Player Safety, Year-Round Conditioning Lead to Demise of Two-A -Days
By Kevin Kinder
As West Virginia opens its 2017 football preseason camp this weekend, a feature of such past gatherings will be officially off the boards. “Two-a-days”, the grind of a pair of padded, full-contact practices conducted each day, are a thing of the past in the NCAA. That’s not a big adjustment for WVU, which had been trending in that direction under Dana Holgorsen well ahead of the curve, but this season marks the first time that only one hitting practice per day is allowed. For WVU Director of Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Joseph, it’s not something that will have an impact on Mountaineer preparations.
“I don’t think you need them as much as before,” said Joseph, who oversees the team’s work throughout the calendar year. “We’ve been working January through August preparing for camp, and camp prepares you to play in a game. Players are in better shape year-round, and you’ll get everything you need during camp to make you ready.”
Those two-a-days of the past were meant to get players back into shape after the layoff of the spring and summer, but those down periods no longer exist. Joseph and his staff guide the players through programs designed to build mass, explosion and speed during the offseason, then hone that with work during camp to get the players in peak condition for September.
“We don’t do a lot of separate conditioning work once camp starts,” Joseph said of the regimen. “That happens during practice reps, with players working at tempo and at speed.”
Joseph’s approach aligns with that of head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has commented in past seasons on the lessening need for big hitting through multiple sessions each day, with the twin aims of player safety and efficient, rather than voluminous, work. His philosophy is aligned with efficient execution and high tempo repetitions, not with slugging it out under oppressive August temperatures.
Concerns over player safety have also led to many of the restrictions on practice, with the emphasis on preventing heat- and stress- related problems. Studies over the past few years have pinpointed fall preseason practices as a particular danger area, so allowing sufficient recovery time and keeping players from overexerting themselves were also driving forces in the elimination of the once-universal practice method.
The new NCAA rules don’t totally ban two-a-days, but mandate that a second practice on a day be non-contact, with no helmets or pads of any sort. WVU hasn’t announced whether or not it will have any of those sessions, but with five full weeks between the first practice on Sunday, July 30 and the opener against Virginia Tech on Sept. 3, it seems unlikely that it will double up at all.
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Joseph and his staff have continued to take advantage of advances in technology with the move to the WHOOP system, which we detailed previously. Joseph noted that while he and his staff don’t gather all of the data available on the bands and the accompanying smartphone app due to privacy concerns, that tools such as this one help with conditioning as well. (All of the data gathered about a player is available to each individual player for review.)
“We use that data that measures recovery and rest, and we began that in June to get a baseline for each player,” Joseph explained. “Then we can look at that as the season goes along to see if there are any changes and recommend adjustments for the player. I get an overview of each player, and they can also use the data themselves. In addition to just measurements, there are interactive questions that they complete each day on the app that can help them with their daily routines.”
The use of WHOOP is an evolution from sleep studies last year with a different system, but Joseph sees better data, with hopefully an impact on performance, resulting from the move to WHOOP, which is in operation around the clock. The bands, which gather the data, are transmitted to the app so that players can use it in conjunction with the questions and answers to get a real-time review of their data.