It’s hot. Stupid hot, and you’re being asked to run more, run again, and keep running. That’s after the conditioning test, and before the 7-on-7 drills, and somewhere in there a coach yelled something that sounded profane but you weren’t really sure.
Training camp sounds like it sucks. And as you watch the Dolphins going through the motions on Hard Knocks, it sure looks training camp sucks too. It sucks a lot, and then it keeps sucking, which applies to any level of football, although the intensity is heightened once a player reaches the professional ranks. However, the suck of camp is surely balanced by, you know, getting paid to play football, or even having the opportunity to make an NFL roster.
So to cope, there are tricks. Some are simple but essential, while others involve the consumption of Chia Pet seeds. But what are they? In this special feature for GLS, Luke Purm, a former college football player at Simon Fraser University, details five survival tips for two-a-days in the August heat.
Lesson No. 1: bring lots of ice.
Two-A-Daze: Five tips for surviving two-a-days
By Luke Purm
It’s that time of year again, the mid-summer point when players get amped for training camp. The offseason feels like a slow, deafening, torturous silence compared to the crash of helmets, the shouts of coaches, and teammates hollering like hyenas after a big play. Gone are the long months of repetitive lifting with the arrival of the two-a-day practices and three weeks of intense preparation for the fall season.
Everyone I ever played football with entered camp with giddy anticipation and bottled excitement. They all quickly fell victim to sweating for 23 hours a day. When the grind of two-practices a day set in quickly, a positive mindset helped, but physical preservation was crucial to surviving camp and breaking into the starting lineup. The NCAA and NFL limit how many two full-contact practice days are allowed, but some things about training camp will never change. Namely, it’s survival of the fittest through and through. With that in mind, here are five tips every player must know to survive two-a-days.
5. Comfortable Gear
I used to buy my cleats a half-size small, not because I loved the blisters and raw spots from running four hours a day but to mold my shoes directly to my feet. It hurt bad and it worked even better. Little tactics like this made the physical poundings tolerable and the non-stop sweating manageable. If you don’t have a soft pair of flip-flops and loose sweats to shuffle from lunch to meetings and the training room, you’re only punishing yourself. In fact, the only thing possibly more comfortable than team issue sweatpants and shower slippers would be pajamas made from blankets and goose down.
4. Ice towels
Any trainer worth his weight in ankle tape knows this trick, but sadly there are many who still don’t. Take a regular size cooler. Layer four to six towels on the bottom. Fill it halfway with crushed ice. Fill in the ice with cold water. When you get to one of those precious water breaks in practice, take your helmet off, grab a towel, and wrap it around your head for thirty seconds. The first sensation you experience will be numbing. Numb is good, numb is your friend. The second sensation will be an urge to call my phone and thank me personally. Get back to practice and thank me later but don’t worry, I feel you.
3. Crash Mats
What precious few moments exist between showers, lunch, meetings, film sessions and more practice are usually spent trying to nap or simply lay down for P&Q. In university that meant a trip down to the large equipment garage near the field and crashing on high jump mats the track team didn’t know it shared with us. It was an ocean made of pillows. Ten minutes of nap time are worth an hour in real life. A standard high-jump mat could accommodate several teammates with the one common goal of not moving a muscle; lay down, shut your mouth, close your eyes, and be glad you did because talking got you banned for the length of training camp. I imagine most NFL players require an entire crash mat to themselves and have them custom fabricated in official team colors direct from the Sleep Hemisphere factory.
2. Bags of Ice and Rolls of Plastic Wrap
If you sense a theme developing you are on the path to success. The human body has many joints. Each joint is an opportunity for irritation, swelling, and other mutations of discomfort. There’s also your muscles. Remember, numb is your friend. Bags of ice roller wrapped to your body are so vital to surviving two-a-days it’s a surprise the Red Cross isn’t choppering over training camp and dropping them off in giant crates. You can wear them in the shower after practice, in the car while driving home, as you limp to the lunch table, while watching film, face down on your crash mat to bed at night…they’re never a bad idea to reduce swelling, minimize soreness, and express the numbing effect. The only bad time for ice bags are before and during practice (ice towels help you cheat the system). Yes, I have thought of everything. If you’re going to survive training camp, you must ice, ice, ice, and ice again. It adds years to your life, so don’t be dumb, embrace the numb.
I’m not talking about the family, friends, and total strangers who show up to games and cheer on your battle with rabid enthusiasm. I’m talking about the marvels of engineering that ensure the pleasure of a light breeze is available in two speeds. Since training camp takes place in summer, heat is a given. Couple heat with the wear and tear of daily scrimmage and tackling drills, and you’ll have grown men on all fours panting like dogs and praying for the distraction of air flow. A good fan doesn’t just make you feel like you’re moving swiftly standing in one place, it also oscillates and is like an angel’s breath that makes the hell of training camp dissipate and convinces the mind your body is unbreakable. It also stops the sweating. This beautiful delusion is a temporary madness you’ll wish came in a pill. Until it does turn on your fan and chill.
Two-a-days and training camp are the necessary evil furnace every player on every team must survive to become champions. It never gets easier and rarely changes. If you’ve played football, you know you will ache, sweat, take a beating, and you will love every moment of it. These five tricks of the trade are key to surviving the daze of training camp so you can learn to love it a little more each year.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.