The Pre-Season: A Time Of Great Importance

Conditioning, drills, team building, basic skills, offensive and defensive schemes. The typical words of pre-season. The pre-season. A time that most coaches love and many players hate. At least a little. Why?

Conditioning, drills and basic skills. Players want to play and compete. So, after about two days of practice, they are usually self-proclaimed ready for action. As for coaches, well, they never feel that they’ve had enough time to work with their teams to have them ready for opening night. I personally found the pre-season to be one of my favorite times of the season. Sure, the games were fun and the post-season was what you ultimately play for, but the pre-season is where your team begins to develop. It is the time where your strengths and weaknesses begin to become evident. Mostly, it is a time when hope reigns eternal.

You see, it is the one time each season that everyone is undefeated and ready to win a conference, district and even state championship. It is a time of great excitement. New t-shirts with team slogans are passed out. Coaches announce starting line-ups. Uniforms are passed out. Many are contemplating how the team will do. Opening night is not far away. This is the time of year where you begin to develop your identity as a team. Practices are typically longest and most grueling during this time of the season. Players must sacrifice together if they hope to celebrate victory together. Coaches have differing philosophies as to what they desire to accomplish during the pre-season. For some, it’s about teaching skills. For others, it’s conditioning.

Still, others focus on basic offensive and defensive sets or concepts in team sports. Basic fundamentals in the individual sports are common. Personally, while I loved the pre-season, I found it to be exceptionally challenging. First of all, in high school sports, you get just three weeks of practice to be prepared for games. So in those three weeks, you need to get kids in shape, focus on the fundamental skills of your sport, institute offensive and defensive schemes, develop a starting line-up and rotation, and build a team atmosphere. That’s just for starters.

All the while, don’t forget making sure to incorporate strength training. Also, pictures will need to be taken for various media. The list of things to do in three short weeks to prepare for the season is seemingly endless. However, I’ve found that the pre-season, while valuable changed from the time I began coaching until the time I resigned. The number one reason for that was that sports are now being played year round. So, the off-season is greatly impacting what coaches do or need to do once pre-season rolls around. Years ago coaches needed to teach literally their entire system from the ground up beginning day one of the pre-season.

Now however, because they’ve spent so much time with their players and teams in the off-season, much of the basic philosophies and schemes have already been in place and the pre-season is used for solidifying and tweaking those things. During week one of the current winter sports pre-season, I stopped to talk to Central Mountain winter sport coaches and athletes about their thoughts on pre-season. Wildcat Head Basketball Coach, Tyler Bardo said that he wants to establish “a basic understanding of the way that we want to play” during the pre-season.

That is something that is certainly understandable given that Bardo is entering his first year as head coach of the Wildcats. Therefore, making changes, additions and adjustments from what players were used to previously takes additional time and effort. Bardo believes that it is important to cover that aspect of the game because once games begin, practice time becomes much more limited. Bardo admits that the biggest challenges that he sees in pre-season is, “Every day is a revolving door with different combinations of players doing different things as you attempt to find out what your strengths are as a team.”

Challenging it is, but that too is where the excitement is found. What player(s) will come out of nowhere and make the line-up or rotation?

Oh, the excitement of the pre-season. Central Moutain girl’s basketball head coach Terrence Green sees the pre-season as a time to focus on conditioning and team building as he says, “Making sure number one that we’re in shape and ready for the season, but also just focusing on the team aspect and making sure they’re comfortable with each other, focusing on that family aspect so we’re ready to go as a group heading into the season.” Green laments that he finds “kids not doing what they’re supposed to do in the off-season” as a major challenge.

“Are the kids going to be committed to the off-season plan?” is a key according to Green. Central Mountain High School Swimming Coach, Carol Matheney says that what she most likes to do with her teams during pre-season is “work on form and efficiency, not necessarily speed as it will come.” As for challenges, she believes that “dealing effectively with swimmers of all ability levels is difficult.” However, she did note that she is happy to have beginners try swimming for the first time each season.

Finally, Coach Biff Walizer of the CM Wrestling team said that his focus in pre-season is on “getting a good base conditioning wise is vital heading into the first competition because early in the season, I think is when you see it most that some kids just aren’t as prepared as others and you can really take advantage if your conditioning is at another level.”

Coach Walizer stated that he finds the greatest challenge of a winter sports pre-season to be “developing continuity with a practice schedule with hunting season and Thanksgiving” while also contending that “having guys at all different levels is challenging as well.”

As for the athletes, they had these things to say:

Senior basketball player, Trevor Hanna said that what he most likes about pre-season is, “it gets you back in the groove of things and it’s a good time to build chemistry with your teammates.”

That was a thought that was agreed upon by his teammate Tyler Adair. The two also agreed that what they least like about the pre-season is “conditioning.”

Senior wrestler Seth Andrus says that what he enjoys about preseason is to “just get back in the room and get the rust off. I expect a lot of hard work.” He added, “the hard work and running is a challenge, but that’s part of it. You just got to have a positive attitude.” Ultimately he feels that the greatest challenge though is beginning to “manage your weight.”

Olivia McGhee, a senior swimmer said this of pre-season, “I try to get stronger and faster and reach my goals of the times I want. I try to get myself mentally prepared for the meets.” She added that the pre-season is a time for a lot of hard work, “you have to be 100% committed but as long as you have a good head on your shoulders and you do the work it’s not that bad.”

McGhee’s teammate, Rachel Marek, commented that, “I try to get to my times I had last year and match up with them so I can improve this year.” She noted that the greatest challenge is, “training on set times that Coach Merinar puts us on. They’re fun, but hard.”

The pre-season. What happens or not in that three week period leading up to the opening contest of the season will go a long way in determining whether or not a team or individual will ultimately achieve the success that they envision. Like it. Love it or hate it, but you better value it. The pre-season is critical. It is a time of year that individuals and teams can point to as vital in their development. Every day during this period is one to value. Sometimes, there are days that individuals and teams take a step backward. The goal is to be sure that for every one step backward there are two forward. Soon, we will get to see which teams and individuals are headed in the right direction.