The secrets of the Suns training staff

Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns tells one of the most important stories in the NBA: How it is that the training staff of the Suns manages to get so many players so healthy? Grant Hill was written off as old and beaten up years ago, only to be revived. Shaquille O'Neal never did anything that mattered since he left that training staff. 38-year-old Steve Nash continues to defy age.

It's not just folklore, either. Schwartz rounds up various analyses over many years. Suns players miss far fewer games than typical NBA teams. We have even heard from free agents that they chose this team for that reason. Young players get to keep practicing and learning because they're not injured. Teammates who get more time on the floor together, learning each other's habits. Almost nobody has to deal with the fears and pains of being hurt. On top of all that, Channing Frye tells how a Suns trainer fixed a right butt cheek issue that was causing a shooting slump. Once the butt was right, the shots started falling again.

The value of all together is off the charts.

So it's a happy story. All hail Aaron Nelson and the amazing Suns staff! The proof is in the pudding that they know what they're doing. The article is well worth the read just for that.

But it's also a sad story. It has been well known that they are among the best in the business for a long time. It is also well known that they're just about unique.

Head athletic trainer Nelson blew Shaquille O'Neal's mind with some of his approaches. But listen to Nelson: "To him it’s unorthodox, to us it’s regular science."

Here's my question: How can the Suns be using better "regular science" for 11 straight years without it catching on like wildfire? Why is the NBA so slow to adapt? I have been hard on NBA front offices and owners lately, and stuff like this is no small part of the reason why.

Why do so many teams still treat the symptoms of sports injuries instead of, like the Suns, focusing on the root causes?

Schwartz explains Suns rotation players undergo particular assessments at least four times a week, which typically includes:

  • Utilizing a goniometer to evaluate players’ flexibility in eight different areas, including the big toe, the foot and ankle, the knee, the hips, internal and external rotations, and shoulder flexibility.

  • Manual muscle testing to evaluate the strength of particular muscles. The trainers will also look for differences in the measurements of the legs, ankles and hips to see if they’ve deviated from game to game.

  • Visual and movement assessments involving leg squats. The training staff will have players squat down a few times and watch for deviations. “Do the feet turn out, do the feet cave in, do the knees come in, do they come out, does the low back arch, does it round, all that kind of stuff, do they fall forward in their motion?” Nelson said.

  • From there Nelson and his staff can determine which muscles are tight or weak, which joints aren’t moving properly, and if there’s any neurological component that may be eliciting pain and causing dysfunction.

Then the trainers put together a program to counteract the issue.

I can't speak for the science, but the results speak for themselves. The only surprise at this point is that every team isn't doing it.