by Mitch Wilson
PE/Driver’s Ed. Teacher, Head Boys Track Coach
Rantoul High School, Rantoul, Illinois
As a young coach, I made several dumb decisions when it came to training, that was, until I met Chad Lakatos in 2008, the new head track coach at Edwardsville High School. The old saying, “you only know what you know” was definitely the case in those days. I once had our sprinters do a Fartlek because I saw our college coach doing that with the sprinters on our team. As a first year coach at PBL in 2006, our freshman football team was playing awful and practicing even worse, so we did up downs for about twenty minutes to hopefully get their attention and get them to give better effort. What do you think happened the next game? You guessed it, we played even worse, up downs did not work. Excessive conditioning has been used as a form of discipline in sports since the beginning of time, but how long does it take to recover from that conditioning? Depends on who you ask, some say 2-3 days, others say different. Coach Holler from Plainfield North has often said, “Never let today ruin tomorrow.”
During the 2009 and 2010 track seasons, I had the opportunity to be an assistant coach at Edwardsville High School under Chad Lakatos and got to see first-hand his less is more philosophy. During this time, I was also introduced to Tony Holler and heard all about “Feed the Cats”. I am proud to say that I no longer have sprinters do Fartlek’s and I cringe every time I see football coaches using up downs for conditioning (discipline).
The year 2013 was my first year back at my alma mater Rantoul High School. We had a freshman high jumper that year named Andre Strong who high jumped 6’0” at a Mahomet Indoor Mini meet in basketball shoes on a rubber gym floor. Later that year he injured his hamstring and was never the same after that. In 2015, our All-State Long Jumper George Washington tweaked his hamstring at a triangular meet in Danville in early April. We did everything we could to get George better over the next few weeks. He did not compete again until the Conference Track meet. At Sectionals George long jumped 23’1”, the next week at State George finished runner up to one of the best athletes in the Country that year, Jamari Ward of Cahokia.
I learned two valuable lessons from those two athletes. The first one was that you could be a Stallion one day and be a Snail the next day if you do not take care of your body or you are hampered by injury. The second from George was that sometimes rest is best. I heard Usain Bolt say in an interview once that Americans compete too often. Maybe there is some truth to that or maybe athletes in America do not ever really get to fully recover from the previous competition before they are off to the next one. During the 2007 football season, I was an assistant freshman football coach at Edwardsville and our starting quarterback threw two complete baseball games over the weekend for his summer travel team. On Monday at summer football workouts, he could barely throw a football 10 yards. NEVER LET TODAY RUIN TOMORROW! Stories like this have led to the IHSA Pitch Count during baseball season. At the core of sports are values of physical fitness and entertainment. However, these values may be overshadowed by the fact that we have taken sports to the extreme in America. Just Google crazy sports parents videos and you will get a better understanding of why kids no longer want to play sports in America.
On December 21st I texted, Coach Holler to ask him if he had heard of any recent articles on the topics of rest and recovery, he replied that he had not heard of any. I let Coach know that my next article would be about what we have implemented over the years to allow our athletes to rest/recover. Most coaches go to clinics or read articles to find out the latest training methods. When was the last time you heard a coach ask, how many days did you take off during the season last year?
Below is an explanation of what we do to help our athletes rest/recover here at Rantoul High School. I understand that this is not a perfect recipe. We are always looking for new ideas, how to do things better than what we have done in the past, or any cost effective way to help our athletes. We have limited resources in our community and we do not have the same benefits larger high schools, college, or pro athletes have. If you want to share ideas please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The list below are things we do with the whole team, with individuals recovering from injury, or for preventative measures. We do not necessarily use all of these every year.
1 – Days Off
Have you ever given your team the day off? Try it sometime. Motivational videos are all over social media preaching the mottos of the “Grind”, “No Days Off”, and “Hard Work”. However, you may find that your athletes enjoy it and your assistant coaches will appreciate it. If you are married or dating, go home and spend some time with your significant other, they will appreciate it as well. If you start your track season on January 20th, 2020 and go all the way through the State Track meet on May 30th, 2020 it can turn in to a long season. Sunday is typically the one day off during the week, an occasional Saturday too if you have a Friday night meet, so a day off from time to time during the week is refreshing for everyone.
We have adjusted Coach Holler’s 19 Weeks of Speed Training to fit our program. When we started using this two years ago, every day had meaning. We can now easily see where we need a day off during long stretches of the season especially in April and May, the only two warm months of our season when the bulk of our meets are.
Four years ago we started giving everyone Monday off during indoor season since most Indoor Track Meets are on Saturday I wanted to give athletes two days off after the meet and give athletes an extra day to get homework completed or stay after school to work with a teacher. The only exception to this is that most of our throwers go to the weight room on Monday because throwers enjoy lifting weights, and our distance runners meet with our distance coach and go out for a long run because you know distance runners enjoy running!
2 – Athletic Trainer – Carle Sports Medicine
Does your school have its own Athletic Trainer? At Edwardsville, we had a full time trainer on staff that was at school every day. At Rantoul, we have an athletic trainer assigned to us by Carle Sports Medicine that comes to all home Varsity athletic events and to all Varsity Football games. Athletic trainers are great resources to have at your school. Trainers provide services that can assist student-athletes in time of emergency, use prevention techniques to help avoid injuries and illnesses and rehabilitate them back to sport-specific activity.
“A recent study found that only 37 percent of public schools have full-time athletic training services, and there are even fewer at private schools at only 28 percent.”
The great thing about Carle Sports Medicine is that they have a free walk in clinic and in 2017; they opened a brand new clinic in Research Park on the campus of the University of Illinois. We have taken a few athletes to their clinic and they help athletes of all ages and grade level. This new facility has been very beneficial for athletes in our area and will be highlighted on Friday January 17th, 2020 as part of the Tolono Unity Track and Field Coaches Clinic: https://carle.org/services/sports-medicine.
If you have not been to the Central Illinois Coaches Clinic, make plans to attend this year. Tim Gateley and his crew over at Tolono run a great clinic. Here is the link to this year’s speaker list including Plainfield North Coaches Tony Holler and Andy Derks:
3 – Reflexive Performance Reset
In 2015, I attended my first Track Football Consortium at Montini High School in Lombard, IL. This is where I was first introduced to the world of Activation brought to the United States by Douglas Heel, which has now exploded into Reflexive Performance Reset: https://www.reflexiveperformance.com/
For a couple of years I would drive athletes up to see Coach Holler, ask other coaches like Kris Korfist, Josh McClurg from Clinton, and Chris Mosley from Shelbyville if they could reset our athletes at track meets. All of these people were very gracious to show our athletes the different points of RPR. We even brought in Josh McClurg (shown in picture) to Rantoul to do a little mini clinic with some of our other athletes and coaches. My thoughts on RPR is that you have to see it to believe it or have RPR done to you to know its benefits. Coach Holler did RPR on me one year and I remember feeling as if I was ready to play a game when I got off the table. It is too bad we did not know about this 20 years ago when I was still active in sports, but you only know what you know! If you cannot bring in another coach to teach your athletes about RPR then go to one of their clinics yourself, learn all about it, and bring it back to your athletes. They will forever be grateful for the knowledge!
4 – Foam Roll/Golf Ball Roll
Foam rolling has become a part of our pre-practice routine. We have ten purple foam rollers available for all athletes to get in some foam rolling before we start practice. This is another recovery tool that I wish was more popular or available 20 years ago.
Benefits of foam rolling https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/foam-rolling-how-to#1.
One of the biggest benefits I want our athletes to get out of foam rolling is increased blood flow. From 8am to 3:05pm every day our athletes have spent somewhere between 5-6 hours sitting down being passive, falling asleep, dozing off during lectures, so when they get to track practice after school we want them to get their blood pumping as soon as they get in to the locker room. Our answer is to start foam rolling as soon as possible.
Two years ago, my father had a bad case of plantar fasciitis. His doctor instructed him to use a tennis ball to roll out the bottom of his feet and if possible use a golf ball. I thought to myself, “Why are my track athletes not doing this?” My dad walks and stands most of the day and got plantar fasciitis and my athletes are running, jumping, working out a lot more than he is, so this became a preventative drill for our program. I brought in a bag of golf balls that I had not sent swimming in the bottom of the pond at the local golf course yet and every couple of weeks our athletes roll their feet out before practice. https://heelthatpain.com/plantar-fasciitis/golf-ball/
As our athletes were golf ball rolling the first time, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies from my childhood, Forrest Gump. When Forrest first meets Lieutenant Dan in Vietnam he says, “Do you know the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt,” “socks” he says, he tells them to “keep their feet dry when out on patrol.”
Athletes take care of your feet!
5 – Yoga Sessions
Do you often get ideas for your team from watching other teams, games, individual athletes, coaches, watching sports on TV? My wife often jokes that track and field is always on my mind. Not always but often times it is and I often think would that benefit my team? Think about what you were doing on November 2nd, 2016? I was glued to the TV praying to the baseball gods that the Chicago Cubs would finally win a World Series Championship for the first time since 1908! I even taught my three-year-old daughter the Go Cubs Go Song so that we could sing it together at the end of each game the Cubs won that series. What does this have anything to do with yoga? One of the heroes from the World Series that year was Jake Arrieta. During one of the games that series the announcers talked about how Jake Arrieta goes to yoga classes six days a week. My immediate thought was my team needs this.
This is one of those resources that we do not have the means to provide our athletes as often as I would like, but it is very therapeutic for teenage boys. However, at least once a month and when we get to April and May twice a month we have a local yoga instructor, Lyndsey Scott, a Rantoul alum come in and take the guys through an hour yoga session. Lyndsey is the perfect yoga instructor. She is probably the most flexible person I have ever seen (A benefit of yoga), calm and down to earth, soft-spoken (she tells our athletes in the beginning do not say a word or you will not be able to hear me), and she runs her own yoga studio here in town. https://www.facebook.com/RantoulYoga/
Our athletes enjoy it so much now that when I announce today is a yoga day they shout with excitement!
Last year I heard a couple people talking about this thing called cryotherapy. I heard them say something about -300 degrees and so I said I am sorry to bother you but can you please tell me what cryotherapy is? They were nice enough to give me a general description of it and I immediately got on my phone and googled cryotherapy and started reading everything I could about it. After spending, some time reading up on it again my immediate thought was my team needs this and I want to try it as well. So I googled Cryotherapy places near me. The closest one that came up was in Plainfield, IL (we have been there twice), but I recently found out there is a place in Wheaton, Lemont, and Indianapolis that have cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is still a relatively new concept.
Besides all of the known benefits of cryotherapy, this has been a great team-building event for us driving two hours, watching your teammates and coach stand in a -300 degree tank for a few minutes (some of them screaming like little kids). One thing you need to know if you try this with your team is that athletes under the age of 18 need parent consent. I was even brave enough to step in to the Cryotherapy Chamber!
I am also sure that improved sleep has to be one of the benefits of cryotherapy because all seven athletes we took up there were asleep right after we left Plainfield. Click on the link next to #6 to read about the benefits of Cryotherapy.
7 – Air Relax Sleeves- https://www.air-relax.com/
While at our Cryotherapy session, our athletes were able to use Norma Tec Sleeves for their legs. These sleeves fill up with air and compress the muscle. These sleeves are used by athletes all over the world and are said to help improve recovery time after a workout. Our athletes loved them so much that I started researching different products. I came across a company called Air Relax; they had great reviews, and are less than half the cost of Norma Tec. We have several athletes that use them throughout the season and we take them with us on our overnight trips and to the State Meet. We were able to purchase a pair from one of our fundraisers that we do during the season. I was talking with the SJO coach Jason Retz one day and he was talking about how his athletes are always complaining about being sore. Nutrition might be one aspect of that issue but I told him about the Air Relax sleeves and he purchased some the next week and sent me a picture of his athletes using them. I asked him what they thought and he said they were in love!
8 – Massage Gun- https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a28899740/best-massage-guns/
I have always seen athletes using these at different track meets but I was not a believer until the State Track Meet last year. After the 4×100 relay finals last year our anchor leg, Robert Buford, who was also our lead leg in the 4×400 relay had a tight quad muscle. We were trying everything we could to get that thing to loosen up and while we were in the indoor facility, Rockford Christian was warming up next to us and they had a massage gun. I asked Robert if he wanted to try that and he said yes, so I asked the Rockford Christian, coach if he would be willing to let one of my athletes borrow their massage gun and he replied, “Yes of course.” Robert was able to use that massage gun to work out some of the tightness in his quad, went out on the track, split a 49 in the 4×400 relay, and helped us achieve 3rd place and break the school record! I went back and told our athletic director about this tool and how I was now a believer. One of our purchases that our athletic director let us make for this upcoming season was a massage gun for the boys and one for the girls programs. I am quite certain they will get used frequently throughout this year.
9 – Bicycles/Spin Bikes- https://www.verywellfit.com/best-indoor-cycling-bikes-4160109
I think everyone knows that biking can be a great workout if done correctly. You cannot just pedal and coast. You have to keep pedaling the whole time and it is best to have some resistance. I think this might be where some of the bigger schools may have an advantage if they have big weight rooms or cardio rooms and have 8-10 bikes. We were fortunate to be able to purchase two of the spin bikes that are in the link attached. Not only will athletes who might be developing an injury, are injured at a meet, or maybe just to switch up the workout for some athletes use them. If you have ever been a part of or watched a spin class then you know this can be an intense workout.
10 – Pool Workouts
This is a resource that the bigger schools definitely benefit from or bigger communities that have indoor pools. We have no public indoor pool in our community. We used to have a couple of hotels that would allow us to use their pool on occasion for a small fee, but both of them have recently closed their indoor pool. We recently had a new hotel built in our community but they will not allow us to use their pool even when offering to pay for using it. When I was at Edwardsville, they have a YMCA with an indoor pool and they have now built their own indoor pool on school grounds. While I was at Centralia, they had an indoor aquatic center. When talking to our distance coach Nick Cole, about pool workouts he says, if we had a pool, our distance runners would be Aqua jogging at least two days a week. We are able to get in to our community outdoor pool sometimes later in May, but it sure would be nice to have one readily available at all times. The one thing that we have done in the past is taken a group of athletes down to the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center, which is conveniently next door to Urbana High School. While I was attending Illinois College, we had an indoor pool, a 30-person hot tub, and a steam room all in the same building. This was great for recovery and there were days where the whole track team was in the pool for practice doing one of Coach Brooks’ pool workouts. Danville High School had an exceptional athlete named Quemarii Williams that graduated last year. Throughout the last couple of years, Que dealt with some hamstring issues but he always came back after being out for a brief time and seemed to never miss a beat. When I asked him how he was able to recover so well his response was Aqua Jogging and Swimming. Danville High School has their own indoor pool and he was in the pool almost every single day of the week while he was out. Que placed 3rd in the State last year in the 3A 400 running 48.76 and he was 9th in the 200 running 22.36 but ran 22.29 in the prelims. I would say the pool workouts worked!
11 – Water/Nutrition/Sleep/Pedialyte
I believe that most people know that approximately 60% of the human body is made up of water except for teenage athletes. If you stand in the hallways before school starts, you might see one of the following: Mountain Dew, Polar Pops, Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, Takis, etc. Many of our young athletes at Rantoul have to find out the hard way (muscle cramps). Then I can educate them on the benefits of water and proper nutrition. We had two track meets in 2019 where someone on our team had a calf muscle cramp so bad that the muscle looked like a baseball. When asked how much water they had drank in the last couple of days the common response was maybe a couple. I once attended a USATF Track Clinic and during the nutrition portion, the instructor talked about Olympic Athletes drinking a gallon of water a day. I have also talked to athletic trainers who suggest half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. We have educated our athletes on all of this information and we often suggest that if you cannot drink plain water then mix it with some kind of flavor, but not drinking water is not an option. My wife and I were having a conversation recently about the overall consumption of water vs. other high fructose corn syrup drinks in the United States. We concluded that we as Americans take water for granted because it is so readily available. In America, we use water to wash our clothes, clean our cars, pressure wash our houses, make coffee, tea, and to water our fields. We even use water to create energy in the form of hydropower. In third world countries on the continent of Africa for example people are helping locals their create wells in order to provide clean drinking water. Our Rotary Club in Rantoul has collaborated with one of our retired Agricultural teachers from the high school to fund such projects. Carl Burkybile goes to Africa and helps local villages build wells to provide water for the village (https://www.hhi.org/team). That water is mainly used for drinking, cooking, and he teaches them how to grow different types of crops that will provide food for the village and the water from the well is used to help grow the crops also. In places like Africa, children are literally dying to get clean water and in America we take for granted that in any home you can turn on the faucet and get clean drinking water. We often forget that the great Mahatma Gandhi once fasted for 21 days. What kept him alive? WATER!
How many hours of sleep do your athletes get? Do you talk to your athletes about the recommended hours of sleep athletes should be getting at night? Why are so many professional athletes now endorsing mattress companies? The answer is easy it is because they understand how important sleep is to the recovery process and how less sleep can affect their performance on the field. I would not be far off by saying our best athletes are probably only getting maybe five hours of sleep at night. In today’s social media world, video games, and cell phones glued to hands, teens are lacking the correct amount of sleep needed to perform at a high level. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sleep-athletic-performance. Teens even think backwards, here is the logic from one athlete I talked to, our bus leaves at 9am on a Saturday, the athlete thought if he was able to sleep from 2am to 8am and then sleep on the bus that would be good enough for him to perform well. Needless to say, he finished in last place that day. Seven to nine hours of sleep is recommended at night and athletes in season might need more to allow the body to recover properly. When one of our athletes is injured or cramps up my first two questions are, how much water have you drank and how much sleep are you getting? Two things that are free to athletes but probably the two things they take for granted the most. As my father used to tell me when I was growing up, son there are some things that I will tell you and you will not believe and that is ok you will figure it out the hard way! It is crazy how much smarter our parents seem to be the older we get. Turn the video games off, log off Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and tell your boyfriend/girlfriend you will talk to them tomorrow, and go to SLEEP!
Our school district is 71.1% free and reduced lunch, the state average is 48.8%. Proper nutrition is not on the forefront of the families in our District, so we try to control what we can and talk about proper nutrition, provide healthy snacks, provide quality meals on our three overnight trips, and talk about what are good choices to eat before and after you compete. I realized that we had bigger issues to deal with when I was visiting with one of our athletes at their home, there was a bed in the living room, and they had no hot water. During the winter months on Tuesday nights, we practice at the U of I Armory. One year I had an athlete eat six pieces of fried chicken before we left for practice. About an hour later, the chicken ended up in the garbage can. We had a learning moment about fried foods and the amount of food you eat before you compete.
During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, I would often see athletes taking a swig of Pedialyte either during their warmups or before they got ready to go to the start line. As a father of three young kids, we are often in the kid’s section at Walmart where all of the Pedialyte is located, and there have been a few times over the years where I have been asked to bring home a bottle of Pedialyte for one of our sick kids. As I started to research, the benefits of Pedialyte for athletes I started to find out more and more athletes are turning towards Pedialyte for their hydration needs, like Odell Beckham Jr. in the picture above. Pedialyte has also collaborated with our United State Marines to help keep them hydrated during their training https://usmc-mccs.org/articles/hitt-athletes-rehydrate-with-pedialyte/. In the State of Illinois, we never know what type of weather we are going to have in April or May. Two years ago, we had snow during the second week of April. Last year at our Conference Track Meet the first week of May, we had a rain delay and highs of maybe 50 degrees. Approximately two and a half weeks later at the State Track Meet temperatures reached the high 80s. Needless to say, this was a shock to our athletes systems, so as a coaching staff we made sure our athletes had access to Pedialyte if they needed it. I have always felt like one of the worst things that can happen to an athlete is to get all the way to the State Track Meet and then not be able to compete due to dehydration or muscle cramps.
12 – Local Chiropractor
We have been very fortunate to have several volunteers, local business owners, RTHS alumni, and parents support our program and our athletes over the years in ways that people outside our program do not necessarily see on a daily basis. One of those RTHS alumni, former school board members, and local chiropractor Doug Jordahl. I have been fortunate to know Doug since I was a young kid and I have often been able to call him with questions about training or injuries and he has always taken the time to answer my questions. He has even offered to evaluate some of our athletes (with parent permission) in the past and offer any help that he can. If you are not aware, chiropractors can offer more to you than just adjusting your back. Why does Doug help our student-athletes? His response, “if I can help them recover and get back on the playing field to help RTHS then I will use my resources available to do what I can.” We are thankful to have members of our community like Doug and I am sure you can find someone in your community that cares about kid’s to help your program as well.
Doug is pictured here on the bottom left with his daughter Lindsay, signing to play college softball.
What resources do you have available at your school or in your community to help your athletes? If you are coaching in a small Central Illinois town, you might have to get creative and think outside the box. One philosophy that I have always had is that I want athletes to experience or have access to resources that they might have at the next level. I had the great pleasure a couple of months ago to sit and talk with Rodney Burkes, assistant track and field coach at Illinois State University. We got on this very topic, how do you help your athletes recover and what do you do to ensure they are getting proper rest? We were talking back and forth about what they have to offer at ISU and what some of our athletes have done here at RTHS and he was excited to hear that our athletes have been exposed to many of the tools they use at the next level. I am sure it will happen but I try not to let our athletes get to the next level and say I have no idea what this is, or I have never done this before.
These 12 rest and recovery tools we offer to our athletes are not a perfect recipe by any means. Jason Retz from SJO wrote an article about training called “Skinning the Cat”. In the article Jason, talks about how it does not matter how you skin the cat just as long as you are doing it and if you do not like how you are skinning the cat then change it. I think the same thing can be said for your rest and recovery tools for your program. It’s not what you are doing as long as your athletes are getting proper rest and they are recovering from competition and workouts properly, and if you don’t like what you are doing change it!
As always, my wife and our assistant coach Nick Cole are better at proper English than I am so I have to thank them for correcting any mistakes I made so that others can read this article easier.
Good luck in 2020!