How high school football coaches are helping players stay in shape
Backpacks. Milk jugs. Bands.
That could be the formula for a productive stay-at-home fall workout regimen for idling football players across the suburbs.
It's the "Holy Trinity" that Glenbrook North football coach Matt Purdy is preaching to his players as they seek ways to gain strength and stay in shape while official practices and their school facilities are not available to them due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The 2020 high school fall football season was canceled by the Illinois High School Association and slotted for the spring of 2021. Football players who just a couple weeks ago were preparing full-steam ahead for their seasons are left with little to do as most schools are either severely limiting or closing off access to weight rooms and other workout facilities to all non-fall athletes for the time being.
How do these players, or any high school athletes for that matter, stay in shape while they are anxiously waiting for spring to get here?
"If you don't have a set of weights or workout equipment at home, there are a lot of things you can do to make the most of it," Purdy said. "One time, I saw this tiny freshman girl in the hallway lugging around this giant backpack. She couldn't have weighed more than 75 pounds. I told her to come to the weight room so we could weigh her backpack, so I could convince her to take out some of that stuff in her backpack. It weighed 31 pounds. So, that's why I say you can work out with a backpack. Think about how much you can load up into a backpack.
"You can also fill up empty milk jugs with water. And a simple band that you can buy for $10 is a really great thing to work out with. You can do virtually everything in the world with that $10 band. It may not be the same for an offensive lineman who is looking for the power that you'd get with a 300-pound barbell, but it will allow you to work on a lot of muscles and maintain a certain level of strength."
Gains in the weight room, whether at an at-home gym or otherwise, is a top priority for high school football coaches as they navigate this strange flip-flop of their seasons, and an unprecedented elusiveness of their facilities.
Right now, if school facilities aren't closed, they are operating under the strict guidelines implemented by the Illinois Department of Public Health which allows only 10 athletes in a facility at once. In a football program with 100 players, all of whom need weight room time, scheduling workouts on campus will be a challenge.
The IHSA has also allowed all winter, spring and summer sports a maximum of 20 contact days between Sept. 7 and Oct. 30. What those contact days allow for has yet to be determined. And what those athletes do before then and after, and where, might be all up to them.
So coaches are looking to give as much practical guidance and help as possible.
"We are looking into all kinds of things," Antioch football coach Brian Glashagel said. "If we tried to bring kids onto campus 10 at a time after (remote) school at like 3 p.m., we'd be going until 3 in the morning. Logistically that's tough. So we're looking at bringing our weights outside, where you can have more people together. That might be tough to do too, so we're also trying to work with local gyms, and we're talking to the kids about who has gyms at home and creating like neighborhood gyms where kids can go to their teammates' houses and work out.
"Some of our kids are also going to local hills together to run and do workouts. There's something to be said for having them be together. It's a big part of team-building, so we're going to encourage that. We just want the kids to use this time to really get stronger and bigger and to stay in shape. This will be like a normal spring for us when you're trying to make those gains before the next season. Now is the time to do it."
Coaches will also resume their online meetings and "practices" from the spring.
They say that they can go over film and the playbook on Zoom meetings, and that they can have virtual team-building events as well.
"I'll be meeting with my captains to structure a new plan for September to February," Hersey coach Joe Pardun said. "We had a pretty nice online platform going in the spring, and I thought we had a good spring. We were in a good routine. When the kids came back in the summer, I thought they looked pretty good, so we will use that again.
"We had exercises with body weights, we did online competitions. The kids still were working and I think they will again. As long as there is that hope of playing in the spring, I think we can be productive. The kids just want to play."