The Los Angeles Rams Have a Secret Weapon—It’s in a Room Called the Barbershop

From a Wall Street Journal story by Andrew Beaton headlined “The Los Angeles Rams Have a Secret Weapon: Keeping Players Healthy”:

There’s a room in the Los Angeles Rams’ facility called the barbershop. Players know they can walk in there and freely talk about their aches and pains, or just about anything else they want to discuss. The space even has a barber pole hanging outside, but nobody goes there to get their haircut.

It’s the team’s training room. And it’s the focal point of the Rams’ effort to reduce injury through a combination of communication, analytics and an embrace of modern training methods.

There’s a long list of reasons the Rams are the reigning Super Bowl champions and among the favorites to win another title this year. Coach Sean McVay is a wizard who wears a headset. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is one of the most destructive forces to ever throw on pads and a helmet. And in a violent sport notorious for injuries, the Rams have outpaced their competition in a crucial category: keeping their players healthy.

The team has tackled one of football’s thorniest issues by not approaching it as a strict medical problem. The Rams try to solve it with data.

It has paid off to the tune of a Lombardi Trophy. In a sport where injuries seem completely random, the Rams have been in the top five in avoiding missed games due to them—for five straight years.

“You’re working smart,” McVay says. “But most importantly, too, you’re working efficiently.”

McVay doesn’t claim credit for this. The one person who everyone close to the Rams touts is Reggie Scott, who was the youngest head trainer in modern NFL history before McVay was the youngest coach. Scott, who’s now the team’s vice president of sports medicine and performance, doesn’t simply attribute the Rams’ success to his decade-plus of experience in the job. He also points to the numbers that are flooding football.

Chips and tracking technology have quantified what people used to estimate or judge with their eyes. Any fan with access to the internet can easily find out the average separation a wide receiver gets from defenders on his routes or the amount of time, down to the hundredth of a second, running backs spend behind the line of scrimmage.

The cutting edge of football is trying to figure out how to harness these still relatively new gushers. Teams incorporate them into player evaluations and decision making. The Rams did just that when they found a future Super Bowl Most Valuable Player named Cooper Kupp in the third round of the draft. They also use it to guide their sports science.

“We’ve always had our intuition, our gut,” Scott says. “Now we’ve got data to confirm our gut.”

Ten years ago, Scott remembers watching practices and thinking players were fatigued. Now they can objectively confirm it. Scott and people around the team—including trainers and an analytics department that culls the information on an in-house software system—track metrics like how many yards a player has run at a high speed or their acceleration and deceleration times. There are more data points collected in the weight room. Any step or bodily action could be a red flag that something is amiss.

The goal is to snuff out potential injuries before they happen. An acute spike in measured workload, for instance, can put players at higher risk for certain ailments, Scott says. When a players’ numbers begin sharply deviating from his norm, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

They also don’t blindly rely on spreadsheets. Scott calls it marrying the objective with the subjective—which they also have a process to distill. Twice a week, Rams players fill out a survey about how they’re feeling. When the answers in those questionnaires dovetail with a trend or metric they’ve observed, they know they’re onto something.

That’s also why the atmosphere of the training room is so important. As much as anything, the players need to trust Scott and his team because most NFL players have an extraordinary incentive to think about hiding any injury. Contracts aren’t guaranteed. Toughness is gospel.

Scott wants a relaxed environment and cultivated the barbershop experience so thoroughly that he got back from a game a few years ago and found that Kupp had purchased the swirling barbershop pole to put up. Injuries, Scott adds, can leave players distraught so he wants to keep the conversations casual and cheerful. He feels like the barber who’s simultaneously chopping it up with everyone while going about his job.

“I’ve always said that when they come into the training room, we always want to really have a positive, upbeat feel to it,” he says.

For it to work, McVay has to be willing to make practices lighter based on trends around the team, in the interest of keeping players fresh over the course of a season that’s now 17 games. He also has to be accommodating when the numbers indicate it’s wise to give a player time off not because he’s hurt—but because their process indicates he could be at increased risk of landing on the shelf.

McVay admits when he was hired as a 30-year-old in 2017, his instinct was to go, go, go. But it didn’t take him long to learn about what he calls the “sports science advantage” from Scott. Now McVay rejects the old-school notion of needing grueling five-hour practices every day while preaching a progressive ramp-up during training camp to make sure his players are as fit as possible.

“It’s really all about balancing the volume, the intensity, the tactical while also making sure that you’re cognizant of avoiding some of the soft-tissue injuries,” McVay says.

There’s proof that this is working. While teams typically display little, if any, consistency in their success at keeping players on the field every year, the Rams have completely defied that. Since 2017—McVay’s first year as coach—the Rams have ranked in the top-five every season in fewest games missed due to injury, according to, a website that tracks injury trends. Scott says their internal metrics align with those findings.

The team isn’t completely immune to injuries. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went down in the Super Bowl with a knee injury. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is currently nursing an elbow issue. Bones will still break and muscles will inevitably tear.

That’s why it’s an exercise in reduction not elimination. Soft-tissue injuries, like sore hamstrings for instance, may be more preventable than a broken finger.

But Scott also believes the injuries that look like freak accidents may also show up in the numbers. Maybe, for instance, a player suffered an injury on a play because he was clearly fatigued and his form deteriorated, leading to whatever went wrong.

“We can’t predict injuries, right?” Scott says.

“Do I think we can reduce the environment for an increase in injury?” he adds. “Absolutely.”

For the Rams, figuring out how to manage all of this is more important than ever. They played in the last game of the last NFL season. They play in the first game of this one Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills.

The shortest offseason in football is the reward for winning the Super Bowl.

Andrew Beaton is a sports reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York covering the NFL, college sports and more.

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