Gone are the good old days when high school athletes showed up for a fall sport after spending a summer of fun and sun. High school sports are big business now, and the pressure to win and to excel as an athlete is greater than ever. To some degree, I long for the good old days, as the pressure on these young athletes is often way too much for most of them. However, we have learned so much about the importance of pre-season sport-specific conditioning as a preventative measure to reduce sports injuries and heat induced illnesses, that this topic warrants an in depth conversation.
Any high school athlete playing a fall sport will be exercising in heat at some time in early fall. Being in good cardiovascular condition, and being well- acclimated to the heat through a progressive regimen of exercise over the summer is worth the effort in order to reduce discomfort and the possiblity of heat stroke and heat illnesses. In addition, students who come into season “out of shape” are much more likely to injure themselves in the early part of the season, as they try and condition themselves in the few short weeks before games begin. As a high school coach, I encourage my athletes to “stay in shape” all year- as this is just good advice for all Americans- but I also suggest several specific types of exercise that the athletes should practice over the summer. If your sport is stop and go like field hockey, soccer, football and basketball, speed and agility are keys to success. Practice sprint work equivalent to an average sprint during the game and add quick directional changes to enhance agility and decrease injury risk during the season.
Strength training is also essential- especially working the legs and core, as this is where most athletes derive their power and speed from. Football players need to work their upper body of course as well, and a well rounded strength training program will reduce the risk of injury to the upper body, and especially the shoulders, the most injured upper body part. Runs of 1-2 miles are great to get baseline cardiovascular conditioning, and longer runs will be necessary for some sports like cross country track. Finally, all sports demand that the athletes have good flexibility, so a stretching regimen consistent with the sport being played is also recommended. Just think “specificity”- train yourself in ways that mimic the sport you are participating in, and you’ll have a great fall season!