INDIANAPOLIS – More than 330 draft prospects are at the NFL scouting combine this week, and nearly as many groups and companies are peddling their goods to the players and the league’s 32 teams.
The Indiana Convention Center and the adjoining Lucas Oil Stadium have been the hub for this week’s predraft testing. The hallways are crammed with people and companies that hawk everything from training devices to video equipment to software to union representation (NFL Players Association) to religion (Athletes In Action, Catholic Athletes For Christ).
Gilman Gear, which makes practice equipment such as tackling dummies and blocking sleds, is pushing its new roll tackle rings, which essentially are truck tires wrapped in colorful covers.
Storz Medical, a Swiss company, is pushing its shock wave system, which supposedly regenerates tissue and hastens healing.
The Eagles will take 20 of them.
A company called Topspin Technologies is promoting a new neck-strengthening device that looks like something from the medieval days.
Power Lift has rented a huge room to show off its latest weight room equipment. And on, and on.
One of the many people courting the NFL and the players here this week is Dr. Emily Splichal, a Manhattan-based podiatrist and human movement specialist. Splichal is the founder of Naboso Technology, a two-year-old company that makes textured shoe insoles and training mats that claim to help improve athletic performance, reduce the risk of injuries, and improve injury rehabilitation.
Hey, Dr. Scholl. Can your insole do that? Didn’t think so.
The Naboso insole isn’t like other insoles on the market. It has a unique textural design that features a series of little raised pyramids that are spaced to the specificity of a nerve on the bottom of the foot.
“That nerve on the bottom of the foot is the same nerve that helps blind people read Braille," Splichal said. “We are essentially stimulating the same nerve, but in the feet."
Unlike other insoles, Naboso’s is flat. It doesn’t have an arch.
“I try to get them to buy into the idea of an insole that doesn’t have an arch in it," Splichal said. “It’s counter to what people think. But it’s approaching movement from a slightly different perspective."
“Every [other] insole that is on the market is designed to approach function or foot pain or foot support from a bio-mechanical perspective, which means there’s arches put in them.
“Our insoles are the only one on the market that are based solely on sensory stimulation with respect to foot function, and really, to total body movement and motor control."
Trying to sell a new product to the skeptical NFL isn’t easy. But all you have to do is look at the Eagles last year to see how critical to success it is to keep your players on the field and get them back quickly from injuries.
If you can prove you have something that can help do that, well, you can get very rich very fast.
Splichal, who has hired a national PR firm to help her spread the word about her product, has pitched her insoles and mats to NFL trainers, orthopedists, and strength coaches at the last two combines. She said she is slowly but surely making inroads.
Splichal said she also has clients in Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL.
While Splichal said the Naboso insoles are helpful to players rehabbing foot injuries, such as Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks’ torn Achilles tendon, she said they also benefit knee, hip and back injuries.
“It’s not just foot injuries," she said. “It could be the knee or the hip or whatever it might be. Any surgery is going to disrupt the nervous system and [an athlete’s] ability to connect through their nervous system and, really, their foundation with their feet.
“The goal of the [post-injury] athlete is to start moving your feet. Once you do that, the degree of knee flexion is going to be a little more controlled, because they’re in better relationship with the ground.
“Same thing with the hip and the back. I could even argue that it goes all the way up to the shoulder, because the body is that connected. And the foundation of the body with respect to the joints is how it interacts with the ground."
Splichal doesn’t necessarily recommend using the insoles in football cleats, because there isn’t a lot of room in the cleats, particularly considering that most players also heavily tape their ankles. But she recommends they use them in their regular shoes and training sneakers.
“When they get out of the cleat, that’s when I need them to recover their feet, reconnect to their feet, allow their feet to breathe and space out and kind of do all of that recovery, so that when they get back into the cleat, they’re not creating a cumulative effect of what the cleats do to the body, which is awful. Cleats restrict so much of their foot function, which transfers up to the entire body."
NFL players historically have been their own worst enemy with respect to foot injuries. Many players, obsessed with maximizing their speed, wear cleats that are too light and too narrow and increase the risk of foot injuries. Former Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, has warned his players about this for years.
Splichal is an advocate of barefoot training, which is where the mats, which have the same surface as the insole, come in. She has urged NFL teams to use the mats and barefoot training in the weight room as well as before training sessions.
“When I do in-services with some of the teams, they usually are taken aback," she said. “But I’m trying to get them to just activate the feet. My approach to what we do with Naboso is to activate the feet barefoot, do some of your movement [preparation] on the Naboso mat, then put your shoes or cleats on.
“If you can go into a training session by first priming your nervous system to the skin on the bottom of the feet, imagine what that’s doing to the rest of that [training] session. You’re priming the system that needs to control every movement that you’re doing.
“That’s always been my approach to everything I’ve done in my career. To build awareness around activating the nervous system before putting the shoes on, and what that does for performance and injury prevention."