Jan 2, 2020
Adding variety to in-season training programs
By Training & Conditioning

In-season training can be tricky. For one thing, maintaining strength can be essential to your athletes’ health and finishing strong. But at the same time, in-season training is often toned down, boring and repetitive.

So, how do you mix things up keep players engaged?

Mike Gentry, former strength coach for the Virginia Tech University football team, has some suggestions.

Let players lead 

running shoes
Photo: Aman Jakhar, Pexels

By letting athletes choose some of the exercises, they are more likely to focus and engage. As a coach, it can be easy to stick with the same routine, so asking athletes to pick some of the exercises can mix things up. Gentry recommends doing this on the spot in front of the other players. He also says to give this responsibility to a variety of players, not just seniors or team captains.

Along with letting them occasionally pick exercises, coaches can include athletes by picking someone to lead the group through a certain drill. For example, if you’re jumping rope, have everybody shadow the leader throughout the exercise. The point isn’t to embarrass anyone, so try to choose a player that has some skill or is proficient in the exercise. This helps the rest of the group see the proper way to perform a certain movement, and you may be surprised to see how good of a leader one of your athletes might be. Giving your athletes these opportunities can also help to lighten the mood and provide a laugh or two.

In-season training competitions

Late in the season, training can become repetitive and slow. Adding some competition can be one of the best ways to liven things up. It requires only a minor adjustment to your regular routine.

Gentry suggests picking a low-risk exercise, such as bodyweight pull-ups, body weight dips or dumbbell bench presses, and creating three to four clubs that the athletes can strive for. The top club can be for those “elite” athletes who can lift the most weight or perform the most reps. The rest of the clubs descend from there.

   » RELATED: In-season training for the Syracuse football team

The goal is to have fun. Gentry said printing photos that represent each club, or having each club choose a theme, can keep things light. During the competitions, coaching staffs can get involved by cheering on athletes, being judges and spotters, and providing commentary. You don’t necessarily need to award any prizes to the winners — competing with their peers is often enough motivation — but writing or posting the names of winners in the locker room or weight room can be a good way to celebrate their achievements and give other athletes something to strive for.

Conditioning relays

A relay race can be just as effective as your typical conditioning work, but it’s likely to be much more fun and exciting for your athletes. Here’s a sample relay race that Gentry has used:

    1. Form eight-person teams, grouping players together at similar position types.
    2. On a football field, place four players behind the sideline between the 5-yard marks. Across the field behind the opposite sideline are the relay team’s other four players, who are also between the sidelines.
    3. You will use most of the practice field to set this up. Have your assistants and managers help get it organized.
    4. On one sideline, give the lead runner a football (or another ball depending on the sport).
    5. On your command, the player sprints across the field and hands off or tosses the ball to their counterpart on the opposite sideline. The ball transfer should happen between the sideline and the numbers.
    6. The new person sprints across the field to hand off the ball and keep the relay going. After handing off, the sprinter goes to the back of the four-person line. The relay continues until the prescribed number of reps are met by each member of every relay team.

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