All NFL teams currently find themselves in the same situation, a few days into training camp, coming off the 136-day lockout and no offseason workout program, no rookie mini-camps, no team mini-camps or organized team activities (OTAs) and no strength and conditioning work except for what players did on their own.
All NFL teams have certain conditioning test that all players must pass before they are allowed on the field. Most of the tests are timed, for example; six/60-yard sprints in under 70 seconds, players are allowed to rest 3.5 minutes, and then must run another six/60-yard sprints under 73 seconds or less. Then there is the 300-yard shuttle from the goal line to the 25-yard line and back. That is done six times, and based on positions, players have a time in which they have to finish it. The skill players (wide receiver, running back cornerback) should run it around 60 or 65 seconds, other positions will have more time to finish based on position and size is factored in. All positions will have a recovery period.
While all players understand the ramifications of not passing the test, they also know what is expected and can train for such a test during their free time prior to camp and generally is not an issue.
Today there is a fine line for coaches at all levels of football, as they push the players into and through their comfort zone, throughout practice and conditioning after. With several heat-related deaths of football players in the last decade, the procedures have been put into place to safeguard the player in case there are issues like heat exhaustion, sun stroke, total dehydration and heat-related illness.
The death of Korey Stringer on Aug. 1, 2001, really opened the eyes of the NFL, who changed the rules and regulations for all 32 clubs. Stringer collapsed on the field, on a day were the temperature was in triple digits, and the heat index was extremely high. Stringer’s death prompted all NFL league officials to form a committee responsible for the future of player safety in the prevention of heat-related issues.
Their main focus was to watch closely, monitor their players during the long, hot practices of August.
Stringer’s death has led to increased awareness of heat-related medical issues resulting from training camp workouts that are held in the first week of August every year, which is the warmest time of the year for all NFL training camp sites.
While NFL trainers work hard to hydrate with water, Gatorade and other sports drinks loaded with electrolytes that will replace the salt and minerals lost in sweat. To lower body temperature, all teams have incorporated large tubs that are filled to the top with water and several dozen bags of ice, dropping the temperature of the body’s core and blood pressure is extremely vital to saving a life.
In a conference call last week with all 32 NFL team trainers, doctors and experts urged each team to exercise caution at training camp as players missed a complete offseason of workouts setting all teams behind from a conditioning standpoint, leaving the teams to hope the players had enough pride, professionalism and love for the game to work out consistently on their own.
Head coaches have to walk a fine line, when it comes to pushing their players into and through the comfort zone. While they want the max performance out of their players while they practice hard and fast in the heat of the day, while maintaining timing, anticipation and mental capacity on assignments, they must also gauge the feeling of the team as a whole.
The conditioning of a football team can be and is tricky. Most teams push the players to practice full-speed drills, run on and off the field, from drill to drill, which replaces the old school form of conditioning of running sprints. Don’t be surprised if there are timed striders called gassers (across the field and back) that are timed and still a part of training camp sessions.
The head coach must listen to his trainers and doctors, consider short practice sessions, use the indoor facility, adjust practice plans to work in the morning or early evening, and take breaks during practice sessions, allowing the team to cool down under tents equipped with giant fans spraying a cool mist.
While the coach has a monstrous job of leading, motivating, teaching and disciplining a large roster of men, he is also responsible for the health and well-being of these men, understanding the heartbeat of his team and the condition of the team is extremely important.