The Whys and Hows of Practicing at 8 a.m.

No doubt you have heard that the Washington Huskies will be practicing at 8 a.m. throughout this spring and possibly into next fall as well. That's something Coach Sarkisian will decide after this spring, but his team has already been getting up and working out in the mornings anyway - so why not take advantage of the most productive hours for practice itself?

What a great idea from the teaching and learning standpoint, because any teacher will tell you that the first two periods of the day are usually the best for both the teacher and the student.

Let's see… that's getting up at 5 something, getting taped and breakfast by 6 something, then a short meeting and on the field by 8. The team then goes through a high-tempo practice for two hours or so with no classes starting before 11:30. Then there's three hours of class, lunch along the way, and then back down to watch film, condition, lift, then off to study table to work with tutors or to an evening class.

Time management, anyone?

Face it; playing college football is a full-time job nowadays. These kids do it all year long with just about every major school now encouraging their players to enroll in summer school. There is no more taking the summers off, going home, and training on your own. The results have been obvious both from the developmental standpoint and particularly from the academic view, especially when it comes to graduation. Considering that a kid going to three summer sessions can accumulate the equivalent of a whole year of credits, it only makes sense to keep them grinding both in school and in the weight room all year long. If you look at the dramatic increases in graduation rates throughout the nation, you will see this system is working.

Lately schools like Oregon, USC and now Washington are waking their kids up at 6 for an 8 a.m. practice. You start the day off with football, keep them busy, keep them in school, keep them working for a full day. Wow! That would certainly appear to cut into their social lives, but that might be a good thing.

This undoubtedly created scheduling headaches for the academic counselors but I can remember telling my players to never sign up for 8 a.m. classes unless they were positive that they could get there every day. Considering how much kids like to sleep in, especially after a long night of socializing or playing video games, I thought it was sound advice.

I remember the only 8 a.m. class I ever made it to throughout college was Figure Drawing 105 and that was only because they had nude models and I felt that was worth waking up early for. Believe me, 8 a.m. classes are the hardest for college kids to get to, but nobody would dare consider missing a practice. If both the Ducks and the Trojans are doing it and they are two of the best programs in the conference - then why not?

Years ago we would encourage summer school, but only the players who were struggling academically were forced to stay. And even that was usually to pick up failed credits or for eligibility reasons. Since Coach Sark arrived on the scene nearly four years ago his no-nonsense approach to individual and team commitment has had a direct effect on his players' successes - both on and off the field. Of course he's had the backing of the current AD and Washington gladly picks up the increase in tuition costs.

When former UW Head Coach Keith Gilbertson tried to get all of his team to stay for summer school once he was immediately overruled by former AD Todd Turner. Gilby was told he couldn't "require" the kids to stay in Seattle, and so one summer he had less than 40 percent stay. The results the following season were disastrous: Washington won one game, lost ten, and Gilby lost his job.

So much for the concept of "voluntary" summer school.

Thinking back on it, I can remember the hard winter workouts we used to have called "Mat Drills" and we always got a great effort from our kids, even though we started at 7 a.m. We would have them all do three to four stations of different conditioning and speed drills first thing every other morning. Nobody missed Mat Drills. It was football. Of course the coaches would meet all year long at 7:30 sharp, so why not include the players?

The correlation to game day and game weekend makes even more sense by keeping them on an early start day throughout the week.

Considering all activities which include any of the full-time assistants must count towards the 20-hour work limit, separating weight training, film study and conditioning from the actual practice allows them to fill up a kid's day and really concentrate on getting the most out of practice.

Why not have practice be so important that it's the first thing they do everyday?

This could work, and if coach thinks it will make the team better - why not?


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