One sport at a time, please

Daniel McQuaid Coaching Blogs, Opinion 1 Comment

A few weeks ago I wrote an article extolling the virtues of high school kids playing multiple sports. In hindsight, I should have been more specific with my argument by adding that kids should participate in a variety of sports one at a time.

Allow me to explain.

I coach freshman football. A typical practice week for us looks like this:

Monday: Film and 45 minutes of lifting or conditioning

Tuesday: Full practice 2:45-5:00

Wednesday: Full practice 2:45-5:00

Thursday: Full practice 2:45-5:00

Friday: Easy pre-game practice 2:45-3:45

Saturday: Game

Sunday: Off

As far as I know, that is a typical schedule for high school freshmen.

And one thing I can tell you about that schedule is that it does not allow us enough time to fully prepare for each upcoming opponent. Football is such a complex sport that there is no way in the time we have allotted for practice that we can sharpen our fundamentals and get ready for everything we might face on a Saturday morning.

Our sophomore and varsity teams play on Friday nights, and every week when we watch those games we freshman coaches suffer horribly because we see things from the opposing sophomore and varsity teams that we did not prepare for in practice and that we assume their freshmen are going to use against us.  The conversation in the football office on Saturday mornings before we head out for warm-ups invariably goes like this:

“Dang it, did you see that middle screen they ran?”

“We’re dead! We can’t stop that! Hand me a donut.”

“You’ve already had three. What if they run that fake punt we saw?”

“We’re dead! We can’t stop it!”

Luckily, freshmen being freshmen, our kids don’t realize how unprepared they are and they just go out and have fun and play great. But wouldn’t they play even better if we just extended their practice time so we could go over every possible eventuality? What if we added a practice on Sunday? Just two hours or so? What if, on weekdays, we practiced until 5:00 then sent them home for dinner and had them come back for ninety minutes? Our team finished 7-2 this year. With those extra practices, we certainly would have gone undefeated, right?

Actually, with those extra practices I doubt we would have been able to field a team late in the season, let alone win a game because, as much as they don’t act like it or smell like it sometimes, freshmen boys are human beings and in order for human beings to endure and benefit from physical training they must be allowed time to recover.

That is a cardinal rule of athletics, and coaches of all sports abide by it.

During their season.

Unfortunately, when their players are involved in other sports, many coaches forget or choose to ignore the cardinal rule of recovery. And they do this to the great detriment of their athletes. Every year we have freshman football players who play club baseball or lacrosse during our season. Those kids are required to practice two or three nights a week, and to participate in tournaments on the weekend. Every year, our cross country teams have kids who play club soccer. They also are required to practice two or three nights per week and play in weekend tournaments. We face similar issues during track season. With the rising popularity of football seven-on-seven tournaments, many sprinters spend their “rest days” running pass patterns for hours on artificial turf. Same for those rare basketball players who are allowed by their coach to participate in a spring sport. Evening practices with their club teams. Weekend tournaments.

Why do coaches encourage/require/browbeat their athletes into training for their sport year round even when those athletes are participating in other sports?

Insecurity.

Many coaches cannot get past the idea that the only way for kids to improve at their sport is to play it year round even if that means those kids adhering to an insane schedule that allows no time for recovery let alone studying or having a social life. And if the coach at another school can get his kids to adhere to that insane schedule? Well, doggone it, my kids are going to do it too! We’re not going to let them have an advantage over us!

This is a remarkably stupid and short-sighted attitude.

Think of a girl who spends two hours at cross country practice, bolts down a quick dinner and then heads off to two more hours on the soccer field. Do you think she is in any condition to perform those soccer drills explosively? And without recovery time, is she going to benefit from that day’s cross country practice or be ready for the next day? Not likely.

And if she goes day after day, week after week without rest is she going to show up for soccer season feeling healthy and robust and ready to rumble? Not likely.

What if, on the other hand, her coach encouraged her to run cross country as a mental and physical break from soccer? As a way to expose her body to a different kind of training and to avoid the perils of overusing certain muscles that comes with playing the same sport twelve months a year. Wouldn’t having her show up for soccer season rested and healthy and excited offset anything she might have missed out on by not showing up exhausted night after night and trudging her way through those off-season practices and tournaments?

To be honest, I believe that there are very few coaches who will ever feel secure enough to leave their athletes alone in the off season. Therefore, I’d like to address a few remarks to the parents of athletes who are being goaded into participating in two sports at once.

Here, parents, is why you should just say no.

  1. Playing two sports at once will not get your child a scholarship. If your child lacks the freakish genetic gifts to play division I sports, overtraining them will not make up for the fact that you messed up when choosing a mate. If you chose wisely and your child does possess outstanding genetic gifts, it is even more ridiculous to over train them because fatigue and injury make fast, explosive kids look slow and average.
  2. Putting your child on a club team places the coach of their in-season sport in an untenable situation. What are we supposed to do when we know a kid is going straight from our practice to a club practice? Should we have the kid sit out our practice so they don’t show up the next day completely fried? Send them home to do homework so they don’t have to stay up until midnight? A couple of years ago we had a parent tell us that their son needed to be picked up immediately after his football game so he could go to tryouts for his travel lacrosse team. Should we have kept him out of our game so that he didn’t engage in two contact sports in one day? Or should we, like his idiot club coach, pretend that playing lacrosse and football in the same day was no big deal?
  3. Any coach who implies that your child will never start on his or her high school team if they don’t play year round is either lying or a complete moron (in which case you need to pay a visit to the athletic director). We high school coaches like to win. If a kid decides not to participate in off-season seven-on-seven tournaments because he wants to concentrate on his spring sport and then shows up for fall practice and proves that he should start on our football team, he is going to start. I have yet to meet the football coach who would sacrifice wins to punish a kid for not playing year round. I cannot imagine that soccer or basketball coaches would either.

It is time to restore some sanity to high school sports. We have kids terrified that if they take a couple of months off to play a secondary sport they’ll lose their starting spot on our team, or they’ll blow their chance to be the first 5’8” power forward ever to get a DI scholarship.

As supposedly rational adults, it is our job to remind kids that sports are meant to be fun.

Why are we so afraid to do that?

Comments 1

  1. Well said Dan. Only just recently we started a summer track camp and that was mainly for kids not involved in any activity. I always felt most of the boys were in other activities so we did not need to add to their summer of “rest”. Still true but student athletes do need to stay active after a week or two of active rest.

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