with you. You come in, and you're like, I can help this guy. Of course, he's got all the tools. But you come in so eager to be like, I'm going to help this guy be a Hall of Famer. I'm going to help him be even better, stronger, faster, whatever you want it to be. And then you get there. And you get humbled, where you're like, all right, man, this is our plan.
[00:21:20.91] And the athlete's like, whoa, whoa, I'm not lifting weights. And you kind of stop. And you're like, wait, what? He's like look, man, I don't believe in that. I've never done it. I was the best in AU. I was the best in high school. I was a McDonald's All-American. I went to Kansas. I was the best player. I was on ESPN highlight reels, left and right. I was a top five pick. Here I am. I've never lifted weights in my life. Why should I start lifting weights now? And it's really like-- it takes you back. And you're like, bro, I don't have an answer for you.
[00:21:55.11] But at that point, you've just got to find a way. This is the art side, which for me, I love using the art analogy, because that's where you're going to get the most value. You got to find a way to reach these guys and make them understand-- or not make them, but get them to understand that there is value in it, no matter what it is. You just got to meet them. Sometimes it's-- it's just like dating, man, you know what I mean? You got to start slow, and you got to get to know each other, and you just got to build from there. But you can't just jump all the way in and just expect this to hit a home run, you know?
[00:22:25.26] Yeah, I like that, just like dating. And you get some practice. And then over time, you learn to take rejection well and keep putting your head in the game. So I think that's really cool. One thing you said before made me smile was you talked about your G League experience and called yourself a "one-man army." And I'd always referred to it as a one-man band, but I think I'm going to go with one-man army now. I think that's such a-- that was a little bit better and connects.
[00:22:54.03] I remember using the band example. And sometimes athletes or people in sports would look at me a little funny with that, or-- but, yeah, man. This this has been really great. I think it's cool what you're doing. I love that performance is the focus of your Health and Performance department. And you really see the connection between what's happening in the training room, in the weight room, in the locker room, and bringing that to the court. And the role of the strength and conditioning specialist, the coach, and the performance staff in facilitating that-- I think that's really powerful. You guys have a really great staff, a really great program. So thanks for sharing.
[00:23:41.60] Yeah, absolutely. It's been a blessing for me. I learn each and every day from our group, every department, and every staff member. And so we really value knowing one another's roles. And we have meetings quite often, just to make sure we're all on the same page. But it's something I learn from these guys every day, and it's something that I love to do. And like I said, whether it's tech, whether it's a new style of exercise based on the player's body, you know what I mean? There are just things that I learn from our group every day, and so I get a lot of value out of it.
[00:24:16.11] What's the best way for coaches or our listeners to reach out to you and get connected?
[00:24:25.08] I think probably social media is obviously the easiest platform. And so I typically like to just float around between Instagram, Twitter.
[00:24:38.21] Perfect. We'll drop your Instagram and Twitter handle in the show notes so everybody listening in can go check out your page and reach out if they have questions. Thank you for being with us. To all our listeners, we appreciate you tuning in today. And thanks to Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support.
[00:24:59.19] Hi, coaches, this is Mike Caro, longtime college strength and conditioning coach, now working on the technical side of the profession. The NCAA Coaching Podcast brings highlights from all areas of our growing field to help you navigate your coaching path. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so that you don't miss an episode. Thanks for listening.
[00:25:15.98] [ROCK MUSIC]
[00:25:18.40] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.
Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at email@example.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.