Many folks, including me, will too often focus on the destination more than the trip.  More on results than process.  The end more than the means.

This is epidemic in sports, on all levels.  There’s so much focus on the postseason that it overshadows the regular season.

In contrast, in educational athletics, we are supposed to hold to the principle that opportunities for teaching and learning are as plentiful, maybe more so, in regular season as in tournaments, at subvarsity levels as at varsity, during practices as during games.

This disease affects football as much as any high school sport.  There’s been too much focus on the end of the season – playoffs.  Postseason tournaments have been the demise of many great Thanksgiving Day high school football classics across the country.  Playoffs continue to ruin rivalries and collapse conferences nationwide.

And, disturbingly, the focus on the end of the season misses what is most wrong with football, and may be most threatening to its future.  It’s practice.  Specifically, what’s allowed during preseason practice and then at practice throughout the season.

We can predict that, in high school football’s future, two-a-day practices will be fewer, practice hours will be shorter and activities will be different. Among proposals we will be presented (and should seriously consider) will be:

  • Increasing the number of days without pads at the start of the season from three days to four or even five.
  • Prohibiting two-a-day practices entirely, or at least on consecutive days.
  • Limiting the number of minutes of practice on any one day.
  • Restricting contact drills to a certain number of minutes each week.

If this all sounds silly or radical, remember that the NCAA and NFL are already making such changes.  NFL players face contact in practice on only 14 days during a 17-week regular season.  Meanwhile, many high school coaches have kids knocking heads and bruising bodies two to four days a week, all season long.  Giving critics the impression that interscholastic football for teens is more brutal than the higher levels of football for grown men.  Inviting interference from people who think they know better.

Actually, we know better; and we need to do better.  Soon.

Posted in: Football


Clay Pelham
# Clay Pelham
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 2:46 PM
I'm sorry but I disagree with 95% of what is said in this piece. When I started coaching football in 1991 there were 2 and 1/2 weeks of two-a-days, today you get 1 and a half tops. Now you want to talk about player safety and restricting practice more than it is now would put that in jeopardy. I as a coach worry that the limited time that we have now puts our kids in a bad spot and it rushes us as coaches to find the time for conditioning and football aspects. Prohibting two-a-days would be a MAJOR problem. Leave things alone...too many people think they know what is best...they don't. Nobody is out there punishing children just for the fun of it. This isn't 1960...any Coach with a brain is doing things the right way...with the limited amount of time they have.
RC Stone
# RC Stone
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 5:22 PM
Limiting practice for HS players is different than limiting practice for pros. HS players need the practice time to get in good physical condition. Also, players need to spend more time on learning proper techniques for blocking and tackling in order to cut down on injuries.
Coaches spend an inordinate amount of time on scrimmaging already. If you cut down practice time, many will just eliminate more time working on techniques and fundamentals.
Jim L
# Jim L
Tuesday, March 20, 2012 8:23 PM
I can't agree more with this article. Everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses. If they are practicing 20 hours I need to also. Players at most High Schools have access to year round weight training and conditioning so I don't see the argument of needing it as valid. Yes players need to get into football shape, but banging heads for a longer time is not the answer. Blocking and tackling can be taught with drills that are low impact. With the emphasis on concussions and evidence coming forth that players receive more concussive hits in practice than in games it is time for coaches at all levels to take a long hard look at how things are being down. Before somebody with no knowledge of what really needs to be down steps in and passes some form of legislation that changes football as we know it.
Scott Farley
# Scott Farley
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 7:45 AM
I normally agree with the majority of Jack Robert's positions on issues regarding HS athletics. Not so in this case. To compare early season HS practice with college and pro is invalid. We in HS football in Michigan currently have less than 3 weeks of official practice to prepare for our 1st game. College and pro programs have much more time, with more experienced and skilled players. We need that time to properly teach safe blocking and tackling techniques, as well as condition and prepare a TEAM. Jack is right about one thing. It is on the practice field where most of the great teaching and learning happens in HS football. To further restrict that would lessen the effectiveness of the game's ability to teach young men the lessons football has to offer. If coaches are excessive and unsafe in their methods, administrators need to deal with those coaches. More restrictive rules are not the answer.
Sean Moran
# Sean Moran
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 9:09 AM
Restricting practice time and contact time will do two things: promote injury; and reduce quality.

Coaches who have done their homework understand that most of what gets accomplished on the practice field has little to do with full-contact drills. But there are two fundamental flaws with these proposals: 1.) The MHSAA should not feel it has the authority to dictate policy in this manner; and 2.) Limiting time and contact will promote injury and cause a decrease in quality on the field.

In recent years the MHSAA has taken the reins on some pretty banal things. One thing that comes to mind is the current sideline policy that, at times, seems to overshadow actual game play. There are others, but this is not the forum for that. The point is, there is a time to recognize when things are good--and then leave them alone until they get bad.

On a team with upwards of 40-70 players (or more), coaches need the time to ensure that each player is properly prepared to enter a game without fear of injury--and with proper technical aptitude. These same coaches also need time to ensure that their team is prepared to win. In order to do this, repetitions are not divvied equally. When the MHSAA reduces practice time, either quality will be reduced with it--or safety.
# Rsh
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:14 AM
"Restricting practice time and contact time will do two things: promote injury; and reduce quality."

How can we look at the state of Texas and believe this..

The UIL in Texas limits teams to 8 hours per week. period.. end of story. Yet they continue to produce out standing talent and have teams that play at the highest level.
Shawn Griffith
# Shawn Griffith
Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:26 AM
Let's not bring up Texas without considering spring drills and summer 7 on 7 restrictions or lack there of. There is no offseason in Texas and it might be 8 hours of practice a week, but that is 52 weeks out of the year.

I remember back in the day, we did have five days of no pads in August and went to three I believe due to adding a round in the playoffs making the regular season opener move up a week.

We have some of the finest coaches in the country here in Michigan. I think some of the trust needs to be placed in their able hands. I was also unaware of any of this being a huge issue.
coach S
# coach S
Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:34 PM
If we want safety then let coaches use things like full sized blocking and tackling dummies along with sleds all summer...let us have time to teach kids the safe way to tackle and block and fall to the ground ect...where to place your head, eyes up...instead we say no pads-no blocking dummies no sleds so the chance to teach proper and safe technique is very limited...sorry but the thoughts by Mr Roberst are backwards to what it takes to teach kids how to lay the game in a safe manor...why not ask some coaches what they think? Allow us to set up policy and limit to practice time but...give us some pre-season time to just teach...
Then I think the goal of safety can be reached...once the season starts it the pressure is on to win. Unfortunately coaches get fired for losing games....not being nice guys. The bottom line...let coaches have time to teach kids how to hit and the game will be safer.
Noel Ford
# Noel Ford
Friday, March 23, 2012 6:39 AM
This is a very poor idea. There are plenty of limits already in place. Perhaps we should also go to just flag football and all games are ties, no scoring. Football teaches young men real life skills, these include HARD work, discipline, and commitment. Let's not "sissify" this sport now!!
Chad Phillips
# Chad Phillips
Sunday, March 25, 2012 7:44 PM
I think instead of limiting two-a-days, you could require that one of the two be a helmet only practice. That would help with the contact issue and the heat issue. We cannot really compare ourselves with the NFL when they have all those preseason games and we have about 3 weeks total to get a team ready. That is only 12 practices with pads.

I agree with the statement regarding easing the rules for summer time. Let's move to a system where we have a certain number of days to do football activities (say 10), and maybe allow shoulder pads during that time so blocking on sleds can be worked on.

The comparision to Texas cannot be taken seriously. They have a lot more time with their players. Even the younger players play in spring leagues. They have a lot more than the 12 days I mentioned to prepare their kids.

I think the first thing that should be done to help with player safety is to outlaw the designed crack block. That is the most dangerous play in football, and no one even discusses it. It is odd we are worried about the sideline but right in front of everyone teams design plays that cause a kid to get hit without ever knowing it is coming. We lost 3 players in one game to concussion. The other thing to look at would be how to limit the huge crack back type blocking that happens on interceptions and broken plays. There is a lot to be done on playe safety. I wish that there was a way that the people in the trenches (coaching) could help resolve this issue.
Wes Wishart
# Wes Wishart
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 8:03 AM
I have been coaching for 45 years. Not only do the high schools have a tendency to gear everything toward post-season play, but also our state has cut our pre-season practice time since the playoffs were expanded. I feel that this has caused some coaches to increase contact drills during pre-season practice time. I am in favor of a rule to limit contact in practice, but I believe that players need to be in helmet and shoulder pads for their protection. Likewise, I would be willing to be on any panel to discuss this issue.

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