Nov 3, 2016
Every Day is Game Day

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

It can be challenging to keep football players motivated during long, hot offseason workouts. To help his athletes get through the dog days of summer, Evan Simon, MS, CSCS, SCCC, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Oregon State University, turned the team’s strength and conditioning work into a mock season and awarded “wins” or “losses” based on performance.

Simon first utilized this tactic in 2011 when he was with Utah State University’s program. “The team had gone 4-8 each of the previous two seasons, and the goal for the upcoming year was to qualify for a bowl game,” he says. “To help players meet those new expectations, I wanted to shake up the offseason. I noticed that we could break up the summer workout schedule to reflect our 12 regular season contests and a bowl game. The players and coaches loved the idea.”

The Aggies finished the 2011 mock summer season 13-0, which Simon believes was a catalyst for a 7-5 regular season capped by the team’s first bowl appearance in 14 years. Although Simon didn’t bring the tradition with him when he and Head Coach Gary Andersen moved on to the University of Wisconsin, he saw an opportunity to reintroduce it after the duo’s first year with the Beavers.

“We knew we were going to need players to step up after a disappointing 2015 season, and I knew the competition would be a big motivator,” Simon says. “So I talked to Coach Andersen, and we agreed to bring it back.”

In the system, every two-and-a-half days of summer work is equal to one “game.” Based on players’ showings during conditioning drills and lifting, Simon awards touchdowns or field goals to either the Beavers or their opponents. At the end of the game, the score is tallied up to see which side wins.

To make the mock season more realistic, Simon ties his teaching cues to the teams the Beavers will face. “I don’t tailor the work specifically to an opponent,” Simon says. “But I’ll tell the players, ‘The fatigue you’re feeling on this sprint is what you’re going to be feeling in the third quarter at Stanford University in week nine. Get through it here, and you can get through it there.’”

Another key to making the mock season successful is focusing on intangibles rather than hitting specific weights and times. “I don’t want the players to think, ‘If I hit a certain time on a run, it’s worth a touchdown,’” Simon says. “I’m looking at other things: Are they giving maximum effort, using proper technique, and responding to our coaching cues?

“For example, if a player runs through the finish line in a drill and has good body language afterward, that’s going to result in points for the team,” he continues. “But if the player slows up at the end of a sprint or doesn’t listen to our instructions, the opponent will get points, even if the player finishes with a great time.”

The mock season also encourages teammates to support each other. “Let’s say an athlete walks back to the weightroom from the drinking fountain. I’m going to call him out and say, ‘You have to pick it up. We always jog back from getting water,’” Simon says. “By bringing attention to it, all the players know that someone made a mistake and that the other team has scored.

“If they ignore it and go back to doing their own thing, it’s going to be a touchdown for the opponent,” he continues. “Yet if they reinforce what I’m saying and tell their teammate, ‘We know you’re tired. We all are. We can get through this together,’ it’s only going to be a field goal. That reinforces the importance of always having each other’s backs, even during training.”

This past mock season was a success for the Beavers, who went 9-4, including wins over rival University of Oregon and in a bowl game. “I probably could have scored those four losses as wins,” Simon admits. “However, when the result can go either way, and I notice areas for improvement, the players benefit more from a loss. It allows me to emphasize how they can get better, and it fires the guys up to work even harder the next game to earn a win.”

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