Organizing and Administering Football’s Off-Season Program
The advent of the New Year means it’s time for football coaches to formulate and implement their off-season programs.
Many high school coaches are already well into their winter workouts and taking advantage of this critical time for the growth and development of their players, in addition to laying a foundation for team building and unity.The emphasis on physical development during this time of year is so great, in fact, that the summer training program is the only period where I receive more inquiries and requests for lifting, speed training, agility, and position specific conditioning protocols.
I have discussed specific drills and techniques in past issues, and that process will continue in both Powerline and Powerline Online. This time out, however, I would like to focus attention on some of the details and peripheral issues that can cause several snags if not addressed.
Following are some thoughts and perspectives on both the organizational and administrative aspects of the winter program. Hopefully, you will find at least a couple of points that will assist you in getting your program up and running smoothly.
Even though all areas of athletics carry a certain degree of risk, we as coaches are obligated to search for and eliminate any needless, inherently dangerous activities. The modern training landscape has welded a double-edged sword for coaches regarding training methodologies, and we owe it to the young people entrusted to us by their parents to offer the safest training approaches available.
This process requires a little homework on your part, but it is time well-spent. Every segment of your program should be carefully examined, well-calculated, and constantly evaluated over the course of its implementation.
In the seemingly unending quest to find new and improved avenues for increasing the size, strength, speed, and power of your players, there is a tendency to fall prey to just about any training methodology that surfaces. If you as a coach fail to question every single claim attached to an activity, then who will?
Our advice: Go to those with expertise in any of the strength/conditioning procedures you feel strongly about incorporating and get all of your questions answered first hand.
Leave no stone unturned in your inquiry, and come away with a firm understanding of every single technique and coaching point.
Due diligence tells us that we are responsible for feeling secure, comfortable, and confident with our program designs. Remember that tenet, and you will make cogent decisions on exercise protocols.
Participation: Both Feet in the Circle
Mark Dantonio, our outstanding Head Football Coach, always speaks to our team about having “both feet in the circle,” a phrase that embodies the total commitment he expects from everyone in the program.
This call to duty is emphasized in our winter program. At the collegiate level, the brunt of the strength/conditioning sessions is mandatory and serves as an integral part of the overall plan.
Organizational procedures are obviously much more complicated for high school coaches, who often face the four-headed monster of time constraints, space and equipment limitations, scheduling multi-sport athletes, and in some instances, a general lack of support from parents and/or administrators.
I had the distinct privilege of coaching at the high school level for ten years, and therefore experienced many of these administrative brush fires up close and personal.
This dates back to the mid-seventies and it ran through the mid-eighties, an era when the importance of strength training was finally winning favor with high school coaches.
Soon thereafter, old storage rooms in the bowels of the buildings were being gutted, painted, spruced-up, and transformed into weight rooms.
Today, you would be hard pressed to find a modern high school building that does not have a spacious, well-equipped weight room woven into an architects’ initial design. Many of the ones I’ve seen rival those at the collegiate level.
And yet, the aforementioned problems remain as a stitch in the side of coaches trying to formulate off-season training programs.
Here are some troubleshooting suggestions for high school coaches:
• Schedule a meeting with all administrators and coaches in the school to discuss the importance of year-round training programs for all of the athletes. Hammer-out a common ground agenda for multi-sport athletes so that they are provided the opportunity to benefit from strength training activities, regardless of the time of year or the sport they are participating in at the time. This can be accomplished if everyone approaches it with an open mind and keeps the best interests of the athletes in the forefront. The outdated notions that strength training is only for football players, and that females or participants in basketball, baseball, etc. will become “muscle-bound,” clumsy, and stiff as a board are as ridiculous as they are unsubstantiated. Strength training infuses power, heightens muscular endurance, improves flexibility, and can deter serious injury. Is there any sport – male or female – that could not benefit from those crucial physical enhancements?
• Stay in constant communication with parents, as they can be your best allies and provide the stout support your program will need to grow and develop. Whether this is accomplished at parent/booster meetings, via e-mails, newsletters, or through the athletic page of the school’s website, information on the how’s and why’s of your program are deeply appreciated by most parents. Some high school web sites dedicate an entire section to their athletic strength/conditioning endeavors to highlight its importance and to elevate the community’s interest and garner support. Also, any awards, recognition, or other motivational tools that are in place as incentives for attendance, effort, testing, etc., should be shared with parents, as their feedback is important for the athletes on the home front. Remember: The time will come when you will need financial support from parents and the entire community for equipment and a host of other upgrading projects. Keeping them in the loop and giving them a sense of their importance to the program will go a long way.
• Schedule qualified guest speakers to come into your school to address all of the coaches, administrators, athletes, and parents on the importance of training and proper nutrition for overall good health, injury deterrence, and improved performance. In today’s quick-fix age of performance-enhancing drugs, ubiquitous supplements, and a host of other deleterious practices, it is important to counter all of this nonsense with solid, scientifically-founded information. Invite the other teachers in the school to attend, as well, as many of them are interested in these topics, and it gives them a better appreciation for the challenges the athletes face and the disciplined life they must lead to be successful.
• Keep your staff actively involved in continuing education activities including clinics, seminars, and visits with college/professional S&C coaches. As a young high school coach, I can remember attending several clinics or arranging meetings with collegiate coaches every month in the off-season — many of them on my dime — and it served me well. Today, everyone is dealing with budget cut-backs and other financial issues that limit these learning opportunities, but try to get to as many as possible.
Coaching and Supervision
Everyone who is involved in the day-to-day operation of the program should be thoroughly knowledgeable in every aspect of its implementation. Far too many times we see one person calling the shots with large groups of athletes, while a few assistants try to coach on-the-run with little or no fundamental background in what is being taught.
This is a recipe for chaos and it destroys the credibility of your program. As a head coach, or one who is designated as the coordinator of the off-season program, it is your duty to take the time to coach your staff on the finer points and important details of every drill, exercise, etc., to the point where you would have complete confidence in their ability to run the show seamlessly in your absence.
Discuss the X’ and O’s of your program design with your staff, and do not be satisfied with their retention until they can teach the program to you – complete with the rationale that supports the perceived benefits of every single activity. Before I feel confident in turning the teaching reins of an activity over to one of my interns or graduate assistants, they must teach it to me and convince me of its worth.
One final, yet extremely important point here: Never leave the weight room – or any organized workout session, for that matter – unattended for even a minute. Failure to supervise a workout session in its entirety puts the athletes in harm’s way and could place you, as the person in charge and primary supervisor; in a litigious situation should someone sustain a serious injury.
Make Room for Variety
You will undoubtedly have some preeminent protocols that you feel are the cornerstones of your program. If you feel that strongly about them – whether they are strength training lifts, speed or agility improvement drills, flexibility procedures, etc. – then by all means stay with them. It’s your ship, and you are ultimately responsible to keep all hands improving and performing with excellence. To do that, you must command with belief and conviction.
However, try not to look through a straw when mapping-out the training calendar. Occasionally changing the exercises, tools of the trade, or the order of events can keep things fresh and challenging.
With a little extra effort, this can be done without compromising any of your long-held beliefs. Remember: This is hard work, but it should not be monotonous or boring.
Final Rep: Stay Competitive
Athletes crave competition, so why shelve it in the off-season? Your staff should put their heads together to create competitive situations for the players that can be scored and documented. Not only will you manufacture the variety aspect previously discussed, the competition will generate enthusiasm and build the team’s work ethic.
Groups can be drawn-up and given catchy names, and points can be awarded based upon effort, order of finish, attendance, testing results, or any other criteria that you emphasize in training.
Top point getters (by group, individually, or both) can be put on a large, classy, professionally made award board for incentive. T-shirts can also be awarded to the kids in the top slots.
I’m amused when I hear from some of my coaching friends in the NFL how hard some of their million dollar athletes will work for a specially made strength and conditioning t-shirt!
TIP FROM THE TRENCHES
Cancer risk updates: Nine research teams from numerous revered institutions such as The Harvard School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, and The University of Bristol in England, sifted through over 7,000 studies on 17 types of cancer and 61 “exposures” (e.g., red meat, fast foods, body fatness, sedentary living, etc.) to develop the 2007 cancer risk update. This is a revision of the 1997 Report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer.
Here are just a few of the old standards that remain and some of the changes over the past 10 years:
• Cigarette smoking is still the #1 demon, so if you smoke, exhaust every avenue in an effort to quit, and certainly do not start this hazardous habit.
• Obesity is now considered to be at least a moderate risk with certain types of cancers, most notably that of the colon and breast. Check with your primary care physician to determine if your weight and/or body composition is a problem worth addressing and, if that is the case, work closely with him/her in an effort to get it under control.
• The panel indicated that there is convincing evidence that red meat increases the risk of colon cancer. The report recommends that less than 18 ounces of red meat be consumed per week, and that processed meats (e.g., bacon, salami, or any other meats made with nitrates or nitrites) are limited or avoided all-together.
• Alcoholic beverages should be limited to no more 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women.
• Inactivity can also be a cancer risk, so add this important reason to your list of why you should exercise and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
Source: The Second Expert Report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. The American Institute for Cancer Research and The World Cancer Research Fund, Nov., 2007.
– Ken Mannie
About the Author
Ken Mannie is the head strength/conditioning coach at Michigan State University. ([email protected])