Monday, June 20, 2011

Off-Season...Summer Workouts

Climb that mountain...

Well, like I promised, I'm going to move on and discuss the actual workouts themselves in this post.  I'd also like to hit on some other things I've done in terms of mini-camp applications, and overall ideas I've had about increasing participation in off-season workouts using competitions. One side note I'd like to add, for those thinking the summer workout is going to immensely increase your team's strength and size, I'm afraid you are greatly misgiven.  In my years as a coach, the longest I've seen a summer program go is 10 weeks.  This is just not enough time to develop a player, especially if it will be the first time they've picked a weight up all year.  Football is year-round now, and so much training.  The teams I have been a part of trained all year, both in season, and out of season.  The summer is just one part of this year-round training.
 So without further adieu....

The Workouts
Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you, that BFS, is the best, or anything like that.  What I'm talking about in this section is the overall mood, tempo and atmosphere your workouts need to have.  Utilize whatever format you want, there's so many out there no, they all must have some merit!  I've done 4 day weeks (2 day upper body, 2 day lower body) as well as 3 day workouts with 1 day of practice, you name it, I've tried it.  I'm going to break down things that should go in to your workout to help make your players want to be there.  Every player knows working out is beneficial for them, however, as stated in an earlier post (found here), the teenager these days have tremendous time constraints put on them by all the activities they have to do around them.  You are in a losing battle if you simply ask them to choose the weight room over their girlfriend, or making the almighty dollar!  This is where you've got to get creative and innovative to keep the weight room and the off-season program lively and intense.  So let's look at what a good workout should have in it to be effective at keeping today's football player attentive.

  • Meaningful exercises- This is important because kids nowadays have access to information available at their fingertips.  Don't believe me, tell them something that's hogwash, and see if the next day they don't "sniff" you out.  Young folks today seem to trust adults less and less, so even though they listen to what you say, they are going to try and see if you are for real, or just plain bullshit.  What you put in your workouts, must correlate to getting better on the playing field, not just taking up time.  Your players are already stressed for time, they don't want to sit through a workout that isn't designed to get them better.  Give them what they need and they will want to be there because they can see how the workout is helping them get better on the field.
  • Matched partners- This is very important.  You don't want your 5'5" 130 pound Junior Varsity (JV) running back lifting with your 6'3" 250 pound senior offensive tackle (OT)!  Try to partner your players based on ability.  This will give them someone to compare themselves and their achievements to.  Some kids are easily intimidated, so lifting with a partner that is physically superior will become frustrating and can result in the loss of this frustrated player.  Also, your stronger players don't benefit from working out with weaker partners, they need to be pushed too.  Match these players up, irregardless of position, and let them push each other.  Remember, competition is a healthy thing!
  • Variation- Workouts that tend to repeat themselves over time, begin to lose the interest of the young mind.  Throw a curve ball in every now and then and have lifting competitions, or running competitions etc.  The sky's the limit when varying up your workouts.  The idea is to keep things in your off-season program from getting stagnant and dull.  I have done any thing from have sprinting, passing, punting, kicking (the latter two being hilarious) competitions, to playing a version of "Bowden Ball" known as 4 on 4.  Things were dull one day last summer in the weight room, and my offensive line (OL) coach decided to do a push up competition.  What the heck, the kids were working upper body right?!  One day out of the schedule doesn't hurt anything, and it keeps the players' interests peaked.  Use your imagination and do this once a week, or do something different everyday at the end of the workout.  Whatever you do, don't let your workouts become dull and repetitive!
  • Dynamic- Your workout needs to adapt to the varying levels of player you may have in your weight room/gym/practice field at any one time.  I always tried to mix up times for when JV and varsity lifted, but inevitably you had some kids mixing in.  Try to keep these skill levels separate and different if possible.  The younger player needs more teaching and technique, whereas the older player already has this, and needs less teaching and more individual workout time.  This goes back to having a good staff (found in my first post here) that can allow different coaches to be spread throughout the workout area helping and aiding these different skill sets.  The scheduling of workouts also needs to be dynamic.  Obviously if you can do it, schedule the JV and varsity separate.  I always had JV come in at 3 P.M. and workout until 5, with the varsity guys coming in at 5:30.  This gave the older players time to get off work since most of them had summer jobs.  Sometimes you can't do this.  I have a friend that has the weight room open three times a day.  He opens it a 6 A.M. for the guys going to work who want to work out early, he reopens at 1 P.M., and then has a late session beginning at 5 P.M.  This flexibility allows your players to get to their workouts regardless of what their schedule is.
  • Tempo- Workouts should move and flow about in either the weight room, out on the track, or in the gym.  One of the worst things a coach can do is have dead time.  Dead time has the mind wandering and thinking of other places the player could be.  This in turn, leads to doubting why they are there in the first place.  If you keep em' moving, and working, they won't be drifting off to "la-la land" thinking about that new movie, or the new video game that just game out.  Just like in football practice, tempo is completely up to the coach.  I have done "prison style" workouts where coaches have counted every repetition, and I've also allowed the players the freedom to move about on their own.  What I've usually done is explain that the players will have the freedom to do the workouts on their own, as monitored by the staff, however the first sign of loafing and we are doing the prison workout.  I usually had to do a week or two of prison workouts every summer, however that's all it took to get the players back on task!  If you are out on the track or field, set up all drills prior to player arrival, this way there is no down time when you are conditioning or running routes, or agilities.  Keeping the tempo up also ensures that the workout will quickly and smoothly, thereby getting the players back to their daily lives.  Remember, these are NOT college athletes here, they have not devoted their life to the game of football.  Don't make working out a burden, make it a necessary evil, and then add some fun in as you go!

    Keep up that tempo!!!
For those that are allowed to, mini-camps are a great way to break up the monotony of the summer workout.  I used to  hold a few of these each summer, with a very large one at the end of the summer.  I'm going to share with you what I did, and hopefully you can find some of this quite interesting. 
  • Position-specific mini-camp- I have held several of these through the years.  All it is, is simply having a position, or group of players arrive early or stay later and work on position-specific drills.  Early on, when I was a defensive coordinator (DC) and defensive back's (DB's) coach, I had my DB's stay about 15 minutes after every workout session to do footwork.  Other coaches hopped on the bandwagon and did the same thing.  I've also had mini-camps I would do during the day and have all the incoming freshmen come in and participate.  This is an excellent tool at evaluating your JV talent, and it gives an opportunity for the younger players to soak in the offensive and defensive schemes without the fear of messing up with the older kids around.  As with any of this, whatever you do, have a plan and work the plan.  Each mini-camp should have a target goal of what you want to achieve. 
  • Conditioning mini-camp- I did this mini camp as it got closer to the end of the off-season.  I wanted to do this to get the players acclimated to the heat and stress put on their bodies by having to perform in the heat.  I've done anything from simple sprints to plyometrics, the content is not the issue here, it's the actual camp itself.  I think this camp really benefited our lineman, who were packing on the weight and lifting heavy, become acclimated to the heat and begin to get used to carry around their new body weight. 
  • Team mini-camp- I did this the past 3 years, and it is a TON or work, but well worth it.  I basically had a "lock-in" format where players reported to the school on a Wednesday evening.  They were instructed to bring all the necessary items they would have to have on a camping trip, as they would be living in the gymnasium.  Players would check in from 7 P.M. in the evening to 10 P.M. that night.  Then all the gates would be shut and locked.  No players could have vehicles on campus.  They also could not leave without a parent present (we rarely had anyone leave).  For 3 days we lived together, ate together, and slept together at the high school.  What a team building experience!  To this day, I still have players saying how much they enjoyed, what we called our "Fall Camp".  It wasn't just football either, we had several guest speakers, and business and organizations from around the town prepared the meals.  We also watched movies, and special FCA events as well.  Some of this might not fit where you are at, but for the team building aspect of it, there was nothing better.  I may, in a later post, go into the details of what we did, and how we accomplished it.  Send me email or comments if you'd like to hear more.  Basically, we got 3 good days right before the "official" start of the season to condition and go over the mental portion of the game that seems to get so rushed in the early days of fall camp.
Not everyone can do a mini-camp, or pre-season camp.  However, if you can, I recommend it, if for nothing other than team building.  Check your state rules and regulations regarding this matter and see what you can and can't do.  Whatever you CAN do, will go a long way to helping your team in the fall.

Creating competition is something that's been thrown about the past few years, with little to no "real" explanation.  Most of us, as football coaches, know what competition is, the problem is how to incorporate into your summer lifting and conditioning programs.  I will share some things I have done, and some things friend and colleagues of mine have done and you can go from there.  The sky's the limit though when it comes to this type of stuff, so use your imagination.

One of the first things I did, when I got my first head coaching job, was to try and establish toughness, and find who my toughest most physical players were.  Well, what better place than on the wrestling mat!  We would pair guys up by position and have them wrestle.  At first, we didn't do it for long, 45 seconds or so, as most guys tired out very quickly.  Wrestling opened up all kinds of information on our players, such as who the alpha-males were, what players were "naturally strong", who was in the best shape etc.  It also doubled as an excellent version of conditioning. 

I also divided the entire team up into off-season teams and we had several competitions that we coined as our "Summer Challenge".  At the end of spring football, we gathered our players in the cafeteria and had a mock draft.  Seniors who had made all their off-season lifting commitments or had been a part of a sport, were selected as captains.  We usually averaged around 10, 10-man teams.  Each team had to have at least 1 freshman, and 1 offensive or defensive lineman.  Then we arranged the picks and put together the rounds.  At the very end, each team also got to draft their coaches as well (this was quite hilarious at times).  Once the teams were assembled we took down the names and established a contact list.  It was the captain's requirement to stay in contact with his team.  The Summer Challenge consisted of teams competing in different games/functions throughout the summer to gain points.  The team with the most points at the end of the summer won.  Usually this consisted of an article in the local newspaper, a T-shirt, first in line at meal time, and first to pick out their equipment for the fall. 

To gain points, the teams were graded on the following items:
  • Weight room attendance- each team member, got 1 point for every day they were in the weight room.
  • 7 on 7/Lineman Games attendance (will talk more about this later)- each team member got 5 points for attending these events.
  • For every pound a team members max went up, they got 1 point, for every pound the max went down, a point was deducted.
  • Attendance at camps- team members who attended summer camps and team camps were awarded 10 points for every camp attended.
  • 4-on-4 game attendance- We played 2 games per week and players were awarded 1 point for attending and participating in these game.
  • Miscellaneous- a team member could be awarded up to 5 additional points for miscellaneous items such as working youth camps, fundraising, or simple things such as helping to inventory equipment etc.
What really made this go, was giving the captains the contact list of their team members.  This allowed the captain to call a guy who was not showing up and put the pressure on him.  Now, instead of a coach calling and bending a player's ear, it was a peer doing so, and the players were more apt to show up.  We saw our average number of players in the weight room soar from just under 25 per day to around 45 per day after implementing our Summer Challenge.  Players who were known for skipping out on weight sessions began to show up and participate.  I cannot tell you the benefits we reaped from doing this, and even though it does take some time and effort, it is well worth it.

Make peer pressure work for you, not against you!!!
 One item listed above that was a helped create competition was our 4-on-4 football league.  This was interesting, and took some time to develop, but it really boosted our weight room attendance.  4-on-4 is basically touch football played by teams of 4, the field length being the standard width of a normal football field (53 1/3 yards).  The width of the playing field is 25 yards.  The field is divided in half, and the end zones are standard 10 yard deep endzones.  All of this can easily be marked with cones or pylons.  Players have 3 downs to get across midfield, and then an additional 3 downs to score.  The ball has to be snapped by a center, and you must have one additional player on the LOS at all times.  Once the snap is started the quarterback (QB) has 7 seconds to get the ball off or it is counted as a sack.  Completions cannot be advanced, and the ball is down where the pass was caught.  Interceptions and fumbles are dead where they occur.  There are two 15 minute halves that have running clocks, and a 5 minute halftime.  That's the basics, if you want to learn more about it, email me, and I'll give you what I got.

I also did a 7 on 7 passing league with some teams around our area.  I was hesitant to do this, as we did not have the best facilities in the world, but I'm glad I did.  The 7 on 7 league did 1 of 2 things, it had us competing with other teams, which we all know is better than just competing against yourself, and it allowed us to raise money.  We charged a $200 entry fee, and also had a concession stand open during the games. 

They do it...

Being a former offensive lineman, I didn't want the big guys left out, so we also had lineman games.  The cost of the linemen games were a part of the 7 on 7 fee, so we had quite a crowd around our place one day a week.  The linemen did everything from tire flips, to lifting competitions, sprints, and even a truck pull around the track! 

Like I said in the beginning, use your imagination, and you can see where you end up.  Our weight room attendance more than doubled from the time I took over, until I left, and I attribute it to the items I listed above and in my first post (which can be read here).  You have to make your off-season workouts the place to be, or else you won't get your players in there. 

In my next post, I'm going to talk about 1 of the most important elements of a good summer program, and that is team building.  If you aren't using the summer to build camaraderie amongst your team, you are wasting valuable time.  I hope these have been informative and if you have ideas you have used, post them in the comments section, or email them to me, I will feature a "readers post" section if I can get enough ideas in here.  Keep forging ahead with your off-season programs guys, fall will be here before you know it!