By Dr. Bob Ward and Mac Engel (Ascend Books, Olathe, Kansas, 2015).
Reviewed by Jason Williams, United States Sports Academy doctoral teaching assistant
In his 2015 book, “Building the Perfect Star: Changing the Trajectory of Sports and the People in Them,” legendary Dallas Cowboys Strength Coach Dr. Bob Ward shares his thoughts and experiences on athletic strength and training that have earned him a reputation as one of the exemplary contributors to the field. While working under legendary coach Tom Landry, Ward created a model of performance training that has become the foundation for many modern day team sport performance systems.
Ward’s revolutionary performance training model is rooted in Russian Eastern Bloc training. Modern day strength and conditioning professionals may associate Louie Simmons, renowned powerlifting coach and owner at West Side Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, as the pioneer who introduced America to these Russian secrets. History says otherwise, as Ward was implementing and teaching these secrets for years before West Side Barbell Club’s inception.
In addition to periodization, Ward is an innovator in data-driven analytics, velocity based bar training, football specific conditioning, global positioning system tracking of players, the creation of the 40-yard dash as a measure of football speed, and even the rip and slap technique in use today by defensive lineman. The fingerprints of modern day holistic performance training are seen in Ward’s pioneering work. It is not surprising that Ward’s closest colleagues, legends in the field of sprinting, include names like Dr. Ralph Mann and Tom Tellez.
As a strength and conditioning coach, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone associated with the fitness and performance industry. Today’s collegiate and professional coaches are not ignorant of the relationship between science and sports performance; they are often brilliant sports scientists working to create new and better adaptations to the human body. This book is a sobering reminder that nothing new is done under the sun and young coaches will do well to focus on the fundamentals of coaching and apply the teachings of experienced coaches such as Ward.
Many of today’s hot topics in strength and conditioning were explored and systematized by Ward as early as the 1970’s. Today, coaches flock to hear the likes of Bryan Mann to learn about velocity based training, whereas Ward was timing bar speed before Mann was even born. Dr. Bob Ward’s work was ahead of its time and the Cowboys were the benefactor. Under Ward’s oversight beginning in 1976, the Dallas Cowboys participated in two Super Bowls, winning one, and made three additional trips to the NFC Championship game.
Arguably, one of the most interesting and thought provoking questions this book raises is the role of the strength of conditioning coach. Should strength and conditioning coaches just “build the engine” or should coaches focus on sport specific skill? A large contingent of coaches today are adamantly against strength and conditioning coaches doing anything other than teaching and programming athletes for adaptations in the neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems.
Ward reveals in his book the importance of putting a dotted line instead of a black line on this issue. His training sessions included creative, unconventional approaches such as martial arts training. It was this type of divergent thinking that led to the evolution of rip moves and hand slaps. Of course, not all of Ward’s endeavors were successful; in one instance he instructed the Cowboys to throw knives at targets, which he later admitted, was absurd. Regardless, this book unearths a topic deserving of more consideration and study — the incorporation of high-performance training and skill work, and the role the strength and conditioning coach should play in the marriage of the two.
This book, co-authored by renowned sports columnist Mac Engel, is an engaging read and is recommended for use in educational settings where exercise science is studied for the sake of grounding young students in sports performance wisdom. This includes wisdom to understand that we can study, learn and benefit from the coaches of the past. Ward was an anomaly in his day. He was a strength coach with a sport science doctorate. Today, the industry has become so data driven that those working in the industry must think and operate like a scientist. We can thank Ward for being a forerunner in these advances. He is a pioneer in sports performance in American team sports and his book is a must read for all sports performance professionals.
You can find Ward’s book on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Building-Perfect-Star-Changing-Trajectory/dp/0996194436 .