Oct 5, 2017Camping Out
“Two-a-days? What is a two-a day?”
This will be something you’ll hear out of the mouths of our up-and-coming colleagues in the not-so-distant future. After decades of having these grueling August practices, the NCAA released new rules this year that essentially eliminated practicing twice in one day for football — at least having two full, heavy, padded practices anyway. For those of us who have been around awhile, we will be telling stories of tougher days to the next generation of athletic trainers, just like grandpa and grandma tell about their five mile walk to school, up hill, in the snow.
I have to be honest with you: I am the guy who always looks forward to August (actually late July now) and the start of football fall camp. I am all for the need to get bigger, faster, and stronger over the offseason, and it’s pretty amazing to watch the young guys develop physically once they get into a good strength and conditioning program. But day after day of weight training and running can become a little monotonous for the athletic trainer to watch for seven months straight. Fortunately, injury rates go down during this time period, and the focus is on training and developing specific areas of weakness in the athlete. A good, well-rounded training program is critical to injury prevention, and when done appropriately, it can actually make the life of the athletic trainer easier. But there is something special about fall camp and bringing everyone back together with one goal and a clean slate that gets me excited.
Of course, today’s rules are much different based on the knowledge we have acquired through the years about health and safety and the importance of recovery… It is all in the best interest of the long-term survival of the game that so many love.
For Texas Christian University football, fall camp is a time for long, hot, Texas days, hard work, and bonding. It’s a time to build relationships, establish trust, and build team chemistry. And not just amongst the players, either. It has to reverberate across all departments involved with football. Everyone has to be on the same page with the same goals in mind, albeit different from department to department.
I have heard the stories of three-a-days from way back when and how tough camp used to be. I have seen the movies and read the books. I think the appreciation for what those before us went through has been lost somewhere along the way. I do believe it used to be much more physically demanding in years past, but I also know we have more knowledge now than we had then.
Although I cannot personally attest to what three-a-days were like or how it was when there were no time restrictions on the amount of practice that was allowed, I do know camp was much more physically demanding on the athlete AND the staffs that worked with football when I started 24 years ago. A typical day would start at 6 a.m., and by the time the lights went out in the athletic training room, it was usually around 11 p.m. In between, you could count on treatments and taping, film review/meetings, walk-through, practice, lunch, treatments and taping, film review/meetings, walk-through, practice, dinner, meetings, and another round of treatments. Every day was Groundhog Day, and many nights were spent sleeping on your office floor rather than waste sleep time driving to and from home.
Over time, the energy that everyone had on day one would start to fade, and for some, camp became about survival. Not everyone made it through, and I am not just talking about the athletes. Camp is a time for some sports medicine professionals to realize maybe this isn’t the sport they want to pursue, given the physical and time demands.
That brings me to the bonding aspect of camp. There is a feeling when camp breaks that you have accomplished something special. You have grown closer to those around you, and together you have grown stronger and contributed to the pursuit of the dream.
Of course, today’s rules are much different based on the knowledge we have acquired through the years about health and safety and the importance of recovery. There’s no more practicing twice in one day or having live contact on back-to-back days. Mandatory days off are required, as are mandatory hours off between workouts. But it is all in the safety and best interest of the long-term survival of the game that so many love. I anticipate rules will continue to evolve in the future, and what is new and odd to us now will soon be normal to those carrying on the tradition of the game. Is fall football camp easier now than it used to be? Absolutely. Will the changes benefit the athletes and the future of the game? Most likely. But there will always be the need for fall camp and preparation for the grind of the upcoming season.
I will continue to look forward to fall camp and bonding with my brothers and sisters that share my love for the game. And we will all continue to pursue the dream shared by all at the start of camp — going undefeated, making the College Football Playoff, and winning a national championship.