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Korem constantly pursuing next evolution of High Performance

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During his six-week High Performance Tour, Erik Korem (second from left) and Joe Scola (right) spent time with the Richmond Tigers, an Australian football club in Melbourne. (Photo via @ErikKorem on Twitter) During his six-week High Performance Tour, Erik Korem (second from left) and Joe Scola (middle) spent time with the Richmond Tigers, an Australian football club in Melbourne. (Photo via @ErikKorem on Twitter)
In the second of two stories spotlighting Erik Korem, we take a look at the roots of UK football's High Performance program as well as Korem's six-week High Performance Tour. Read our feature from last week here.

There Erik Korem was, in New York City at the Leaders in Performance conference. The event was designed to bring together performance and sporting directors from some of the world's most prestigious athletic organizations and allow them to exchange ideas.

Surrounded by the likes of new Manchester United manager David Moyes and New York Giants President John Mara, Korem seemingly had reason to be intimidated. He was, after all, the only attendee there on behalf of an American collegiate football team.

"Everybody else is from these major, elite sporting organizations around the world," Korem said. "I actually had some people come up to me and say, 'We've heard about the great things going on at UK.' "

Korem was certainly impressed by his company, but Kentucky football's High Performance Coach was more than qualified to participate.

"What we're doing here is the leading edge of college sports and really, I think, the leading edge in American sports because I don't know of any organizations that are doing this," Korem said.

The High Performance program Korem and head coach Mark Stoops have brought to Kentucky football uses sports science in the development of student-athletes in a way teams from the NFL are only now beginning to do. Korem's endeavors have attracted the attention of his peers across the country, but he isn't resting just because he's ahead of the curve.

While UK football players got a break after final exams and before returning to campus for summer classes and workouts, Korem was on a six-week "High Performance Tour." He made stateside stops in Kansas City, Mo., Boston and New York, but the centerpiece of the trip was a week-and-a-half stop in Australia.

"If I want to learn and exchange ideas, it's best to get out of the United States because that's where most of the information is," Korem said.

With its "Big Four" sports leagues and success in international competition, America is often thought of as the center of the sporting universe. While that may be true in general, it certainly isn't when it comes to sports science. Korem sees the U.S. as lagging behind many other nations in that area.

"We're spoiled in the U.S.," Korem said. "We have something that nobody else has: We have the greatest population of athletes on the planet."

Korem's reasoning may seem a bit counterintuitive, at least until you apply one of his patented metaphors.

"It's like being in the Middle East," Korem said. "You've got all this oil, right? Are you going to be constantly searching for other natural sources of energy? No."

Because America has the richest supply of athletes in the world, not as much needs to be done to develop them for high-level competition. Looking to keep up, other nations have begun to pursue every conceivable means.

"Countries like (Australia) have started these state-sponsored sports programs because the government itself realized, 'We're getting our rear ends handed to us in Olympic competition so we want to develop our athletes to the highest capability,' " Korem said.

Australia has invested heavily in the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and now a high performance program called "Australia's Winning Edge." By closely monitoring and measuring performance, Australia is looking to move from "world class to world best." That culture spreads across all of the nation's sports, including the Australian football game that inspired much of Korem's interest in high performance.

While he was still at Florida State, Korem learned about athlete tracking during a summer trip to Australia, building relationships with numerous football teams in the process. Seeing how well sports science was being used abroad, he began to apply the same principles to American football. Now that he's heading up a full-blown high performance program at UK, he returned to Australia in May.

"It just brings a totally different perspective because, as we saw, we're still pretty far behind in the U.S. when it comes to sports science," Korem said. "Now, they learn a lot from us from the coaching side: the way we look at tactics, the way we view film. There's a great information exchange that can take place there, and it has. We keep the doors open."

With Director of Player Development Joe Scola, Korem spent the first week in Melbourne with the Richmond Football Club. The Tigers - winners of 10 "premierships" - were preparing for a matchup with Essendon in the Indigenous Round, a weekend of games honoring the nation's indigenous culture.

 "We watched their players as they went through the whole process of a training week through a game, how they recover after a game, all the science behind how they do recovery," Korem said. "That was awesome."

To top it off, Korem was invited to sit in the coaches' box on game day at the 100,018-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground. There, he got what could perhaps be a glimpse of the future at UK. During games, coaches work in an environment that resembles an air-traffic control center, interacting with tactical and sports-science data in real time.

"It was wild," Korem said.

The next week, he moved to the Greater Western Sydney Giants, an expansion club in its second season competing in the Australian Football League. As the Giants look to build a championship-level club, they are making high performance a central part of what they do.

"It's interesting because they basically got the equivalent of 30 first-round draft picks," Korem said. "But these guys are 18 years old when they're coming in and they're playing against 26-, 27-year-old men. They're getting hammered right now, but it's because they're boys."

While in Australia, Korem also visited Catapult Sports, the company that provides the athlete tracking technology UK uses. Interestingly, Catapult was founded in 2006 as an outgrowth of the work done by the AIS. Korem works closely with Catapult and the time spent at their headquarters in Melbourne gave him a chance to identify how he can better utilize the tools and data provided by the company to fulfill the ultimate goal of the High Performance program.

"Our best players at 50 percent, that's not what I want," Korem said. "I want our best players at their best. It's very hard, but there are things we can do to monitor that and get ahead of the curve."

As the High Performance Tour proved, there's no means Korem won't pursue to gain the smallest edge. He is constantly searching for the next idea he can bring to the table. Though the nature of his field means there's no way of knowing exactly how things will look even a year from now, Korem still spends plenty of time thinking about the future.

"Oh man, I have a vision," Korem said. "I have a big vision."

Korem wants to play a role in turning UK into a championship program, but knows that doesn't happen overnight. Similarly, it will take patience to develop the student-athletes with whom he works. But on both fronts, Korem foresees big things with High Performance playing an important role.

"My goal is, by the time these guys leave here, they come through four or five years and they have mastered their skills, they have elevated their physiological capabilities to their highest possible level and they do not walk out the door saying, 'Shoulda, coulda, woulda,' " Korem said. "They walk out that door saying, 'Man, I got a degree, I maximized my abilities and I had a ton of fun doing it."

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