It's The Winter Time...And The Livin' Ain't Easy
For the past 25 or 30 years college football has become a year round pursuit for coaches and players alike. There is no “off” season.
It begins right after a team’s bowl game, if they go to one. (Of Note: Roughly 2/3 of teams go to a bowl game--if men’s basketball had the same standards for the NCAA Tournament it would include roughly 230 teams).
The football offseason is broken down into 4 distinct segments each with its own goals:
1. Winter Workouts—improve individual strength, speed and agility with some emphasis on team-building.
2. Spring Practice—improve techniques, make additions or changes to schemes and start to evaluate players for the season.
3. Summer Workouts—maximize strength gains and reach peak cardio shape heading into preseason practice.
4. Preseason Practice—make final player evaluations, finalize all basic schemes for the season, test toughness and heart in the heat of August.
February is peak winter workout time for most schools. Coaches are done with off-campus recruiting and are involved in these workouts. Most start in the wee morning hours (think 6 a.m. or earlier). These workouts are half of the equation—time spent in the weight room is the other component of this time of year.
Over the years I’ve observed offseason workouts at places like Florida State, UCLA, Texas and Alabama and coached them at Virginia, UConn, JMU and Penn State. The theme is universal--coaches push performance to improve each player’s athleticism. Drills are designed to improve speed, explosiveness, flexibility and change of direction.
Most schools have a similar template. They split the team into groups—usually by position. They set up a circuit of multiple stations of drills focused on techniques to improve specific areas. Many schools play music during these stations. After all, misery does love a good soundtrack.
When the high-intensity rotation is over there is a tough conditioning run. But it’s not over yet. Like all good entertainers coaches like to end on a high note, usually with some sort of competition to test them physically and mentally.
Florida State had wrestling mat drills. At Virginia we ended with a game of “Simon Says” to see who could mentally focus while exhausted. Texas awarded points to groups for their effort. At Penn State guys who “dogged it” had to don an orange pullover. That was changed to recognize outstanding effort with a special t-shirt they wore and fought to retain in the next workout.
Other fun finale activities include tug of war, tire flip races, tire pulls and relay races.
Despite the fun finales coaches try, no one relishes the rite of passage that is winter workouts. Up north players get out of a warm bed to cross a cold campus while most everyone else is asleep (and keep in mind most everyone—coaches included--wake ten times during the night looking at the clock in a panic).
But fun or not, make no mistake, a team’s preparation on these mornings sets the foundation for success the next season.
So when you go to bed next week think about how much you love college football. Then remember the guys in winter taking the difficult first steps in a long march towards the payoff of game day. As much as you love college football, they have to love it even more.