THOSE of us of a certain age will remember when football coaches put our lives in danger to “toughen” us up just before school started in August. It was a man’s world, or so the coaches said. So they’d withhold water, sometimes handing out salt pills before practice. (That “substitute” has been debunked for decades.) Sometimes the coaches would make the kids run at the end of practice— wind sprints, gassers, whatever you called it—until some of the kids threw up, or worse. Oh yes, and practices were held twice a day.
No wonder kids were falling out all over. And sometimes one of them would make the paper. Tragically.
The NCAA, as part of its effort to increase safety for college athletes, has stopped teams from holding multiple practices “with contact” in a single day. Which is why so many colleges (such as the UofA in Fayetteville) have moved up training camp into July. The kids have to be taught formations and audibles, and without two-a-days with contact, the practices have to be stretched out.
Something tells us this is only for the good. Something like the image of the poor free safety struggling to keep it together under that shade tree all those summers ago.
According to the NCAA, which keeps up with these things, nearly 60 percent of football practice concussions happen before the season even starts. Which makes sense, in the old-school way: Coaches were trying to find the meanest, nastiest, hardest-hitting kids on the field, so let them go at it full speed before the schedule kicks in. Besides, you don’t want your starters hurt the week before the Bama game.
College football teams can still hold practice twice a day, but one of them has to be a walk-through. And if they’re honest, modern coaches will tell you that’s where the real learning occurs. It’s hard to remember your assignment on a double-Z wing fly route 55 if your bell is ringing.
“It just makes all the sense in the world,” says a coach of some note, Jim Harbaugh of Michigan.
“I don’t think you’re going to have the number of injuries” with this new rule. says a coach with a recognizable last name in Arkansas, Skip Holtz of Louisiana Tech.
Besides, training camps are no longer used to get players into shape after sitting on the couch since February. College athletes these days train all year.
One-a-days make sense. Here’s hoping every level of football follows this lead.