Injury & Recovery—Lessons Learned By Professional Basketball Player, Frankie Ferrari
By Leo Shveyd, Co-Owner of Advanced Wellness
As a performance trainer, I am often asked, “Can injuries be predicted?”. My response: Sometimes…sometimes not! But is there a way to know when you are at an increased risk for injury and decreased performance? Most definitely!
What follows is a vignette from our experience working to reduce the risk of injury from our sessions training former SF college basketball athlete and now American professional basketball player, Frankie Ferrari. I believe this story shows an essential truth; while you might not be able to control most outcomes, you can control your effort and attitude. And the right training process is critical to make that happen.
An Injured Athlete Trains at Advanced Wellness and Rebounds
In June of 2017, Frankie Ferrari walked through our door at Advanced Wellness. He had been injured for over 2 weeks and was unable to practice, fearing the dreaded sports hernia (luckily it was not).
My first question to him was: “What is your goal?”—expecting him to say “I want to get healthy so I can play basketball”. Instead he responded: “I want to play in the NBA”. I was impressed that even when he was injured and unable to play at all, that he was still singularly focused on his ultimate dream as an athlete.
After his first evaluation and training session at Advanced Wellness, the injury that had kept him on the bench for 16 days was resolved. Frankie’s progress continued to improve from there. For the next two off seasons, he continued to train with us prior to his junior and senior years at the University of San Francisco (USF). He missed no scheduled games during that stretch.
The Impact of Accumulated Fatigue
After finishing his senior season at USF, Frankie was invited to play in an NCAA-sponsored 3-on-3 basketball tournament with a $100,000 grand prize. His team, consisting of other players from the West Coast Conference (WCC), played every game possible, unfortunately just losing in the finals.
Afterwards, Frankie returned home and trained for about six weeks on his own before shipping off to his agent’s training camp in South Carolina in preparation for NBA pre-draft workouts. During that span, he traveled to play in a USA Basketball Olympic qualifying 3-on-3 tournament, playing in six games. Soon Frankie began working out for the draft, training for 5 NBA teams (Orlando, Sacramento, Golden State, Charlotte & Utah). He returned home just before the NBA draft and then signed with the Utah Jazz in late June 2019.
Frankie played with Utah in the NBA Summer League in July, coming back to San Francisco for only a week of rest. He then went to Canada to play in a FIBA sponsored 3×3 Tournament, playing 7 games in 2 days. After Canada, he was home for only a week before signing with Baxi Manresa, a Spanish League Professional Team.
Needless to say, during this busy transition from amateur to professional, Frankie was tired and over-extended. Unlike the two prior off-seasons, he was unable to dedicate himself to a consistent strength, conditioning and performance program. When Frankie finally arrived in Manresa, he had to endure a month of double-days (two 2.5-hour practices) 6 days a week. His back began to bother him.
During this period, we Facetimed often. Despite his efforts to address his physical issues, the pain persisted. When simple exercises that had worked in the past to address similar issues were deemed ineffective, I recommended we explore a new strategy based on principles of fatigue management and recovery.
Frankie was in a new part of the world, away from his family and friends, he was homesick, which provided added stress to his system. I asked him to perform a simple breath test that we use to assess recovery, readiness and efficiency of our athletes’ aerobic systems. His score was 21. To put this in perspective, when Frankie had trained at Advanced Wellness prior to his senior year at USF, his score was 50. In rudimentary terms, he was 42% as “ready” to perform as he had been at his peak, as he fondly now recalls “that was the best I have felt in my life playing”.
Frankie quickly implemented some of my recommended recovery strategies, and within a week, his score was up to 31; while better than 21, he was still roughly only at 62% of his peak level of readiness to perform.
Recovery: Too Little – Too Late
Unfortunately, Frankie sustained two injuries in the fall of 2019, a broken wrist in September and a broken foot in November, ultimately leading to Frankie’s agent requesting, and Baxi Manresa granting, his release. The crazy part is that during this period of his career, Frankie actually had some fantastic basketball performances, averaging nearly 15 points and 6 assists a game, notwithstanding his body not being in peak shape. Both injuries resulted in surgeries, with the latter one being performed in San Francisco. Fortunately, Frankie has taken this transition in stride. At the time of this writing, he is actively training at Advanced Wellness, preparing himself for the upcoming NBA summer league.
Lessons Learned: “More” Is Not Always “Better”
Some would argue that sometimes injuries are just bad luck; a tough break so to speak. But injuries can also result from a fatigued body. When an athlete is fatigued, their proprioception is altered and their body is less able to tolerate the extreme stress/load demanded by their sport. Moreover, a fatigued athlete is less likely to be able to improve his or her skills.
Why is it that someone that played every game in his final two years at the University of San Francisco (USF) faced with two injuries that led to surgeries, ending his season? With the benefit of hindsight, I have put a great deal of thought wondering whether or not, with the right training protocol, combined with reduced stress and rest, Frankie’s injuries could have been prevented.
Based on my prior experience working with Frankie along with other athletes like him, I understand that all injuries can’t be predicted or prevented – at least not yet. The risk of injury, however, is certainly increased when an athlete pushes through fatigue, stress and keeps training with inadequate recovery. Improper recovery from injury then contributes to further health and performance deficiencies. That is the lesson here: more is not always better.
In his junior and senior years at USF, Frankie played a combined 70 games with more minutes per game logged than in his 6 games with Manresa. However, at Manresa, Frankie’s situation was very different. He was in worse condition, over-tired and much more stressed. So the lesson his story teaches us is that we need to monitor our athletes more closely and understand all the risk factors for injury taking into account their breathing habits, level of sleep, hydration & nutrition, movement capacity, stress and recovery levels. The Ferrari name is very apropos to this story—much like a Ferrari is known to need frequent visits to the shop, Frankie has learned (the hard way unfortunately) that he must better monitor and tune-up his body frequently to decrease the risk of injury in the future.
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