Next week most collegiate and high school fall sports begin practice. Conventional wisdom dictates that these sports start with a “training Camp” usually eight to ten days of two or three times a day practices. Supposedly the purpose is to get ready for the upcoming season. Frankly this is a vestige of times past when there were no off-season programs and the players had to get in shape (Not that you can get in shape in two weeks anyway). In reality what happened then and still happens today is that over the course of this training camp fatigue accumulates and the risk of injury increases. In addition the fatigue from this period carries over into the first competitions thus compromising game performance. To compound the problem it is typical to start the training with testing to determine the player’s fitness for the game (I say that somewhat facetiously). If the player fails the test then they are made to do so-called remedial work (AKA punishment) until they pass the test. They are also expected to practice thus compounding the problem of fatigue. By the time they are “in shape” the season is one third over. Here is an example from a major DI school in Field Hockey (This is more the norm than the exception)
Endurance testing; 1st day run 300 yds. in a 25 yd. distance in 1.07 ,rest 3 minutes repeat 2 more times (Must pass all 3 times), 2nd day run a mile in 6.30 rest 3 minutes repeat 2 more times (pass all 3 times). If they do not pass all the runs in the allotted time they go into remedial training, this includes the goalies.
Lets stop and think about all of this. First: It is imperative to have a strong comprehensive off-season training program that encompasses all elements of fitness to play. Second: Testing sends a powerful message. Make the test reflect the demands of the game so the players train for the game not the test. Third: The purpose of this training is specific preparation for the up coming season. Therefore the players should go into the season technically proficient, tactically sharp, fresh and ready to play.
There are many good viable solutions to this and it all starts with planning and understanding the demands of the sport. The goal here is to teach and coach to prepare to play not to punish and develop toughness. Fall championships are won in the winter and spring, not now.