VHSL to consider banning out-of-season practice

      In 2011 the Virginia High School League executive committee voted to allow year-round practice with the exception of various dead periods for all sports. That same governing body will consider if it wants to completely reverse that ruling this week in Charlottesville. Some have suggested that there’s an increase in injuries and more discipline problems because of increased demands of practice time, as well as problems in the coaching area.
     The committee, made up of almost exclusively of principals and athletic directors, will consider a proposal that would eliminate out-of-season practices, and some think it has a chance to pass. Some also think it will not pass. It appears that many smaller schools are in agreement.  The change to no out-of-season practice is being recommended by Class 2, Region C which includes Radford, Fort Chiswell, Giles, and Floyd. There is support among other smaller schools. The new rule would not allow athletic teams to practice outside of their designated seasons.

12 28 Stephen James e1548098583374
Pulaski County head football coach Stephen James.

The proposal also states that during the dead periods, no coaching, observing or contact between a coach or coaches, or players may occur in the VHSL member school sponsored athletic team or activity except weight-lifting and physical conditioning.

      The proposal calls for the dead periods to be from August 2nd through May 31st every school year, and the new rule would mean no VHSL member school would be allowed to have school-sponsored practices, open facilities, be involved in member school-sponsored out-of-season leagues, clinics, or camps during those periods. Obviously, there would be no such thing as a football practice dead period August thru November. It’s about designated down times while a sport is not in season.
     The concerns by the presenting schools is that by allowing year-round practices it’s stretching their programs too thin. It’s preventing multi-sport participation, and everybody, players and coaches need down time, designated down time. The smaller schools are implying they do not have enough coaches to go round, and the coaches are being forced to put in too much time, and it’s difficult because so many of the coaches are off-campus coaches and not members of the school faculty, and sometimes the level of coaching has come into question. The speculation is that some of the time those coaches are not trained in how to properly deal with players and parents.
     VHSL spokesman Mike McCall says there is no factual data linking out-of-season practices to injuries or increased discipline problems. McCall says the biggest issue is the strain out-of-season practices put on coaches and the lack of coaches in the building. McCall also feels that specialization has become part of sport in today’s athletic environment. You can put in rules that try to make it more attractive to participate in as many sports as possible and McCall realizes how important that is, particularly at smaller schools, but he totally recognizes that specialization will continue on the part of athletes because a large percentage of them want to concentrate on a single sport. There are plenty of teams available through various means that will allow kids to play a single sport year round, regardless if the local public school has a dead period our not.
     Pulaski County High School head football coach Stephen James understands the concerns, particularly at smaller schools, and he recognizes the time demand on coaches. He does not disagree that the total all season practice rule could be tweaked a bit, and he has an idea he would like explored.
       “First of all the time investment if far greater than many may realize, but you must do it because everybody else is doing it. Coaches need a break just like athletes do once in awhile. It also needs to be noted that all these additional off season practices are not funded for coaching staffs. My guys may come out and spend a couple hours two or three times a week most of the spring and summer, and they are not compensated.
      “We try not to stress our kids out, and we’ve found by doing more leading up to the beginning of official practice, we are able to not maybe push as hard, and can give a little extra down time leading up to the season in August, and that seems to help the kids stay fresh and enthusiastic. So after official practice starts, you don’t do the six-hour, six-days a week pre-season stuff anymore. So the off-season work does helped a bit in that area,” said James.
     But he would like to see another aspect looked into. “Many neighboring states have spring football camp. Instead of having all this off-season stuff, why not just designate two weeks in the spring for a football camp and for two weeks you get as much done as you can and have a total serious two weeks of football? It seems to me if we are allowed to continue with the weight training and physical conditioning aspects of the program, a two-week spring camp would get the rest of it done. I’d like to see discussions on that,” added James.
       The VHSL in the areas of rules, alignment, districting, and classification has bounced around in many directions over the years. The thing you least like to do is make a major change and then say you’re going to take it back. It doesn’t look good. But there’s a lot of people to satisfy, administrators, coaches, athletes, parents, far too much outside pressure, and for a variety of reasons, there might not be as many people to work with as their used to be in the local public school. But unless the proposal is tabled, something will, or will not happen of magnitude in Charlottesville Wednesday.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot