Off-Season Training Key To Football Success

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As a first-year varsity head football coach in 1983 I often wondered if players and parents really understood the value of off-season training and conditioning.

Those minutes of speculation usually occurred as I was sitting mostly alone in the school weight room hoping players would show up for the summer program.

As the years passed, I learned I wasn’t the only coach more than a bit disgruntled that players weren’t taking advantage of the off-season program.

Even more disheartening was learning that their parents weren’t encouraging their sons to participate.

Coaches are also always quick to remind players that football is about who wants it the most and who works hardest in the off-season, which is why they are so adamant about summer participation.

Among the challenges most difficult for coaches to deal with is the teenagers who pound their chests saying they want to be on a championship football team, but then fail to show up for summer workouts.

I haven’t had the opportunity as yet to take in any of new Payson High School football coach Graham Ellison’s off-season workouts, but I’ve heard he’s already had to visit the home of one of his players to remind him to attend the sessions.

Coaches shouldn’t have to do that, but it happens.

Ellison hosts weightlifting from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Monday through Thursday in Wilson Dome and has stressed they are “mandatory.”

Passing league and defensive work is held 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., usually on the football field.

Let’s hope, next year’s Longhorn football players are attending, having fun and working hard. Also, let’s hope parents are encouraging them.

Rhoades unique

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch how a number of coaches operate their summer programs and what their focuses are.

Believe it or not, almost every head coach has a different philosophy about the off-season.

Former Payson High School coach Jerry Rhoades ran a top-notch off-season program as well as “zero hour” — sessions held before the first bell for classes during the entire year.

His curriculum included weightlifting, which wasn’t much different from what hundreds of other coaches around the country were doing. He also put a great deal of emphasis on agility using a speed ladder, zigzags, backpedaling, sprints and shuffles.

But where coach Rhoades really excelled was in his use of stretching, plyometrics and mobility drills. For those exercises, it wasn’t unusual for him to set up 48-inch track and field hurdles on PHS field.

But they weren’t for hurdling practice.

Rather, the players twisted and contorted themselves around, under, over and through the hurdles to the point that they sometimes looked more like a pretzel than a teen.

The mobility drills could be generally classified as “step overs” and “duck unders.”

The step overs developed hip fluidity and promoted coordination.

The general rules were to concentrate on proper posture, avoid extraneous movements and keep your head and arms still throughout the drill.

The drill was extremely valuable because football is played mostly with the hips, not the shoulders, as some believe.

The duck under strengthened the core and lower body while increasing rotational balance and agility.

Coach Rhoades said he used the hurdle drills because he learned in earlier years that many younger people were not very mobile. To correct that, the dynamic hurdle drills loosened the hips, lower back, hip flexors and hamstrings.

Coach Rhoades has moved on to become a school administrator and might not coach football this season. But you can bet the family farm there are those who coached alongside him in the past who are now incorporating hurdle mobility into their programs.

You see, coaches are among the greatest of plagiarizers — and when they see something good, they copy it.

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