Long-a-days: the technical term for two practices pushed into one long day as opposed to two separate sessions on the same day.
*The purpose of this article is to prepare the players in the football training camp for the upcoming season and school year training as much as possible.
For the record, I began playing football in Richardson, Texas in 1966 through four years of Division 1 football till 1976. I began coaching in 1978. I started doing this schedule in 1992 until I retired from coaching in 2004.
We had great success in our play and preparation at 2 different schools as a coordinator and a head coach. I know that over the years, different versions of this have been instituted all over the place but if you haven’t crossed over yet give this a good look.
There are many benefits of this plan. It is crucial to balance rest/recovery and school transitions.
The traditional method of pre-season preparation has multiple flaws. The two most glaring are rest/recovery and school transitions.
Circadian rhythm, the human being's daily cycle is built around daylight and nighttime rhythms, most importantly, the night when athletes rest and recover. We know that it takes a period of time to alter that rhythm and for football players coming off summer “downtime” to give their bodies enough time to adapt to radical time changes.
It is easy to underestimate the importance of the circadian rhythm. Expecting our players to be in bed by 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. is a tall order, considering football practice schedules don’t give them enough free time or preparation time for school.
These athletes have ten to twelve weeks of summer vacation before their plates are reloaded with activity; it is crucial to allow them enough time to rest and recover from practice. If practice is held between 7:00 to 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. or later, then athletes avoid the heat index but jeopardize their circadian rhythm.
Training camp has always been assumed to break down a player physically and mentally to build them back stronger, better. But even training camp allows a less than ideal solution to athletic exhaustion. Although there is time for afternoon napping, sleeping past the 15-20 minute window for power naps causes grogginess and lethargy for many.
When players are physically exhausted, they will not perform as well as their training hours suggest.
For a player to come home at 9:00 p.m. from the second practice of the day and try to calm down enough for sleep is a tall order. They have to eat, simply unwind about the day’s events or blow off steam from a conflict, decompress enough to go to sleep.
Furthermore, heat acclimatization is a very serious subject to coordinate amidst training sessions. How do coaches accomplish that? We know that nobody is going to have full pad practice every day from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., especially in southern states, like Texas, where I live.
It sounds like a good idea to miss the heat, but when school begins the time restraints often lead practice to start around 4 p.m. Now the players are put into conditions they have tried so hard to avoid. Besides the 4 o’clock heat, there is the mental and social conditioning of starting school that is thrown into the schedule.
Coaches want their players mentally sharp or focused or able to concentrate during the entire practice. But we all know fatigue is a major cause in the decline of that mental sharpness. The heat and re-introduction of school shock the player's system. School is its own mini-society that involves getting back together after a long layoff. It involves, seeing and meeting friends, new girlfriends, authority figures, class, homework, and on and on.
Summertime to school time is a physical, cultural, emotional shock. The stress of all of this change is cumulative and eventually crashes down overhead. With teenagers, let’s assume that almost all of your team is still biologically growing. We have long urged them to get plenty of sleep during the summer, the prime growing season, why not help them get there?
The rules shouldn’t change because training camp begins. That is where Long-A-Days come in.
This plan balances rest and recovery time that ultimately boosts an athlete's overall health. Here are the details:
9:00 a.m. - Arrive
Taping, treatments, equipment check, announcements.
10:00 - To the field
Position individuals and groups. Depending on the day, we would do conditioning either at the beginning or at the end of morning practice. That article is coming out soon.
11:30-45 - Inside for lunch
Players can bring lunch or if they go out, they have zero excuses for returning late– zero.
12:00 p.m. - Team/position meetings
Bring lunch to meetings, film, whiteboard session. Review morning session, preview afternoon session. Break time if meetings are brief.
1:00 - Weights
Sub-varsity to the weight room; varsity special teams split for meeting and film.
1:30 - SWITCH
2:00 - To the field.
Team O/D. Practice gear - coaches decision.
2:45 - Special teams. One unit per day.
3:00- 3:15 at latest- Inside. Dress, then free to go.
You will notice that just after 11:00 a.m. the temperature is starting to get hot but you are near the end.
When you go out for the afternoon session, you may notice that it is warm, but not as hot as it could be.
Once the heat hits, you know you can power through it because practice is almost over and conditioning training already happened in the morning. Team morale is naturally higher because the conditioning dread is eliminated!
Choosing to move conditioning to the afternoon voids the effectiveness of this schedule. Don’t mess with the formula. Coaches– you know that.
Coming all together:
As you can see, our guys are just getting out of bed when many are coming off the field. Our guys are done and on their way home when many are moaning about going back to practice. Our guys are relaxed, cool, and eating AGAIN when many are coming off the field AGAIN. Our guys (I hope) are asleep, many are not enjoying life. That may be a bit exaggerated, but during our coaching career, when we made this switch, it worked perfectly.
A huge takeaway was getting back to football practice on the first week of school. The players had already been coming to school and forced to be alert and pay attention for extended periods of time. In addition, we had only “touched” the heat at 2:00 p.m., so 4:00 p.m. was less of a shock. As far as social adjustments, well, we both know that’s out of our control...
Advantages of the proposed system:
Disadvantages of original system: