Ten years ago when I took my first coaching job, I remember day dreaming about the Summer and all we could accomplish in our Strength and Conditioning regimen with more time and fewer distractions. You see as long as school was in session we had student-athletes involved in other sports, drama programs, music performances, and all the other extra-curricular activities available to a High School Student-Athlete. All these opportunities are great, but in my own myopic meathead mindset, I was feeling like they were limiting our training progress. However, when that first Summer had come and went, I realized that we struggled just to maintain the speed and strength numbers we had put up at the end of the Spring semester. Convinced it was just a fluke, I eagerly anticipated the next Summer, made some adjustments to our programming, and went back at it again with new hope. Then, the same thing happened again, and again. Finally, after the 3rd Summer of this, I realized that we weren’t going to make the same kind of improvements we made in the Spring and I overhauled my objectives for our Summer Training. I don’t want this article to come across as a defeatist’s treatise of resignation, but I also want to be realistic about the unique demands of the Summer phase of the training calendar and hopefully provide some considerations that will help you go into your Summer Training with a solid plan.
5 Considerations for Summer Training
1- On Field/Court Practice Time
Sure, during the Spring, you have to contend with the multi-sport student-athlete and how their practice and game schedule can impact your Off-Season Training Plan. However, during the Summer you have to consider the addition of your own practice time to your team’s training schedule. What this often means is that instead of your student-athletes’ training first thing in the morning before school or during the school day, training sessions are now attached to a practice. When a training session is attached to a practice, you have to take into account the additional fatigue. Concurrent training (cardiovascular and strength training), can reduce the effectiveness of Strength and Power training, so you have to be very careful about how you combine your practices and training sessions.
Furthermore, you need to consider the impact of Summer Leagues in sweltering weather and musty gyms, 7 on 7 tournaments and even Student-Athletes who are participating on other teams, recruiting camps and showcases. Bottom line, the overall training volume for your Student-Athletes is going to increase from the Spring Semester and if you don’t take this into account, you’re going to be severely disappointed at what you can accomplish.
After taking these things into consideration, I recommend looking at your Summer Training as a Pre-Season Phase as opposed to an Off-Season Phase. The biggest difference between these two outlooks is that in the Pre-Season, the priority shifts to what happens on the field and away from the training plan whereas in an Off-Season Phase, the priority is on getting, bigger, faster, and stronger. If you’re not ok with this trade-off and feel like your Summer needs to be a time when your focus is more on the training side of the equation, then you need to take into consideration adjusting your practice and competition schedule so that your student-athletes aren’t being over worked to the detriment of their training. Also, if your priority is going to be training and not practice, make sure to start each day with training and then go to practice. At least that way you’ll begin each training session fresh and give yourself the best chance at making strength and power gains.
2- Consistency in Attendance
It’s possible that this is a bit different everywhere, but at the schoolsI have worked, Student-Athletes take vacations with their families during the summer months which means they are missing chunks of training at a time. If there is one thing I have learned in over a decade as a Strength Coach it’s that consistency is the most important training variable. You can have the best plan in the world, but if your student-athletes don’t show up, it doesn’t matter.
In order to combat inconsistent attendance, I think it’s really important to focus on lift quality and technical proficiency as opposed to increases in the weight on the bar. It’s not easy for a 16 year old male to admit that he can’t continue adding weight to the bar every session when he’s missed two out of the last 4 weeks of training. By really encouraging your student-athletes to be technical masters, I think it shifts the mindset towards one that will help you avoid injury and pave the way for greater improvements down the road, when training consistency improves.
3- Worse Routines
During the school year, most Student-Athletes keep more regular schedules. This generally means they go to bed at reasonable hours during the school week and eat more consistently higher quality food. During the Summer, all bets are off. They’re hanging out with friends late at night, even on week days, they’re eating is more inconsistent, and their schedule is totally thrown off. These changes usually result in more fatigue and worse fuel in their tanks; two really key elements of making progress in a training program.
This is where educating your student-athletes is huge. You cannot over emphasize the importance of a solid daily routine for taking care of their bodies. I recommend talking briefly each day about something related to nutrition, sleep, and recovery. Also, monitoring them with something as simple as a “How do you feel today?” question in their training logs can really help them start to connect the dots between late nights out, poor eating habits, and the low performance that follows. That’s why we use a simple +/- rating question everyday in the OMNISTRONG System’s workout cards. It takes 2 seconds to answer, but it can really help our student-athletes manage themselves and lead to optimized performance.
4- Summer Jobs
I’m a huge advocate of student-athletes working during the summer, don’t get me wrong. In my experience, the ones who have had hard, demanding summer jobs tend to be the ones you want to have on your team. They aren’t surprised by a rigorous practice or training session, and they typically show up ready to put in the hard work that is required to get better and build a team. However, when you’ve got student-athletes showing up to practice after working a laborious 8 hour day in the hot summer sun, they’re going to be depleted for training and their strength and power gains will suffer.
The issue of summer jobs is a difficult one to “work” around (no pun intended) because you want your student-athletes learning to work hard, carry a job, and understand the value that an education can have in creating a career filled with more meaningful work. However, there are some things you can try to help optimize your student-athlete’s performance. First of all, coach your athletes to consider finding a job that is less physically demanding. This may not be a great solution for all, but putting the thought in their minds might go a long way. Second, train in the morning instead of the afternoon. At least this way, you’re getting them before their work day. Finally, preach hydration, nutrition, and sleep (sorry, this is becoming the answer to all life’s problems!). Working a hard day in the sun before coming to train is one thing, but doing it on a 32 oz. Mountain Dew, a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos, and 3 hours of sleep is going to create problems.
The same variables that work against training success (dehydration, lack of sleep, fatigue, poor nutrition, and inconsistency) can also combine to cause injuries. Take an athlete that’s dehydrated, under nourished, and sleep deprived and then run him through a rigorous summer training program and practice schedule and something is bound to break down. On top of all those variables, we also have to consider that some of our student-athletes are doing more than just our training and practice schedule. Whether it’s recruiting camps, private 7 on 7 tournaments, or working with their own Personal Trainer, Speed Coach, or Skill “Guru”, the volume adds up.
Another factor to consider when it comes to avoiding Summer injuries is progression. As much as you’d like to hit the ground running as soon as June hits, you have to remember that your student-athletes are likely all at different places in terms of conditioning and readiness. If you take a WR who spent the last 3 months on the golf team and throw him into all your speed drills, conditioning shuttles, and passing routes at full tilt from Day 1, you’re asking for muscle strains and shin splints. Even a Student-Athlete that has come from the
The key to avoiding unnecessary injuries in the Summer Phase is building a gradual progression and moderating overall training volume. Yes, it will seem slower, but you have to take the approach of the tortoise rather than that of the hair. The worst thing for your training program are injuries that keep a student-athlete from training. By slowing things down and focusing on the long haul, you’ll give your Student-Athletes a better chance to stay healthy and continue to progress.
As I conclude this article I want to acknowledge that these are merely things to consider. After all, the post is not titled The 5 Commandments of Summer Training. The key to designing a great Summer Training Program is to create a solid plan, pay attention by testing, measuring, observing, asking questions, etc., and adjust your plan as needed.
Noel Piepgrass, MA, CSCS, CiSSN