Preseason Practice – Where Championships Are Lost


Preseason, two or three times a day practice is almost here in American football, collegiate soccer and volleyball. Each of the past three years at close to the same I have posted on this. In my 40 years of coaching and my additional four years of enduring six years of two and sometimes three a day practices as a football player I am convinced that this is where more championship are lost than won, especially in today’s world where the athletes have supervised out of season training. Watch closely over the next month and count the athletes who are actually injured during this time, usually enough time missed to compromise their ability to play in the first couple of games or matches. Why the injuries- very simply from cumulative fatigue probably more neural than metabolic. This type of fatigue is pervasive, slowing of reactions and responsiveness to the ground means that a position or a play the athlete would be able make in a less fatigued state now the movement or play can’t be executed. Basically if you think about it logically the athletes workload has now been increased 50%. What’s wrong with that picture? No one in their right mind would think of going from two hours of training a day to four hours- yet that is what we are doing. Think! Think! Think! ( By the way the same thing happens in Baseball spring training, but the workload is increased more like 150%)

Then add testing to see if they are in shape or mentally tough. Another nail in the coffin! What happens if they aren’t in shape? Do you punish them and run them more to get them in shape? That is traditionally what has been done. The net effect of this is dead legs that probably come back to life in med October when half the season is over and all the injuries heal.

Then there is heat stress. When are we going to recognize that this may be one of the biggest limiting factors in sport performance. Despite all the research and knowledge in this area, the translation to the field is still in the dark ages. Go watch an American football practice and you will see what I mean. They still have “water “breaks” where all the players run over and gather around the trough like a bunch of sheep. Why not give each player an individual bottle with a properly formulated sports drink and educate the player that they must drink four bottles during a practice. This should be carefully monitored and enforced.

I know that many teams have now gone to taking every third practice off. That may be a step in the right direction but there is so much more that can be done. How are monitoring each layers training load? Some don’t need the break, other do. Isn’t the goal to get the whole team ready for the start of the season with each player in an optimal state of readiness to start the season? Unfortunately this phase takes on the look of death march with the goal survival. I think we need to reframe the whole approach to this phase. Make these teaching camps. This is the last phase of preparation for competition, all training should have progressively built to this point. This is a time to be sport and position specific, to emphasize high quality and intense work. It is time of fine tuning.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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