Once the smiles wear off, and the glee of the haven’t-seen-you-in-a-while, good-to-be-back feelings fade, the joy of the first day of fall sports tryouts often gives way to dread.
Waking up early wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. And it always seems to be the hottest day of the summer.
For high school athletes getting ready for the fall season, the first day of tryouts tends to be fun only for a few people on the team. They’re the kids who are laughing when the others are trembling. They’re the ones who are actually in shape.
“Almost everybody is absolutely dreading it,” said Chris Walker-Jacks, a Concord-Carlisle High graduate (class of 2012) who was a three-year varsity mainstay as the always-moving center back on the Patriots’ state championship soccer team.
Concord-Carlisle coach Ray Pavlik’s “claim to fame,” aside from being one of the area’s winningest high school soccer coaches over the last decade, is the test he administers on the first day of fall tryouts.
Run 2 miles in under 12 minutes.
“You literally show up for C-C tryouts and that’s the very first thing you do,” Walker-Jacks said. “And everyone is thinking they can do it.
“But very few people actually can.”
In communities across the state, these tests are popping up for such teams as soccer, field hockey, football, and cross-country.
Medfield High girls’ soccer coach Michael La Francesca dedicates a full day of tryouts to testing the players’ fitness levels. La Francesca starts his examination with the Cooper Test, a 12-minute run popular throughout sports and the military as a basic foundation to determine one’s conditioning.
Then he has the girls run a mile. Then a half-mile test. Then 400 meters. Then a 100-meter sprint.
“That’s the whole morning session,” he says. “Then we test on agility; put out hurdles, put out ladders. We test them on abdominal strength; do some strength exercises to see what their strengths are. That’s one day.”
Why are coaches paying this much attention to conditioning?
“When you’re playing in a league where everyone is in more or less the same talent level, the difference can be who is in better shape and who is putting in the work,” Walker-Jacks said.
High school athletes can have a tendency to turn their brains off during summer vacation. It is a vacation, after all. And while many coaches, like La Francesca, prepare and distribute packets of information recommending workout routines, it’s up to the athlete to do the rest.
“The word is out there,” La Francesca says. “If you don’t come prepared to play, and when I mean prepared I mean physically fit to go, you’re going to struggle.”
The Medfield girls’ soccer tryouts begin on Aug. 22, leaving three weeks until La Francesca whips out his stop watch and starts judging.
For those who haven’t done nearly enough conditioning this summer — or those who haven’t done any at all — the coach has a message.
“It’s never too late,” he said.
So what should you do? Here’s a crash-course conditioning guide for slackers:
1. There’s still plenty of time.
Three weeks probably isn’t enough time to get game ready, but it’s enough time to get started. Begin slowly and develop a weekly routine with achievable goals.
For soccer and field hockey, coaches recommend distance running. It’s one of the first things they notice during tryouts and it can often have an effect on a player’s status with the team.
Watertown High field hockey coach Eileen Donahue prefers skills over fitness, but don’t expect to see varsity time if the conditioning isn’t in order. Donahue often places talented, out-of-shape athletes on the junior varsity for the beginning of the season until they’re deemed fit enough for the big leagues.
“And that’s happened a lot,” said the 27-year coach.
Her recommendation for slackers: “Get out there on the field with your teammates and do some running. Do some, and then do some more.”
2. Don’t get hurt.
It’s better to show up a little out of shape than to show up on crutches.
Start exercising slowly and build up to faster speeds, more weight or longer distances. Stretch before and after a workout.
“If they do too much too soon, that’s when they’ll experience injury,” La Francesca said. “The goal is to work out until you feel you’re getting some training in, but you don’t want to get to the point where you’re going to feel pain. If you work to the point where you feel pain, you can throw your whole season away.”
3. Let your school help you.
Most schools will make their weight rooms available daily for certain time periods, often depending on the sport. For football players, this might be the most important part of getting ready for action.
Former Framingham High football standout Chris Bloomingdale recommends at least two hours of exercise, five days a week, before tryouts begin. Develop a three- or four-day rotation to work on different muscle regions. And after weight training, get some explosive running in.
“I do 400-yard sprints,” he said. “I do more than that. But that’s what you have to pass at Framingham in a certain amount of time. I would do suicide sprints.”
Most schools also have weeklong sport-specific camps that coaches encourage athletes to attend. At Medfield, there’s also a weekly boot camp session where coaches use plyometrics and muscle-strength training to help with speed and endurance.
4. Watch your diet.
While nutritional guidance can still be a foreign concept for many high school sports teams, it’s almost always a priority at the college level. But why wait to start eating healthy?
La Francesca even consulted nutritionists at Boston University to put together a pamphlet for his prospective players.
“It all starts with breakfast,” he said. “We recommend some yogurt. And put some protein in there. Have some eggs. If they want toast they should have wheat toast with peanut butter. When they go out and do their workout and come back for lunch, if they want to have salads, do it, but have chicken with it. It’s all about good balance.
“And avoid sugary foods. Avoid Gatorade prior to a workout. Have Gatorade after a workout.”
5. Work out with a friend.
“It’s a lot easier when you have someone pushing you,” said Bloomingdale.
After a workout, grab a soccer ball, football, or field hockey stick and head to the field for skill exercises.
Still lacking motivation? Donahue describes what to expect in tryouts: “Kids aren’t in much pain if they came prepared. If they didn’t come prepared, they’ll be in pain.”