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Two-a-days: an endangered species

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3050926453_53357366e9_m“We started two-a-day workouts today, and the agony is beyond belief. Grass drills, agility drills, wind sprints, everything. You wonder why you’re there, how long you’re going to last.” — Jerry Kramer (with Dick Schaap), Instant Replay

Like Kramer’s 1967 crewcut, two-a-day preseason football practices are increasingly an anachronism, even if they haven’t disappeared completely.

The NCAA in 2003 mandated cuts in two-a-day practices, including no two-a-days on consecutive days or in the first five days of practice, and at least three hours of rest in between any two single-day practices, with no meetings in between. NFL teams have slowly cut back on two-a-days, with even the most dedicated practitioners alternating with one-a-days.

Now the pressure is on for high school players to no longer have to go through the grind of two-a-days, or at least not so many of them. Recently the National Athletic Trainers Association released a statement advocating that two-a-days should occur only every other day, and not within the first five days of practice. Those two-a-days should be no more than five hours total, with a maximum of three hours for a single practice.

Why the restrictions? In one word: heat. The NATA over the years has put out many preseason statements about heat, with the growing idea that maybe having player whipping themselves into shape twice a day in 90-degree temperatures is not the wisest thing. With even high school teams having year-round training programs, even the need to whip people into shape is less. In fact, it can be a hindrance — the more you practice, the bigger risk of player injury.

The issue of heat also has come into focus with the upcoming (Aug. 31 is the scheduled start date) reckless homicide trial of former Louisville high school football coach David Jason Stinson. One of his players, 15-year-old Max Gilpin, died three days after collapsing Aug. 20, 2008, in practice on a day when the heat index reached 94 degrees. Though no autopsy was held, the county coroner determined Gilpin died of septic shock related to overheating (his temperature reached 107.)

Gilpin is hardly the first player to die after going through the heat of a football practice, but Stinson is believed to be the first coach facing jail time because of it. Meanwhile, Douglas Casa, one of the NATA report’s authors, is consulting for the plaintiffs in the Gilpin family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Stinson, the Louisville schools and others.

It’s not clear heat guidelines would have saved Gilpin. I can’t get a definitive read on whether he was on the second of two-a-day practices, but even still the Kentucky High School Athletic Association already banned consecutive-day two-a-days by the time Gilpin took the field for Pleasure Ridge Park High. The KHSAA also had guidelines for how coaches should handle 90-plus heat index days, though the issue in Stinson’s guilt or innocence was whether he denied players water in violation of those. (Stinson says no and has pleaded not guilty.)

Of course, it used to be that coaches denied water as a way of toughening up their charges. As you might expect, coaches are wringing their tough-assed hands at the thought of losing two-a-day practices, which are about a month away from starting at most schools. A common thought: teams would not be ready to play if they lost that practice time.

“If we would have to go that first week without pads and practice only once a day, I don’t see us being able to scrimmage after that first week,” Eastern Lebanon County High football coach Mark Evans told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.

Colquitt County (Ga.) High coach Rush Propst — who while coaching Hoover (Ala.) was part of an MTV reality show on high school football called, naturally, “Two-A-Days” — is no supporter of going back to one-a-days, either. (One of Propst player’s collapsed and died on the practice field in 2002 — but that was related to cardiac arrest, not heat.)

Propst told MaxPreps.com: “If coaches can’t practice two times a day, some are going to practice [once for] three-and-a-half hours, and you’re right back in the same deal. So doing away with two-a-days doesn’t mean less work because coaches know what they’ve got to get done.” Propst said he, like most coaches in Georgia, will have two-a-days for three out of the first five days of practice. (Propst’s apparent interest in two-a-days allegedly extended to having two families at once, part of a laundry list of scandals that cost him his job at Hoover.)

Coaches say they are not heartless. They do monitor their players and make sure everyone gets water and doesn’t collapse. However, Casa is not sure they can be trusted (as evidenced by his consulting in the civil case against Stinson). The NCAA changes, for example, came from the school presidents, not the coaches, though Casa says they have learned to adjust.

From The Associated Press:

Casa told the crowd [at the South Carolina Athletic Trainers Association meeting] he cringed when a Texas coach said while such suggestions might be necessary in other areas, they were not needed in the Lone Star State where teams sometimes go through three-a-day sessions with just an hour break between.

“If there’s one message you should take back, it’s please keep the coach away from my sick child,” Casa said.

Written by rkcookjr

July 12, 2009 at 10:27 pm

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