Ballou Balances Science, Hard Work & Respect To Earn Respect
After working so hard to get him in the first place, it makes sense that Kevin Wright isn’t necessarily jumping up and down about Dave Ballou leaving even if Wright is excited for Ballou’s new opportunity.
“He is a tremendous loss for us, but I’m really happy for him to see the opportunity him and his family have going to Notre Dame,” Wright, the head coach at IMG Academy, said of Ballou, who left IMG for a job with Notre Dame last month.
Wright called Ballou a “gamechanger” for the elite program he runs in Bradenton, Fla.
“I’ve known him, shoot, 15 years,” Wright remembers. “We both are Indianapolis-area guys. I tried to hire him a couple times when I was in the Indianapolis area coaching there. I just thought so highly of what he was doing at Avon High School at the time.
“I always laugh and tell him I think he got two or three different pay raises every time I tried to hire him because they tried to keep him.”
When he finally did get the chance to have Ballou run his strength program, Wright was not disappointed.
“Being able to work with him the last couple years and seeing how he’s really changed the culture of what we do here in football in regards to strength and conditioning and his openness to integrate sports science into basically every component of what we do has been really good,” said Wright.
Wright pointed to Ballou’s innovative and data-driven approach, which is a major reason the Irish brought him on as an assistant to Matt Balis, who was named Director of Football Performance a couple weeks before Ballou's official hiring.
“We have a sports scientist he worked hand in hand with,” Wright said of Ballou. “I think that’s Notre Dame’s plan as well. He worked with a guy named Dr. Matt Rhea. Matt was with the Dolphins before he came to us.
Wright said everything they do at IMG is data-driven.
example, when our kids come in, we do testing to determine hamstring and quad
said Wright. “If there’s an imbalance there, which most of the time there is when
they first come in, then he will target that exercise program for that
particular kid to try to make sure there is no more imbalance.
“You’re doing two things by doing that. One, you’re talking about hamstring and quad strength, you’re going to make a kid faster. Two, he’s going to have the least amount of potential for injury. That’s an example of taking initial testing, applying it individually to kids, young men, athletes and building a program around it.”
Measuring intensity and overload is also a major component of Ballou’s program, according to Wright.
“He’s going to monitor how much you’re doing on a daily basis, so that you’re not overloading those kids to the point that they’re being put at risk for injury,” he said. “You’re tapering it like a swimmer would. You’re tapering your 12-month year so that you’re getting your players ready to be at their heights. He wants everything you’re doing in the offseason – January through March – getting you ready for spring ball.
“Then, you restart after spring ball and start getting them ready for preseason camp. Once you get to camp, it’s a weekly basis of how do you taper a guy and make sure he’s at his best on game day. A lot of that has to do with tracking the load, how much he’s running in practice, how much he’s lifting during the day, how much sleep he’s getting, what his nutrition is, what he’s eating, all of those things go into that formula that helps guys be at their best physically when it’s most needed.”
Ballou has also received rave reviews for his ability to relate and motivate kids.
“I think that has been the key to his success,” Wright said. “Especially in our situation, it is difficult. You’ve got to have the right personality. You’ve got to be a guy they respect first and foremost and are willing to listen to.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got to know that you care about them and I think that’s how you balance it.”
Wright said his program includes almost 100 kids from 27 different states and six or seven different countries at all different ability levels.
“I think you balance it by being a guy they respect because of the knowledge and what you bring to the table, but also having the ability to make everybody feel you care about them and that you’re in it for them and their best interests,” Wright explained.
“That’s been one of the things I think that’s been his key. We’re about as a college-like in regard to the makeup of our team and having guys from all over as any high school in America and probably more diverse than most colleges quite honestly. He’s done a good job of relating to all of our kids.”
Ballou's transition to Notre Dame should be even smoother with former IMG athletes Tony Jones Jr., Spencer Perry and Robert Hainsey already on campus.
“Those guys will help speak for him as well. I’m excited for Notre Dame.”
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