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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Junction Boy Days are Over

The Junction Boy Days Are Over 

It's that time of the year again! Football Season is upon us!  This is a revamped article from a rant I had a few years back about the old school coaching philosophy of running players into the ground during training camps or preseason. I'm sure all of you have heard of the term "Junction Boys" in one form or another which was given to those who survived Bear Bryant's summer football camp at Texas A&M University.  The camp was famous for its tough conditioning drills, grueling hot temperatures and extreme field conditions.  Bear Bryant created the camp because when he took the coaching job at Texas A&M he thought the players were soft and needed a summer camp to "toughen" them up.  He decided to host a summer camp in Junction, TX that focused on intense, long workouts with minimal water breaks and recovery time.  The camp was intended to weed out the weak ones and build mental toughness. And it did just that as several players ultimately quit or transferred to another school after the camp but whether or not that was a good thing is up to you to decide. But, is it really worth it to beat your players down and hope they improve?

Luckily camps and practices like this are becoming a dated strategy as they really have no place in today's world of sports.  I'm okay with the idea of building mental toughness but overworking your players and depriving them of necessary things such as water breaks and rest time, is only going to A) Decrease performance and/or B) Injure them. In addition, mental toughness will only get you so far, after that you need to rely on athletic ability and fully rested/recovered players which comes from well structured practices.

I think that coaches are slowly steering away from these old-school strategies and realizing that proper practice management and nutritional strategies are far more effective than running someone until they puke.  It's important for coaches to monitor their athletes and adjust their coaching philosophy and practices accordingly. Just as science evolves with new theories and concepts, sport strategies and practices schemes too need to evolve as well.

I'd say my biggest pet peeve is when coaches deprive their players of water during practice.  Not only will the players continue to get worse without fluids some of them could become severely dehydrated and suffer heat related complications.  Players will perform much better if they are well hydrated which will allow them to execute and finish drills at a higher level.  Another flawed strategy is not providing players adequate rest and recovery time in between practices.  Using conditioning or extra practices as a punishment for poor performance could just be adding fuel to the fire if athletes are over trained and not recovering properly. 

Here at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse we are combining our two favorite things: Sports and Science and are in the midst of an athlete monitoring study during training camp for our football team. We are tracking their daily training load during practice (distance traveled, core temp, heart rate etc),monitoring hydration status, how well they recover from each practice, changes in body composition, power, metabolic rate and what they are eating.  We provide daily reports to the coaching staff on how the guys are recovering and tolerating training camp. Subsequently coaches are then making changes to the practice schedule if need be.  This is the ultimate set-up for getting the most out of the athletes and making sure they are positively adapting to the demands of training. 

Now if you are a coach and don't have access to fancy monitoring equipment, lab equipment and science nerds like us, there is still a way to monitor the training demands of practice: JUST ASK THEM. We have thousands of dollars of equipment to get the data we need however we found that all the physiological responses we monitor correlate very well with subjective markers of recovery. In other words, if you just ask your athletes after practice or the next day "How do you feel or how hard was yesterday's practice?" and then adjust accordingly, you should be just fine.  I agree that in order to improve you must push yourself harder that you did the day before and constantly strive to do better but there is a fine line between working hard and overdoing it.  I also agree that mental toughness is a necessity in sports and often times separates the winners from the losers but it can be achieved through hard work and determination rather than extreme measures.

In summary, if you know of a coach who is stuck in an old-school mindset and refuses to adapt to the evolving world of sports, explain to them they are doing more harm than good and not allowing their players to reach their full potential and tell them to read our research!
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