As I think about the training camps I’ve participated in as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, memories ebb and flow, but the near torture that was the end of practice conditioning (wind sprints, gassers, timed runs, etc) was the least favorite part of my football experience. Since then, I have never been a fan of ending practice with conditioning. While players will undoubtedly encounter fatigue during the season, (and our staff reminds players of Lombardi’s sentiment, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,”) old-school conditioning drills do not translate well to the game of football. Worse, they often drain player morale and disincentivize coming back the next day. A better approach is incorporating conditioning into the football position specific drill work we do throughout practice. Our coaches incorporate bursts of intense work during practice with a 1 to 4 work to rest ratio throughout.
Our offense leverages tempo as a weapon. We minimize the time between snaps to just enough time for our Quarterback and O-linemen to read the defense, make their calls, and execute. By doing so, we limit defensive adjustments, substitutions, and the opportunity for rest. Increasing tempo during practice helps our players get used to the pace we expect them to keep during a game, uses positions, steps, and techniques translating directly to team success, and concurrently conditions our athletes.
We choose to end practice with a game, (to play) but not football. We play a different game every day of training camp. After practice #1, we played Ultimate Frisbee. We divided the players into 8 teams and our practice field into 4 fields. Not only do players work at maximum capacity, their movement patterns translate well to football (e.g. lateral movement, changing direction, tracking an object in flight, reacting to an opponent’s movement, etc.)
As coaches observing this period of play, we supervise the activity, but intentionally do not make up the rules. We give them the field, the frisbee, the game, and the team; but they make up their own rules and those rules may differ from field to field. As coaches, we observe; assessing performance and reinforcing safety. We see who can run, who can cover, who can play an object in flight; but more importantly, we observe how players interact. Who takes a leadership role? Who creates or solves disputes? How do teammates communicate? Who can follow, taking direction from an upperclassman or peer, yet finds ways to contribute?
On a team that graduated 16 seniors from an undefeated season, we are looking for every opportunity to develop leadership, cultivate interdependence, and build a team. These games give our kids those opportunities and they love playing them. They even like playing soccer. Everyone leaves practice with a smile on their face, looking forward to coming back the next day. That is not the way I remember training camp in the late 70s and 80s. Times change… Let’em play!
Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org and share http://www.olineskills.com with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for your time!