“Back then, you just came in the coach would open up the weight room, you would lift, there would be the occasional 7 on 7 (scrimmage),” said Ernie Howren, football coach at Reed High School.
According to Scott Hare, the football coach at Spanish Springs High School, the summer programs of the past, if they existed at all, were far less organized and were more player driven.
“Summer programs when I was playing was me, the quarterback, it was me and three or four other guys. You had to call each other up and meet somewhere ... We would lift, we would run, we would go and play basketball at the gym,” Hare said.
Now, however, coaches impress upon their players the importance of maintaining rigorous training nearly year round.
“There’s no difference, those four days a week during summer are just like they are if they were playing football during the fall,” Howren said.
From running various schemes to learning the fundamentals of the game, summer football programs nowadays are designed to get players more familiar with the game. Coaches focus on expanding their players’ knowledge of the game and to get their bodies and minds in better shape for football season.
“I’m trying to get our program closer to what it was,” Hare said. “I’m trying to get our kids to play a little more without me interjecting all the time. I’m trying not to answer every question so quickly. I ask them, how would you run this play, what would you do here?” I’m trying to get them to articulate themselves a little bit more … I’m trying to get back to a little bit more of an old school way of doing things.”
While all three local prep coaches admit much has changed in the organization and structure of summer practices now compared to their playing days 20 or more years ago, none could quite put their finger on why it’s changed.
“Since I started coaching high school football, this is the way it’s always been,” Howren said. “We’ve cleaned things up, we’ve made it a lot cleaner.”
High school summer football programs in the Sparks area are also relatively affordable. Generally it only costs students around $100 to participate.
“You gotta find a camp that is affordable for the kids, my camp at Sparks has run off of pure fundraising money that the football team has raised … You’re asking a lot for the kids to fundraise for a more expensive camp,” said Rob Kittrell, the long-time varsity football coach at Sparks High.
Reed High School only charges players $65 and has tried to keep its summer program fees as low as possible.
“We’ve tried to keep it down,” Howren said. “Parents have to pay for enough things…if we can save them a little bit of money we try to.”
Since the summer programs are largely no contact, many players don’t gain an intimate knowledge of actually executing plays and schemes until the regular season begins.
“There is no contact, the physical part of the game: tackling, blocking, you’re not really preparing them for that,” Kittrell said.
Although it’s up for debate as to whether modern football players are any better than their predecessors, there is no doubt that the athletes of today are better conditioned than ever before.
“These kids are bigger, faster, stronger because of the year round training that they do,” Howren said.
The development of better conditioned athletes is in large part due simply to the cultivation and perfection of training techniques that have occurred in the last few decades.
“I think the training techniques that we have are a lot better now,” Kittrell said. “There’s a lot better knowledge on focusing athletes on sport-specific training … You get better players in all sports because of training techniques. We know a lot more than we did 26 years ago.”
Despite the advances in sports training of the last few decades, coaches still struggle to instill values of leadership and independent thinking in some of their players.
“We ask the kids to be adults. We ask them hey, ‘what do you need to do to be ready for August?’ Hare said. “I can get a kid to run from Point A to Point B because I told him to, but it takes him a while to understand why.”
Although many of the techniques, training, and organization of high school summer football programs have changed in recent decades, the willingness of players to give it their all, even during the off season, has not.
“It’s their program, they get one shot at this,” Hare said. “I want to make it as much about what they want to do and what they need.”