This year I was blessed with an opportunity to have autonomy to oversee our JH football team’s pregame warm-up and conditioning. Being around the program for two previous years I felt a few changes could benefit the program and players. In my observation, I noticed a few things in the past that seemed to hinder the previous teams. For example, lots of knee issues, soft tissue problems, and lack of team speed. To address these problems, I implemented three strategies I felt would help.
First, during the junior high years, boys are starting to go through many changes hormonally, and as a result, they experience Peak High Velocity. PHV is when youth have their greatest and fastest growth spurts and tend to have achy knees and legs. Understanding that, I limited the amount and type of plyometrics we performed in practice and warm-ups. Also, at this age, many kids lack proper mechanics and have poor landing form like collapsing arches and valgus knees. So, we eliminated jump squats and replaced them with snap downs. With this one change, we eliminated the plaguing knee problems they experienced in the past. As a side benefit, it allowed us to work on landing mechanics as well.
With fewer knee problems, players missed fewer practices, a win for the team and the athlete.
Second, I totally revamped the warm-up. The first thing I did was no more individual warm-up groups before practice. I wanted them warming up together which guaranteed kids weren’t missing out on this crucial start to practice. I also changed the name to “Activation Period”, which I borrowed from Coach Croc in San Antonio. I wanted the mindset to be: “get ready to perform” not “warm-up”. It seems small, but coaches know how kids react to the word “warm-up” and it did change the mindset of our athletes. This activation process was to implement the RAMP protocol: Raise HR, Activate the muscles, Mobilize (help increase range of motion), and Potentiate (movement and speed of the game/practice). This process only took about 10-12 minutes with 35-40 athletes.
Finally, this was the biggie, Team Speed. In the past, we had some fast athletes, but the overall team speed was poor. As most coaches know, as the season goes on, while the team may be more efficient, overall they just seem slower, due to fatigue, soft tissue problems, and injuries. We used the, less is more, philosophy. Being in Tomball Texas, at the start of camp it’s HOT, especially this year. We were under UIL heat protocol in almost every practice. However, this actually worked in our favor. With limited time in practice, we had to focus on the essentials, which were the fundamentals. When we did get extra time, we used it to “condition”. I took some ideas from Brian Kula (Christian McCaffrey’s speed coach), Les Spellman and Tony Holler to “full-speed sprint” our athletes, record times, rank results, and publish for the athletes to see. The results were remarkable, and the kids loved it.
Our game schedule was also erratic this year. We had games on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. That rigor alone could have sunk us. We also dealt with a stomach bug that went through the team twice.
The goal was to sprint, at a minimum, one time a week, plus label the game day as a sprint day. Sometimes I had them sprint on Saturday if we had an early week game. On those weekends, the players were required to send me their timed results. (Those numbers were kept in a separate category because I could not trust the accuracy of distance and time, so they were not in the final calculations, but they did get a sprint day.)
On Sprint days, after our activation period, we divided the team into three lines. One was linemen and the other two, skill positions. The lineman ran 30 yards and we hand recorded the last 20-yard fly. The skill athletes ran a 40 and we hand timed the last 20-yard fly. Each group stayed the same for each test and the same coach timed them for each sprint. The athletes were also on grass, in football cleats and football pants for the testing (which makes the results even more impressive). The athletes rested a minimum of three minutes between and then repeated the sprint 4 total times. Their fastest time was recorded.
These are the end-of-season results from a health perspective: (39 athletes)
1 – Cramp all year: due to a leg frog on a tackle
0 – Hamstring issues
1 – Hip tweaked in an O-line drill
1 – Knee tweaked during a tackling drill
1 – Strained groin, resulting from a tackle
1 – Shin Splint, with rest and treatment he played in that week’s game
1 – Achilles issue
I don’t recall any player having to miss our activation period due to knee overuse issues
These are the sprint numbers for the season
- Out of the 39 athletes (Ages between 12-14), 34 recorded faster times during the season than the first sprint session
- 16 Athletes record an increase of 1 mile per hour
- 1 athlete recorded an increase of 2+ miles an hour
- Averaged numbers we had:
- First test week 8/29/23 Team Average was 15.35
- Final week 10/17/23 Team Average was 16.29
- 1 average over 19 MPH
- 1 average over 18 MPH
- 7 averaged over 17 MPH
- 8 Averaged over 16 MPH
- 11 Averaged over 15 MPH
- O-line average team speed increased by .769 MPH
- Skill players averaged team speed increased by .905 MPH
I certainly feel this year was a success in this area. I’m proud of the athletes for their enthusiasm and I appreciate the other coaches for trusting this new approach.
Off-season is here. If you have an athlete who needs help with their running speed, send me a message below. Off-season strength training and speed work starts soon, so don’t delay!