Jan 31, 2017The Bowl Game Experience
Photo by Azyrii via Wikimedia Commons
It’s early February, and winter workouts have just begun. Your focus is on rehabbing players injured during the regular season, supervising lifting and conditioning workouts, recruiting weekends, and re-evaluating the previous season in hopes of identifying what you can improve on to make the team better. What lies ahead of winter workouts are spring practices, summer conditioning, fall camp, 12 regular season games, and, hopefully, a conference championship game and a bowl game if everything comes together for your team. That latter achievement is something we all work for and want. It’s the reward for the previous 11 months of hard work and commitment: the bowl game experience.
There is no longer an “offseason” in college football. If you are not in the playing season, you are preparing for it. Countless hours are spent together training January through July in preparation for fall, and fall is spent fighting for enough wins to qualify for a bowl game. Everyone has the same goal week one — everyone is fighting to get to bowl season, and everyone believes they can win the national championship. Granted, bowl games extend your already long and challenging season an additional two to five weeks depending on when you play, but it’s worth it. In my tenure at Texas Christian University, I’ve been to more than 10 bowl games, and I can honestly say I have never been to a bad one.
That being said, qualifying for a bowl game brings additional, yet welcome, responsibilities for the athletic training staff. Step one is planning and begins with a site visit. It is important to identify your practice facility and what will be available to you and your staff. For the TCU staff, we look for things at the practice site such as field surface, ice and water sources, storage space, available athletic training room space, and distance from hospitals. It’s important to meet the athletic training staff at your site, as they are critical to your weeklong transition to the new environment.
Based on what is available to you on your site visit, you can begin preparations for what you will need to bring to the site from home to ensure you can still provide the same level of care your athletes have become accustomed to. I am probably guilty of over-packing, but this has come from years of experience. At bowl games, we are usually playing a long way from home, so I prefer to have everything we need instead of relying on others to provide it for us.
The goal is to have a plan so you are prepared for any situation that may arise, and your athletes receive the same level of care during bowl week as they would at home.
One challenge is making sure we have enough Gatorade products on hand. We go through a lot of Gatorade products during bowl week and on game day, but it’s difficult to travel with such large quantities. A solution we’ve found is to have our product drop-shipped to our practice site, hotel, or the stadium in advance of our arrival.
It’s likely you will set up your main treatment facility at the team hotel. Bowl hotels are used to hosting teams and are usually very accommodating. Taping and treatment tables, ice and water, towels, and even access to electrical outlets need to be accounted for in planning. Security and privacy need to be taken into account at the hotel, as well. You need to acquire emergency action plans and addresses for local hospitals, imaging facilities, and a 24-hour pharmacy. The goal is to have a plan so you are prepared for any situation that may arise, and your athletes receive the same level of care during bowl week as they would at home. Team physicians and athletic training students travel with the team as well, so although the setting has changed, it is still very familiar.
Schedules can be challenging during the week before the game due to bowl game activities, so taping, treatment, and rehab times have to be built in around team functions and practices. Similar to being at home, the medical staff is available to the student-athletes pretty much 24/7. Oddly enough, it is actually easier to get a hold of players since we are all under one roof after hours. Fortunately, our staff has been together a long time, and football operations does an amazing job of assisting and meeting all of our needs.
Once the day before the bowl game arrives, we switch more into “away game mode.” For the TCU athletic training staff, this means breaking down the practice and hotel sites and transferring what we need from those sites to the game site. Everything else goes back to TCU on the truck. Again, the stadium has been investigated in advance, so we know how much space we will have and what is available to us. Stadium set up is accomplished on this day, as well.
Finally, the bowl game arrives, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Game day is like any other with a little more pageantry involved. All that is really left to do is ice product down and set up the field, which is our typical home or road game routine anyway.
I personally enjoy the activities of bowl week, such as staying in the hotel, bowl functions, new restaurants, and sightseeing if time permits. Plus, I like having the opportunity to play a team you have not seen before and even make some new friends. Most bowls do a great job of making you feel welcome and provide activities for the team, as well as you and your family. It really is a reward for all the work you have been putting in since January. Like I said, there is no bad bowl game. When it is over you can finally breathe a little easier. That is, until winter workouts begin a few weeks later –