A few moons ago I was a football player, and made it through every pre-season camp, from junior high through college, unscathed. Well, except for my sophomore year of college when I snapped my hamstring on the first day of two-a-days. But we don’t need to talk about that. (I’m still chagrinned!)
To help you, or your athletes, have a successful pre-season camp, I’m offering up five tips that helped me get through camp in high school in college. Some of these tips come from lessons that I learned the hard way.
1. Don’t Eat Like a Slob: I can remember the wake of pizza crust and half drank sodas left behind at the Lycoming cafeteria. One day before our afternoon practice, a teammate snuck a pizza out in his shorts. I wish I were lying—and guess what, he wasn’t a running back. Lineman, they’re always perpetuating stereotypes.
But lineman aren’t the only ones that treat football camp as their nutritional get out of jail free card—other players do it too and it’s a problem.
I know the logic. It goes like this:
“Well, I have two practices a day and we are out in the heat for both of them. I can eat anything I want and it doesn’t matter. I’m a shoulder padded he-man!”
Sabotage your nutrition and you’ll sabotage your recovery. With at least two practices a day, meetings and locker room shenanigans, you’re already behind the recovery curve. You don’t need to make it worse by cramming pizza down the hatch and washing it down with Coca-Cola.
Stick to good, lean protein sources (beef, chicken, fish, eggs) and good carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes) and veggies at your big meals. For a snack, have a protein shake with fruit or nuts.
One of my favorite post-practice snacks was a whey protein shake with two bananas.
A few basic supplements—besides protein shakes—are also great. A solid multi-vitamin or greens supplement will help keep you healthy. Get some fish oil in too. I’d list the reasons why, but there are literally so many that it’s just easier to say that it’s good for you. Seriously, take it.
Oh, and water. Drink a lot of it. To help reinforce how much water you’ll need, hold this image in your head:
The rivers are running dry, the oceans are shrinking and you can’t flush the toilet because the bowl is dry. If you don’t drink now, you’ll never drink again.
Weigh yourself before and after practice. Drink twenty ounces of water for every pound you’ve lost. Maintain your fluid balance with a few more big glasses at night.
That tip just went in a lot of directions, but now you have your bases covered.
2. Ice Baths: These gems saved my legs in college. Sure, heat feels better but it won’t do a damn thing to help you recover.
Frigid ice water helps heal muscular micro-trauma and flush waste products. Heat, conversely, does the exact opposite; it promotes inflammation, making the micro-trauma worse—lengthening recovery time.
As with most things in life, you have to get outside the teddy bear laden comfort zone to make progress. Nancy.
I won’t piss down your leg and tell you it’s raining—ice baths suck until you go numb; and that takes a few minutes. But stay in there for eight to ten minutes and submerge yourself up to your chest.
I’m guessing that you’re starting to fret about your precious man jewels. Don’t worry—they’re safe. Plus, there’s nothing you can do to protect them. Cupping them with your hands doesn’t work. I’ve tried.
Your feet will actually cause you more discomfort than your beloved testes. But there’s a solution—it’s called manning up and toughing it out. Socks won’t help—you’ll just have to deal with it.
The best time to hop in the ice water and make cold ball player bisque is immediately following practice. If that’s impossible, make sure you have an ice bath later that evening.
3. Focus: Great ball players have the ability to intently focus. That’s not ground breaking information; it’s true for all disciplines—sport or otherwise.
What happens, though, when you’re at football practice and unfocused? It’s likely that you’ll make a mistake, or cause a teammate to make a mistake. The result is a physical punishment of some sort.
That’s it! You’ve earned yourself some grass drills!
Son of a bitch.
Yep, we’ve all been there.
My high school coach had a creatively sadistic view of punishment. He called his Supervised Opportunity Periods—S.O.P.s for short. One practice during my junior year he gave me a lot of opportunity.
It was a special teams practice and we were practicing punt. I was given the honorable and dutiful job of up-back, also known as personal protector. I’d set the blocking, call the cadence and then make sure that I sealed any leaks in the line. On this fateful day, my focus was lacking. At one point he asked me if it was just my hair that rusted or if my brain got it too. I had that coming.
I called the wrong blocking schemes, failed to seal leaks and was responsible for three blocked punts. In short, I sucked. As a gracious reward for my miserable attempt at mediocrity I was awarded a few S.O.P.s.
Now to be sure that we’re clear—an S.O.P. wasn’t your typical round of twenty grass drills or a few measly sets of push-ups. One granted an opportunity was given an agility back to hold overhead as he ran the perimeter of the field. Before you start murmuring that doesn’t sound so bad under your breath consider this—helmet and shoulder pads had to be on and strapped. If the agility pad touched the helmet the round didn’t count and had to be repeated.
I was prescribed three consecutive S.O.P.s for my less than stellar special teams performance, but I ended up doing four because the bag touched my helmet on my second run. Poop.
That day, my body was put under a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress because I didn’t have my head on straight. Like we talked about in the last section, during football camp you’re already behind the recovery curve. Screw ups due to lack of focus that result in punishments are devastating. They can wreck your body for days.
Before you walk on to the stripes each day put your mind in the right place. You owe it to yourself and your teammates.
Coach Stoker, rest in peace.
4. Keep Moving: Much like camp isn’t an excuse to bombard your digestive tract with litter, off days aren’t a free pass to go catatonic on the couch.
As much as you’ll want to, avoid sleeping until noon and then watching Ren and Stimpy re-runs while eating Fruity Pebbles from the BIGGEST BOWL IN THE HOUSE.
Keep your schedule. If you have to get up at 7 a.m. every morning for practice—do it on your off days too. Then, take a long walk, do some mobility training and eat a good breakfast.
Fill the rest of your day with light activity. Help with yard work or cleaning the house, just, for the love of everything sacred; don’t spend the day on the couch!
Movement will promote blood flow that gets healing nutrients to your muscles. It will also keep your body in rhythm. Shut down for a day and it will be hard to warm up the jets for practice.
5. Forget Being Balanced: This balance has nothing to do with your equilibrium, but with the elements that compose your life.
Psychologists, gurus and other experts will tell you that to be happy you need have balance in your life—not centralize your life based on one aspect of it. Forget what they say.
For the next two weeks football is your only concern. Sure, pay homage to your God and your family, but outside of them, nothing else exists.
Work and friends outside of the football team will steal your focus and limit your potential for greatness. Forget them.
You need your focus and people that don’t understand your purpose will steal it from you. Surround yourself with the people that love you and understand what you want to accomplish. Its two weeks—cut away the rest of the world—trust me, you’ll live.
Do it for yourself and do it for your team. You’ll come out a healthier, better and more focused football player.
I’ll be honest with you, I screwed up a lot of times during my football career; and I’ve screwed up as a coach. I’m offering these five tips so that you can avoid the mistakes that limited my success.
Have a great season. (4579)