Becoming an exceptional athlete may seem like an impossible hurdle for many high schoolers, given the limits of an average sports season. During the season, an athlete may only practice 2-3 hours a day and play 1-3 games a week.
Offseason training has become an absolute necessity for young athletes that want to stay competitive. But, is that kind of training healthy for a student physically and mentally? And does it detract from their school or personal lives?
According to Alpena High School's athletic trainer Katy Paxton, an athlete that hasn't conditioned prior to a season, puts themselves at a great risk of strain once practice begins.
News File Photo
Alpena quarterback Tyler Pintar looks to pass during a game against Sault Saint Marie. Pintar is one of many area athletes that trains hard in the off-season and utilizes cross-training in other sports to become a better athlete.
"Basically, (off-season training) keeps their body at a continuous state of physical fitness, as opposed to all season where they should be at their peak of physical fitness, but all of a sudden they stop. (Between seasons) muscles can atrophy, they gain weight, physical fitness goes down, endurance goes down, and then they jump back into it and their body isn't ready," she said.
Offseason training can also help refresh players muscle memory on basic moves and techniques. Without offseason training, they have to relearn these basic maneuvers and techniques during valuable practice time. To be successful in varsity sports, athletes need to use practice time to master more complex maneuvers and strategies.
Training during the offseason is a great way to keep basic moves fresh in your memory and to come into a season fully prepared to grow as an athlete.
Tips for Maintaining Peak Fitness Level
- Never increase the intensity of your workout regiment by more than 10% per week.
- A two to four week rest between sports seasons can help your body repair from the damage caused by the stress of performance.
- Talk to your doctor about injuries suffered during a previous season before committing to a sport.
- Sports that improve your endurance - such as cross country or track - are highly encouraged for all athletes.
- If you don't have time for a high energy excercise, take low intensity walks with friends and family.
- Do pushups and situps during commercials breaks while watching TV.
- Dancing - especially high energy dancing - for 30 minutes a day, can improve your stamina, the strength of your legs and has been shown to make you smarter.
"Maintaining that (level of fitness) makes you better prepared for season and can help you perform better. You're also decreasing the risk of injuries from not being good enough for the sport," Patxon said.
However, coaches and athletes run the risk of overtraining. Overtraining can cause serious injuries and decreased performance capabilities.
The Web site StopSportsInjuries.org suggests following the "10 percent rule." Basically, athletes shouldn't increase training intensity by more than 10 percent per week.
For example, if an athlete can lift 100 pounds while weight training, add no more than 10 pounds to the next week's weight regiment.
Overtraining can lead to muscle fatigue, decreased lung capacity and injuries. However, not training before a season can also lead to the same problems.
How does an athlete balance those needs?
"I've always been a firm believer in having some down time. (The boys soccer team) finishes around October 24, so we don't do anything until after Christmas. I say 'Hey you guys need some time to let your body rest and repair itself and get to other sports,'" Alpena soccer coach Tim Storch said.
Once the new year begins, Storch starts holding open gym sessions every Sunday. He hopes to start weight room training and to increase travel team time for the boys and to start a travel program for the girls.
Some athletes cross train by playing more than one sport.
"I like cross training. I think there's a tremendous value in playing other sports. I was never one that dedicated myself to one sport. I think that's dangerous and not a good thing to do in this community, where there's a finite pool of athletes. Coaches and athletes should work together to share the talent that we have," Storch said.
Multi-sport athletes spend the year playing, practicing and training to improve their skills. This dedication can exponentially increase fitness level in a dedicated athlete.
"I'm always in shape. I never have time to not be in shape, because I'm always playing a sport and being active. It also helps improve my hand eye coordination," Alpena junior Tyler Pintar said.
Dedicated athletes like Pintar have to contend with eight hours of school, up to three hours of practice and the demands of friends and family every day.
For example, Pintar plays football, basketball and baseball, maintains a 4.0 GPA and has a busy social life with friends and family.
Balancing these needs requires understanding your priorities.
"You go to school first and get the school work done. Once you get done with that, then you do practice work. After practice, you get to spend time with friends and do stuff on the weekend," he said.
As a result, much, but not all, of Pintar's off-season training is self-directed.
"I work out quite a bit, get in the gym, shoot hoops, go on runs, throw the football around and throw the baseball around. I go to some basketball camps in the summer. We have baseball training during the summer, where we go into the gym with coach. And the football team does 7-on-7 tournaments," he said.
Alcona's Megan Quick is another multi-sport athlete that utilizes cross training to improve her skills. She participates in basketball, cross country and track.
"I'm always running and I'm always in a sport. For cross country, you have to do a lot of long distance while track is short distance and sprinting. And basketball sprint, sprint, sprint. I never take a break ever," she said.
Like Pintar, Quick's training is self directed.
"Cross country helps my endurance in track and field, while track and field helps my sprinting in basketball, so they all play a critical role," she said.
Quick, an honor roll student, is also currently dual enrolled at Alpena Community College, so she must balance the demands of high school, college and sports practices.
"It's not too bad. I focus, of course, more on school work, even though it's harder to focus on. Every time I come home from practice, I usually review my school work. I only have a couple of classes at high school, but I know that (balancing school work and practice) is going to be a harder task at a college level," she said.
Quick's training has obviously paid off: she is not only a key component in Alcona's successful girl's basketball program, but she regularly wins track and cross country events.
This year, her training earned her the chance to compete in the cross country state finals for the second straight season.
Although student athletes self direct much of their training, offseason training programs are often available for athletes at many area schools. Alcona baseball coach and assistant football coach Terry Franklin led a weight lifting program last year to bulk up his players.
"Those classes really helped our athletes get some experience with weight training. A lot of them were pre-sports kids and having weight training in the school gives our students access to that kind of training. Honestly, if the school didn't have it, I don't know if they'd get that kind of training at all," Franklin said.
The Alcona football team saw an obvious payoff, with an undefeated regular season and Alcona's first playoff win in school history against McBain.
"Our athletes from last year to his year are much stronger, faster, and heavier. But, it comes right down to the kids.You can say you're going to weight train them and sit down there with them, but the kids have to do the lifting. Our kids put forth the effort and got great gains," Franklin said.
Whatever type of offseason training an athlete utilizes, the best type of off-season training may be to compete in multiple sports.
"I think you do a disservice to kids where you try to force them to specialize. I think it's bad physically and psychologically and in this community I'm all about trying to share athletes and improve all athletic programs, not just one," Storch said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.