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Between the Lines Archives
February/March 2009
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Off Season Training/Club Sports
Is it good for our athletes?
Our bi-monthly feature for February and March centers around the issue of off-season training and club level sports. We've enlisted the help of 5 local well known coaches -
  Kevin Bankos - York Catholic Girls Head Basketball Coach
  Jay Rexroth - Dallastown Boys Head Basketball Coach
  Don Seidenstricker - South Western Athletic Director and Head Football Coach
  Ron Miller - West York Head Football Coach
  Scott Pennewill - Loyola (Maryland) College Head Volleyball Coach

The three and (even two) sport athlete of the past  is quickly fading by the wayside. This has been one of the hottest topics as you talk to fans around the area sporting circles. We started by asking all of our coaches to briefly describe their off season workout schedule breaking it down by months/weeks/etc.

Coach Miller – "We typically begin our off season in early December, unless we have a successful year and then we will wait until the Monday we get back from Christmas. The first week is all testing. Following the first week, we stretch and lift four days a week right after school and have the weightroom open for in season athletes at 6 a.m.
In early March, we start speed and conditioning at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. This is in addition to our weightlifting. We will also begin doing fundamental drill work. We test our players every 7th week.
We begin our summer workouts the first Monday we are done with school. We lift and run on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 6:30 a.m. and lift only on Fridays. We will also increase our skill development during the summer."

Coach Seidenstricker – "Let’s first stress that all this activity is ALL VOLUNTARY. December through February we will lift 3 times a week for approx 1.25 hours.
March through end of the school year we will still lift 3 times a week but increase the time in the weight room. We will also start plyometrics and running. During this time frame we will meet approximately 4 times on various Sunday evenings to start to get a feel for our passing game most of the time in the gym. Toward the end of May we will also have a week of 7 on 7 versus other area schools.
June through July we will continue to lift, do plyometrics and run 3 times a week. Once or twice a week we will go to 7 on 7 competitions. Wednesdays are conditioned focus workouts with some plays review."

Coach Rexroth – "In September, October, and November we hold open gyms on Mondays and Wednesdays in the evening for our players to play pick up games. On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, we hold 30 minute skill work outs and then lift for 45 minutes.
In the spring, we hold open gym 1 night a week and weight lifting just like we did in the fall. A lot of our players also start to participate in our own AAU team which played on various weekends in the spring and also worked out 2 nights a week.
During the summer, we will participate in at least one summer league sometimes two. Normally, we play in the Hempfield summer league which is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays form late May until early July. In the past, we have also played in the Voni Grimes Mens league which ran 2 nights a week from June until early August while also participating in the Hempfield league as well.
We will also attend a weekend team camp sometime during the summer. In the summer of 2006 we attended UNC team camp and played all of our games in the Dean Dome and also attended the Albright team camp.
We also for the last 5 years have attended the Stellar “Catch a Rising Star” Shootout in Allentown, PA. It is the largest (64 teams) outdoor high school tournament in the country. We make a trip out of it for our varsity players and their families. That tournament runs from Thursday until Sunday."

Coach Bankos - "Team Camp 1 week, Summer Leagues 7-10 weeks in Lancaster, Open Gyms start in August one time a week."

Coach Pennewill provides a different perspective coming from the college angle – "Our off season workout schedule at Loyola College in Maryland begins upon the players return for the spring semester in January. We begin with a team lift schedule with our strength and conditioning coach three times a week for three weeks. On the fourth week we add to this an additional workout in the gym focusing on speed, quickness, and agility training. One day of the week, each player has an individual skill training session that is volleyball specific. This out of season training totals with hours a week as per NCAA regulations.

Once the non-traditional season begins, we go back to the normal team countable days and hours per week. Those are four hours a day of countable athletic related activity, with a mandatory day off per week. Once this segment begins, the team trains together in the gym on volleyball skills and technique, what I call “individual tactics”."

Dallastown boys basketball coach, Jay Rexroth, checks out the action during a recent game.
Our next question centered around the % of team activities vs individual activities in the off season.
Our panel of high school coaches varied their percentages but most agreed that team activities comprise most of the off season workouts ranging anywhere from 70% to 90%.
However; on the college side, Coach Pennewill tells us that the majority of work in the winter/spring is individual. “This is when we become a bigger, stronger, faster team by training the individual player. Even during the team practices we focus more on individual development as opposed to team systems of play. If I were to break it down by percentage it would look like a 90/10 break down individual to team activities.”

Since team activities seemed to be the thing for our high school athletes, we asked our coaches what team activities are offered in the off season. Our basketball coaches both talked about team camps and summer leagues previously. The football coaches also talk about team camps, linemen camps, and 7 on 7 competitions. Coach Miller has also implemented a community service project of some type for his team right before the start of camp in early August.

Once again the college side of things is a little different with players possibly not being on campus. Coach Pennewill – “As a team sport we still refer to our training on terms of team. Whether we are in the weight room, the gym or doing community service we organize and implement activities as a team. As I mentioned above, we are involved in a year round comprehensive strength and conditioning program to SQA training and skill development of each player. We are allowed by NCAA to compete four dates in the off season (non traditional segment), which are usually one day events that are informal and relaxed with the goal of getting playing time for players who may not necessarily start and need to develop or be evaluated in competitive situations."

West York football coach,
Ron Miller, talks strategy with one of his players.
As off season workouts have increased, some have had a great deal success with implementing their off season programs. Kevin Bankos has 2 state championships in his first 2 seasons. Ron Miller just came off a football season with a district championship and a trip to the state semifinals. However; with that success comes an entire new set of circumstances to deal with. Coach Miller explains - "This year, West York played 15 football games which was a tremendous experience but I learned is a long season!
Including our two scrimmages, we in essence played an NFL season. For a team to do this for the first time, I can tell you it was awesome. I have never enjoyed a football season more. On the other hand, when it ended, we were spent - players, coaches, parents, and support staff. Prior to our state semifinal game with Thomas Jefferson, I spoke with Coach Cherpak and this came up in conversation. TJ has played 16 games for the last four seasons each, that's 64 football games not including scrimmages. Coach Cherpak spoke of how it can become difficult to motivate players and coaches as the season goes on and of course the injury factor comes into play. The sacrifice is tremendous in every facet of such a ride. Don't get me wrong, I am willing to take that ride every single season but there is another side to it."
The final part of our discussion centered around the evolution of club sports (or as many fans know it, AAU). With the panel being veterans of their sport, we ask them to describe how they think AAU and club ball has helped and/or hurt their sport.

Coach Bankos – "WOW, what a loaded topic! I believe AAU could be good for kids. They just have to find the right team. So many teams don’t teach and it becomes an avenue for bad habits. There are a lot of coaches who just want to win and not develop skills. The other issue I have with some coaches on the club level is that it gets very individual and they don’t teach “team”. For recruiters and colleges it’s great because they can see a lot of kids at one time."

Coach Rexroth – "I think AAU has developed a few specific younger players to be ready for varsity competition at a faster pace then in the past. I’m not sure if it has helped develop the average player at the same pace. I think if your players are playing in a quality program and being coached by knowledgeable coaches it can help. I also think that anyone can start an AAU team, recruit players, parents and their money with the promise of exposure and college scholarships. Some of these people have very limited coaching experience and can really be teaching players the opposite of what they hear from their school coaches."

Coach Seidenstricker – "While all club sports (in general) have helped elevate skill level in individual cases, they have adversely affected two primary areas:
1)they have "De-Emphasized" the well-rounded athlete by emphasizing sport specialization
2)they have “Broken Up” the Team concept within the schools by encouraging athletes to play in leagues on teams with players from Other schools."

Coach Miller – "Football does not have AAU or club groups but we are surely affected by them. It is difficult for me to talk about how other coaches impact my players since they don’t have the same exposure to other coaches as basketball and baseball players.
One problem that I have found is the amount of contests AAU teams participate in. The summer is crucial for me as a football coach to prepare my team for the upcoming season both physically and mentally yet I will miss players due to conflicts. It becomes frustrating at times that I have to be the one who is losing the players especially since I coach for West York not AAU high school. I have worked very hard to minimize the amount of conflict but feel as though it’s one sided much of the time."

Scott Pennewill is well versed as a volleyball coach but also know a thing or two about club volleyball having coached and also as a past tournament administrator with East Coast Volleyball one of the largest club volleyball organizations in the nation – "In volleyball the club season is governed more by USA Volleyball than by the AAU.  There are a smaller number of teams participating in AAU, but that number is growing.  My response to the club season will reflect both organizations.   From a recruiting standpoint as a college coach, club volleyball has allowed us to see many more athletes on a given weekend at a much more competitive level, than during the high school season.   From a budget concern we get much more bang for the buck going to a multi day weekend club event and see hundreds of matches and hundreds of players, in several age groups, in one location.  Even a local one day tournament can provide an opportunity to see multiple courts of a dozen or more teams.  This exposure for the athlete is also beneficial since more college coaches are attracted to the event.   

           Players who participate in club volleyball increase their ability to improve volleyball skill as an individual as well as gain experience in more advanced team tactics and systems.  Just having the opportunity to play year round increases the players experience level versus a high school only player.  Participation in club can almost double the ball contacts a player has from season to season.

           One of the lesser outcomes of playing club ball has been the motivation for some players and parents to participate.  Instead of playing for improvement or preparation for the next level while providing exposure to the recruiting process, the club season is seen as a means to an end.  Players want guarantees of college scholarships no matter whether they deserve one or not.  It is inferred that because they play club then they are getting a scholarship.  This becomes the focal point of the experience and in many cases compromises the passion of the sport for the athlete as well as the team they are on.  Decisions are now seen as life or death in the athlete’s pursuit of their dream and playing time is now bought instead of earned.  Young coaches are never allowed to develop into experienced coaches because they are scrutinized and blamed for every short coming or missed opportunity an athlete experiences.  The ability to learn from mistakes can never occur for an athlete or a coach because so much pressure is placed on the perceived outcome of everything that happens for the players and their team.

           The original goal of the club season was to take a player to the next level of their development, where ever that may be based on the player.  Now it has become like many other things a business with money being the driving force.  Additionally, players need a break.  High school states end and the next day tryouts for club begin.  The season then starts in December and if you make it to Nationals ends in July.  Add a couple of summer camps that a player has to attend because the college coach wants them on campus, (which counts as an unofficial visit and lends itself to the early commitment, another topic entirely), and the player literally does not get a break from the sport.  This is not healthy for any player of any sport and continues to take away from the player just being a kid even for a little bit of their summer.  Perspective needs to return with regards to balance of sport in a player’s life.  This is why it is not uncommon for a college player to suddenly lose their passion for the sport and not finish their collegiate career.  It is always interesting to see a roster of a school and how many seniors versus underclassman they carry."

Kevin Bankos, York Catholic girls basketball coach discusses a call.
One of the things that intrigues BTL about the entire AAU situation is that athletes will be playing with different athletes and possibly in different coaching philosophies. Our panel addressed this issue.

Coach Rexroth – "I think it is an awesome experience for the players to meet and play with players from different schools. They build friendships that they normally wouldn’t and couldn’t if they just played against each other in high school. Again, I think if the coaching is good there is not a problem when they come back and play for their high school coach. Unfortunately, there are too many coaches that don’t work on the fundamentals and want to take the short cut or the fun way and just play games. It is hard to teach things that take time to learn and some coaches and players just want immediate results. I really try to suggest AAU programs for our players that are fun by the right kind of coaches."

Coach Bankos – "The first 3 weeks of practice we have “De-AAU) our kids (haha). I think it’s good for them to get out and play with other kids as long as it is on the right team and with the right coach. Our season is long enough, they need a break from each other and from us as coaches. Again, we try to steer them to the right programs or coaches we know. I also think it’s good if they play a different spring or fall sport."

Coach Pennewill - "Some teams are able to attract players from many different areas and backgrounds so with any discipline which provides diversity, a player can learn and experience more over a long period of time about how to play the game and how it is player in other parts of the country than just playing for their school team.  This to me is one the most attractive aspects of club volleyball.  From a high school coaches perspective it can be a challenge in meshing a year round player who has gained skill and expertise with the high school players who have not had that experience and really are the same as a year before.  Players who return from club have to understand how to help the team grow and succeed without sending the message that “this is how we do it in club ball” and undermine the high school coach and their authority.  It is indeed a challenge to take the mixture of talent and skill and put together a unified team.  This is why in club you will see virtually a team made up of all players from a single high school team.  Since the change in PIAA rules about team composition and number of players from one school, club volleyball has been seeing more and more of this situation.  This I believe takes away from the club experience where a player can see different ways of coaching, learning, and playing the game all the while developing relationships with other types of players.  This in turn helps the player become better in life skills such as leadership, cooperation, teamwork, and communication which in turn fosters a continued passion for the sport and competitive excellence."

This article was born out of many pre game and informal conversations with football and basketball coaches while announcing for the now defunct Comcast/Suscom/Cable 4. While many coaches will agree with the opinions above, they also may have a few of their own to offer.

The closing comment comes from Don Seidenstricker who believes that "club sports and the specialization of athletes is the greatest threat to school sports as we've known them." As a long time York area sports fan, I have to agree. Are our teams better? Maybe. But the question still remains, are today's athletes better?
Kevin Drawbaugh
Photos by: J K Images