Summer Training: Key to Fall Success

Former Irish captain Joe Schmidt reveals the details of ND’s critical off-season preparation.

Former Notre Dame captain Joe Schmidt has been a periodic contributor to Irish Illustrated’s Captain’s Corner segment since his career came to a close upon the conclusion of the 2015 season.

Irish Illustrated has tapped into Schmidt’s vast knowledge and insight once again to give us a detailed recap of the football program’s summer conditioning phase, which is where the Irish are now as preparation begins in earnest for the 2016 season.

The following is Schmidt’s own words regarding what his former teammates are/will be experiencing in June and July.


There are similarities between winter conditioning and summer conditioning for football. They’re both some of the hardest conditioning periods for us. But it’s different in the summer because you’ve had spring football and you’re now completely removed from the previous season, or as much as you can be.

The team is starting to form anew. The seniors have been gone for six months, so now it’s the new seniors’ team. Everybody is now looking toward the season. Everything has changed mindset-wise. The goals are getting closer and closer.

With the changing of the rules for OTAs throughout June, we’re bringing up our mental game as well. All of those things separate summer from what’s happened in the past.

It’s changed, so our coaches can go out there and run you through drills during the OTAs. Those are now like practice. They can be involved in meetings and drills. When it comes down to throwing the football around, then it’s just us. But our June is completely different now.

For the drills on the field, we’ve got a good idea what we need to do. I would try to talk to Coach (Brian) VanGorder throughout the summer. He can’t tell us what to do on the field when he’s not around, but I knew more or less what I wanted to do. We learn what we need to do. The OTAs give you an idea of what we need to do.

(Strength and conditioning coach Paul) Longo has as much experience as anybody on the coaching staff. All those guys -- Jake (Flint) and (David) Grimes and now Coach (Jeff Quinn), who is a wealth of football knowledge -- are very qualified to run the show in the summer. Coach Longo is with the team more than the (offensive and defensive) coordinators are. They know the team. They’ve got a handle on the pulse of the team.

You’re out there five days a week. You lift five days a week. Coach Longo decides what we’re going to do that day outside. It all follows what’s allowed within the NCAA guidelines.

Our summer program is an opportunity for all the guys to stay together and continue on the developmental path. Everybody reports at the same time and you keep building that camaraderie. Obviously, there’s development on the football field. But the camaraderie off the field is significant, not only in the classroom, but also where you’re just hanging out. You have a lot more free time. We’ll do the occasional trip on the weekend and work together constantly so that a brotherhood and those bonds form.

Leadership really starts picking up now. The spring is when you lay the groundwork, but the summer is when you start putting it into action and set the stage for the fall. It’s one of the most critical points of the year because these are the last few cycles of physical and mental development you have before the season. Everything becomes more heightened and critical.

The team-building stuff is geared around when the people on the outside can come in, such as The Program, which they just did. The Program…oh my gosh, they’re awesome! They’re incredible dudes, like former special forces guys. They’re soldiers. They work you like you’re going to be in the special forces!

Last year, we did a shortened version of it because we literally went straight from that into camp. They did the full version this year and it came earlier, which is good. I saw the videos and talked to the guys. They got crushed, which is great, and it’s always fun to do stuff like that because it really challenges you.

It challenged me as a leader and challenged me as a teammate. I was trying to learn when to say stuff and when to allow someone to struggle, when to push, when to kind of hold off…I thought it was one of the best things we did as a team during my time at Notre Dame.

I tried to take something from everything we did. You learn a lot about the guy next to you when adversity like that is thrown in your face. You learn a lot about yourself. They’re making everything go wrong, so to speak, which is a real valuable learning experience. It was something I drew from during the season in different situations. It was great.

You’ve got to have everybody on the same page. It can’t just be Sheldon Day. It’s got to be Sheldon Day and the guy next to him and the guy next to that guy. Everybody has to do his part and develop in his role.

It’s like the ‘storming and forming’ phase if you look at psychology. When camp starts, the dust settles and that’s where you are now. It’s a critical point of the year. It’s allowing all the dominoes to fall into their place.

If you’re not at your peak physical state at the end of summer, you’ve done something wrong. At the end of last summer and before camp started, I was as strong as I’ve ever been in my life. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I am really, really strong.’

Mentally, it’s the stuff you can fall back on when you get into the long dog days of camp. You’re like, ‘I’ve prepared the right way. I’ve got the right muscle build-up. I’ve treated my body right and now I’m ready for the season.’ If you’re not there, you haven’t lived it and you’ve done something wrong in your preparation.

You’ll have some physical setbacks in the summer. But they do a really good job of knowing when they can truly push and when they can just work you. Our coaches do a really good job of feeling the pulse of the team, and that’s where Coach Longo’s vast experience comes in. We’re always working hard, but we’re not doing max sets and max reps every day. It’s more controlled than the 1970s vibe when you worked out three times a day and they wanted you to puke. There’s a science behind it and they’ve all studied it.

Summer is also a huge opportunity school-wise. This is the time to take it because you have more time. It’s wide-ranging depending upon the individual. Guys like Drue Tranquill are taking mechanical engineering or whatever. You can take strictly electives. If you’ve already taken all your electives, you can take your music requirements or your fine arts requirements. But a lot of times, you’re taking your hardest courses during the summer because you have more time.

I took managerial economics, IT management, business law…There are a lot of core requirements for our business school. If you have more time and less hours spent in football, you have a better chance of success.

There are two summer sessions, but we’re only there for the second one. We used to have to have a class on career development so we could be there earlier in the summer. The first summer session starts May 20 or really early. Some guys, like the engineering guys, will do the first session as well.

Some of the charity work we do is for us, the players. Recently, we did our Uplifting Athletes bowling event. We do some other things with the surrounding schools and the events we put on for the local community. There are a few things (Notre Dame will) put together for us, which is also cool because they’ll be approached by a good cause and they can offer up their services as we’re available. Once again, we have time to do this and it’s a great opportunity. It’s the best time of the year to do it.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this time is. It’s important for football, for school and for our community service. It’s a unique time of the year and absolutely critical to the success you have in the fall.


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