Please, do not do this to your athletes

Daniel McQuaid Illinois HS Cross Country 0 Comments

Check out this video recently posted on Instagram.

As far as I can tell, this took place in the weight room at Louisiana State University, and the kid doing the squat is an LSU football player.

Watching it made me ill.

I coach high school football, and I’m old so I have a pretty good understanding of some of the traditions of the sport that have dropped by the wayside over the years.

There was a time, for example, when a concussion screen consisted of a coach holding up a couple of fingers and asking the player to count them. If the player gave the correct answer, he was considered not to be concussed and was sent back into the drill or the game.

I experienced that one myself.

I blindsided the opposing quarterback on the third play of a game my senior year, and somehow managed to give myself a concussion in the  process. I was so disoriented that for the rest of the game one of our linebackers had to lead me onto the field when it was time for us to play defense, and lead me off when our offense took over.

But, a coach held up three fingers and I got the number right, so there was no thought of taking me out of the game.

No way that happens today.

At every level of high school football there is a professional trainer roaming the sideline at all times. If a kid looks woozy, the trainer examines him. If the player shows any signs of being concussed, he is removed from that practice or game and not allowed to return even to non-contact drills until he is symptom-free and passes a computerized cognitive function test where he has to match the score he posted when he was given a similar test the first day of fall practice.

Another old football tradition had, luckily for me, been discarded shortly before I began playing high school football. That was the “only pansies need water during practice” approach to toughening up your players. Everybody has heard of the “Junction Boys,” right? A young Bear Bryant takes over at Texas A&M. Wants to run off any wussies who might still be on the roster. Takes  them out to the desert. Runs them from dawn to dusk with no water breaks. Makes them eat rattlesnake meat.

Okay, that last part I made up.

Anyway, in spite of the fact that A&M went 1-9 that year, Bryant’s water deprivation approach gained many admirers, and withholding water during practice continued as a tradition until the mid-1970’s when for some reason coaches decided to listen to various doctors who had been telling them that making kids sick and possibly killing them was not good for anyone’s football program.

So, now it is time for another idiotic football tradition to end.

I’m talking about the approach to weight lifting that you see in that LSU video.

The way that kid is hunched over as he stands up from that squat is really bad for his spine.

Take a look at the posture these lifters maintain when squatting:

Notice how they keep their torso erect? How their shoulders stay over their hips?

In order for your spine to safely bear weight, that’s the posture you need to maintain.

So, why doesn’t the LSU strength coach insist that his athletes do the lift properly, the way the world class lifters in that second vid demonstrate?

Because if he did, that kid would not be squatting six million pounds or whatever the hell he has on that bar. And football tradition dictates that squatting a lot of weight is a great way for kids to show their toughness and for strength coaches to show that they are developing manly men and not delicate flowers.

And that belief is just as moronic as thinking that depriving players of drinking water on a hot day toughens them up.

Consider this.

If that kid goes out to practice and they are about to run a play and his stance is all lopsided, you know he’s going to get a size 11 up the old poop chute from his position coach. Football coaches (and don’t forget, I’m one of them) are all about insisting that their players do things correctly. That’s discipline. That’s a winning attitude. Whether it’s your stance or your hand placement or the way you turn after making a catch, you do it right, son, or you are going to do it again and again until you get in the habit of doing it right.

That’s one of the great things about the sport, isn’t it? Every fall at high schools and colleges all over the country, coaches take a bunch of knuckle-headed teenagers and teach them the magic of discipline and attention to detail.

So, what in the heck is going on in that video? That kid is doing a technically awful back squat and putting his career in jeopardy in the process. And what is his “strength coach” doing? Cheering him on and posting a video of that idiocy to Instagram so he can show everybody what a producer of champions he is.

And by the way, none of those guys supposedly set up to spot him are going to be of any good if that weight crushes the kid. Are they all going to swoop in perfectly in sync and whisk the weight from his shoulders? Not likely.

Here’s what I propose.

Let’s train kids in the weight room the same way we do on the field. Let’s make them do things right.

In back squatting, that means maintaining the posture you see displayed by those great lifters in Houston.

But, here’s the rub.

If you want kids to lift correctly, you have to coach them the same way you do on  the practice field. If one of your players gets into the squat rack and starts hunching over and cheating on his depth, correct him!

Don’t egg him on  and post a video of that awfulness.

Make him use less weight, maybe even a bare bar, and make him do it right.

Yes, insisting on excellent technique will limit the weight kids use as they develop that technique. In back squatting, that means fewer players moving Youtube-worthy amounts of weight.

But if you want kids to build strength safely, if you want them to practice discipline and attention to detail it is absolutely the right thing to do.

Okay, I got that off my chest. Back to work, everybody.









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