| | How To Prepare High Schools For Fall Sports Post-COVID

Author / Christopher McQuilkin

6 - 10 minute read

The return of Fall sports for our High School athletes is looking good. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released three phases of guidelines aimed at accomplishing return to play in an attempt to buy down risk of spreading or catching COVID-19. The NFHS is a national governing body of high school sports and created the guidelines as a starting point for each state to make decisions for their return to play protocols.

Phase 1 of return includes limiting practices training, and competition to no more than 10 people at a time, no locker room use, BYOE (bring your own equipment), and no weight training closer than 6-feet. 

All phases put an emphasis on hydration, cleanliness, and pre-workout (no, not that kind) screenings for fever, etc. I am all for these, and from my experience coaching at the high school athletic level, the ATC’s and sport coaches are on-top of these for the most part. However, executing the limitations on gatherings, not allowing shared equipment or spotters, and factoring in the detraining from a Spring and Summer off make it very difficult for coaches gearing up for Fall sports. How can a coach put the necessary attention and focus on physically and mentally preparing athletes for their sport without getting too wrapped up in the safety guidelines? That is what we’re here to discuss.

The purpose of this article is to take the NFHS’s 1st Phase practice into consideration and expand on how coaches can work within these guidelines and keep High School athletes safe from injury, prepare for contact, and sustain high performance as they return to play.

LIMITATIONS ON GATHERINGS

“No more than 10 people at a time, inside or outside. Locker room should not be used; students should report to workouts with proper gear and return home. Workouts should be conducted in groups of 5-10 students who will always workout together, smaller groups for weight training. A minimum distance of six feet should be maintained.”

National Federation of State High School Associations

Majority of the Fall sports are basically in violation of this guideline come competition time, but until then, we can take action to follow and prepare athletes for the highly anticipated Game Days. Barriers for many sport coaches will be implementing workouts from large groups like football and volleyball that occupy closed, confined spaces like weight rooms or gymnasiums. Long slow laps around the track and old school 3-count military push ups will get old quick pulling down morale and adding to the detraining effects of 6 months off. If no more than 10 people are allowed in the weight room at a time, then let’s get those 10 in there and create strength training opportunities through station work. 

Timing and spacing needs to be step one of organizing “limited” team training. Take the number of athletes you have on your squad and divide them into groups of 10. For each set of 10, you will need one station. If we have a team of 45 swimmers, we’ll need 5 stations. If you have a team of 120 footballers, make 12 stations or split the sessions up for 2 groups of 6 stations. 

Designing your stations, we will take the same approach as we did with designing our Third Monkey workouts, but add the barbell for 1 to 2 movements if you have a weight room. We linked up our full Third Monkey movement library below, feel free to use these movements for your stations. Follow a workout flow similar to the one below we used for a 6 station team:

5 Minutes per station / 1 Minutes Rest and Rotation

  • Trunk Station: Dead Bug Home Position :30 on/:30 off
  • Lower Body Station: Cinder Block Reverse Lunges :30 on/:30 off
  • Upper Body Station: Cinder Block Hex Press :30 on/:30 off
  • Lower Body Station: Bulgarian Split Squat w/ an Active Foot :15 R/:15L on/:30 off 
  • Condo Station: High Knees in Place :30 on/:30 off
  • Arm Station: Alternating Cinder Block Hammer Curls :30 on/:30 off

Put time caps on station work anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes and push them for :30 – :60 for 3 to 5 sets per station. Bodyweight only exercises won’t cut it. Athletes need external resistance training to optimize their preparation for the forces of full speed competition so find creative ways such as the Cinder Block to help them train.


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If possible, have athletes move from station to station designating a movement per station/area and a coach in place to focus on proper execution of a specific movement. If transitioning to stations is not allowed by administration, then all groups of 10 hit all exercises without leaving their designated area. If this is the case, assign athlete captains to lead the groups of printed out workouts and coaches float to ensure proper execution and effort.

We also offer programming through the TrainHeroic app that provides full workouts, demo videos, and tracks weights for the athletes as well as adherence to workouts for the coach. Programs like Third Monkey and IronFlex require little to no equipment and are excellent tools to prepare athletes for pre-season.

EQUIPMENT

“No shared athletic equipment. No sharing of clothing. All equipment should be cleaned prior to and after each use. Individual drills using equipment are permissible but the equipment must be cleaned before the next person uses it. Free weight exercises that require a spotter are not permissible.”

National Federation of State High School Associations

No spotter, so basically no 1RM in the High School weight room 🤔. Can we keep this in place in Phase 2, 3, and beyond? That is a topic for another time I am more than happy to battle. But, until the weight rooms are full access, let’s talk equipment. Smaller teams of 20 – 30 can all have their own sweat towels from home and manage an equipment wipe down while broken into small groups of 10 or less quite easily. However, the larger team sports like football need a different approach for lifting weights. 

The station work approach mentioned earlier is a very reasonable equipment solution and a school purchasing two Cinder Blocks per athlete is not a crazy request at an average of $1 per piece. I would have the athletes take ownership of the blocks and treat them better than the old baby egg science class project. The goal there was to teach kids about the realities of parenting. In my opinion a heavy, awkward, grip-intense 35 lb baby Cinder Block that makes you extremely fatigued, cracks when dropped, and is a labor to lug around represents a baby more so than an egg. But, that’s beside the point.

On top of the Cinder Block station work, I would assign the weight room to one position group per day of the week, with the bigs (O-Line and D-Line) getting two days a week. If there is as little as a 15 minute cap per group of 10, including a wipe down, then 40 kids within an hour for some heavy squats, heavy presses, and explosive pulls found on our Bedrock training program. No time for lolly-gagging, another positive!

Pre-Workout Screenings 

“All coaches and athletes should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 prior to workout, including a temperature check. Anyone who has positive symptoms should not be allowed to workout and should be referred to their doctor. Vulnerable people should not take part in workouts during the first phase.”

National Federation of State High School Associations

The advisory for pre-workout screenings is asking to check for COVID symptoms to keep athletes “safe”. Cool, but what about pre-workout screenings to keep athletes safe and reduce risk for injury in their sport?

I am anticipating an over excitement from coaches to get their athletes back into training and want to evaluate where their body compares to their Spring selves and their teammates. To accomplish this, coaches may be tempted to administer performance based, metric tests like an all-out 40-yard dash, a big squat 1 rep max, or previous conditioning test from last year. I need to caution against evaluating an athlete’s max capabilities coming off a long period of not training or playing their sport. They are not the same athlete they were in the Spring, despite how they “feel”. A detraining effect has taken place and often a High School aged athlete is not in tune with their body. So when a highschool athlete loads up their 1RM back squat from last Spring , then the risk of injury is very high and their Fall return quickly becomes their Spring return. Especially since no spotter is allowed within 6-feet now!

Stay away from the temptation of capability evaluations. Instead, focus on movement assessments! Here is the best assessment tool you can include in either your team station work or the warm up for practice. The beauty of these assessments is they double as their own corrective exercises. These focus on the weak trunk and hips you’ll spot, as well as help open up tight hamstrings and calves your athletes will have earned from completing their Netflix and Warzone marathon.

The next assessment I want to highlight is the Tuck Jump. Unlike the Dead Bug, this is not a corrective exercise. The Tuck Jump is a well researched assessment for risk for a very common return-to-play-unprepared injury, an ACL tear. For more information on exactly what faults and imbalances during this movement to look for check out our Related Content below to become aware of your athlete’s risk when they return to the sporting arena. Through identification of risk factors and an intelligent training strategy, you as the coach can protect your athletes keeping their enthusiasm high entering the Fall season. 

Empower Your Performance: Injury Risk Reduction

When students return to High School and their sport this fall, the risk of getting sick will certainly increase, but does their risk for injury need to go alongside it? Do not let the lack of strength equipment, size of groups, or any new rules in place affect your athlete’s performance and love they have for the game. We have presented a movement based approach to training that provides a consistent opportunity for you the coach to assess, correct, and build confidence for the sporting arena.

Related Content

PODCAST: PA RADIO – EP 358: THE ACL EPISODE w/ DR TIM HEWETT
EDU: ACL Injury Prevention Power Athlete Academy
TRAINING: Third Monkey Movement Library
TRAINING: Third Monkey Training
BLOG: Now Your Daughter Doesn’t Have to Live in Fear of ACL Injury by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Parental Checklist for the Right Coach by Don Ricci

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AUTHOR

Christopher McQuilkin

MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
Book a consult with me regarding coaching, training, life, education... anything your heart desires. Click below:
calendly.com/pahq-tex

Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Whelchel on May 23, 2020 at 12:02 am

    Iowa is the only state that has summer school-sponsored baseball. First practice day is set for June 1, first competition will be June 15. We as coaches are facing a lot of restrictions regarding use of practice facilities, social distancing at practice, checking symptoms and wiping down shared equipment. Hopefully, we can have a “full”/remainder of the season and maybe pass along some lessons learned to fall sports.

    • Tex McQuilkin on June 4, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Andrew, how have the first few days back going?

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