Sport has become a year-round endeavor. At the younger levels, I would highly encourage giving kids a few months off after the season. So many times, I hear kids saying they cramming games in to make the season as long as possible (this is generally true in sports like baseball and basketball more so than football). Because of the busy nature of the season, getting some proper rest in the off-season from the sport is crucial to allowing the body to recover, decrease the chances of burnout, and decrease the risk of overuse injuries. However, as an athlete gets older, and begins to enter the high school arena, the off-season becomes critical for reasons other than rest.
While it is important for high school football players to rest during the off-season, it is also important for them to train. Let me make clear that training does not mean 7 days a week of conditioning, lifting, and all-out effort. An off-season training regimen means 3-5 sessions per week of about 60-75 minutes, focusing on movement quality, soft tissue work, and the appropriate strength, power, and speed exercises, with conditioning added in a few months before the season starts. In addition to these training sessions, those who play skill-intensive positions like quarterback, kicker, punter, and receiver, should spend a few hours each week on skill development.
By making use of the off-season, we allow the athlete to do 2 major things: develop fundamentals and work on process orientated drills, and increase physical outputs.
Developing Fundamentals: During the season, players are forced to practice under a results-orientated microscope. They worry about the outcome of their movement, not the process of how they execute a skill. During the season, this is ok, so long as we understand the bigger picture. A quarterback who needs to make a grip change will most likely struggle for a few days, or even weeks, as he makes that change. During the season, this could be disastrous, impede drills, and potentially cost him his job. That’s why so many coaches and players shy away from making certain fundamentals changes during the season. However, that also means every repetition that quarterback takes during the season is ingraining the wrong mechanics. Take each off-season to make those mechanic changes, where the athlete can worry about developing the skill and not have to be concerned about the result until a few weeks into the process.
Increasing Physical Outputs: It is near impossible to gain speed, power, or strength during the season. With the rigors of games and practices, the only thing a player can really hope to do from a strength standpoint is maintain. The time to get faster, stronger, bigger, and more powerful is the off-season. And, a well-designed training program will also help reduce the risk of injury. When signing up for a program, just be sure that your coach or trainer is teaching lifts correctly, creating an individualized program that fits your needs and abilities, has analyzed your body for biomechanical integrity, and is addressing any physical limitations you might have. A good training program can reduce risk of injury, increase your physical outputs, and get you ready for your season. A bad training program with a coach who doesn’t know how to program correctly could cost you your season.
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SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.