Larry Burton (Syndicated Writer)
It used to be that high school kids learned all they needed to know from their high school coach and college coaches took those raw recruits and molded them into the kinds of players they needed.
Maybe then, by their junior or senior years, most would be productive starters. Few sophomores and even fewer freshmen would see a lot of playing time.
That was then and this is now.
Now parents who see the spark or those who have coaches that recognize that talent in junior high school and inform the parents are seeking out trainers to do what good old coach Whoever just can't do, give specialized one on one training and conditioning.
Many parents and students now see this as the way to increase the chances of their son to get that college scholarship he may not have gotten before.
Places like Ultimate Performance Sports Speed Training in Birmingham, Alabama provide such services and there are lots of former college and NFL players out there serving as personal trainers as well.
Another is D-1 Sports Training with ten offices across the country, two in Alabama.
Here is a clip from their website describing the services they provide for youth.
D1 trains scholastic athletes (7-18 year olds) in a variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, softball, track & field, and wrestling to name a few. D1's programs are designed to assist each student-athlete in reaching and exceeding their training and athletic goals.
D1 athletes train in age-specific groups: D1 Rookie (Ages 7-11), D1 Developmental (Ages 12-14) and D1 Prep (Ages 15-18). Every D1 scholastic training program incorporates character development, nutritional advice and sport-specific development.
D1 places heavy emphasis on accountability for all athletes. If the student-athlete is willing to make the effort, D1 will too. The end result is an unparalleled level of physical and mental development that can not be matched anywhere else.
|- Ages 7-18 (Grouped by age and sport)||- Speed and Agility Training|
|- Small-Group Program||- Sport-Specific Training|
|- Character Development||- Testing and Progress Tracking|
|- Flexible Schedule|
In researching this article, I was shocked that such places start working with kids as young as seven years old, preparing them for a life as an athlete. Gone are the days when Johnny picked up some knowledge playing touch football with the gang in Pete's back yard.
Coaches like Nick Saban know that recruits that have been given this kind of training have a huge edge over other "raw" athletes. They also know that an 18-year-old that has been in that kind of training program working with a position specialist is the equivalent of a junior or senior of just a few years ago.
They get instruction from some of the better athletes they couldn't get elsewhere.
Peyton Manning for example, is co-owner of the D-1 facilities in Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee and works out there himself in the off season and instructs as well at times.
One father, who is also a youth league coach said of his nine-year-old who attended the Chattanooga D-1 facility, "My son, after four months of work from the day you guys opened up in Chattanooga, changed dramatically. He went from just an average lineman, to a kid with much more strength and speed. Although he has always been our teams starting center, we coaches moved him to middle linebacker and he dominated from the first game. His stamina was limitless, and his strength and speed were superior."
That child was only ten years old.
Not only are today's athletes getting help from these types of facilities, but from the specialized summer camps that almost every major college offers.
These summer camps used to be a dog and pony show that allowed college coaches to make a little more money during the off season, now they are camps that bring in specialized coaches to supplement the coaches. They are provide not just the athlete, but the high school coaching staffs training.
Summer camps are also valuable recruiting tools for the schools involved. In an article I wrote last summer, which you can see here, that camp helped Alabama land Ohio linebacker Trey DePriest.
Such camps are valuable, not just in persuading players to come, but often in finding jewels in the rough they might have missed.
Gone are the days when Bobby Joe might play football on Friday night, sack groceries during the week at Piggly Wiggly and hope for a scholarship from Alabama.
Now it's a year round activity where kids and parents are being left behind that don't take it upon themselves to seek out an edge that supplemental training and conditioning give.
While this is putting a better product on the field for the colleges and putting out tons of freshmen who can compete with seniors right away, it just seems that high school football is losing its charm and becoming more of business than ever before.
Sure there are good side effects. The training and conditioning go hand in hand with sustaining fewer injuries because all of these facilities are strong on injury avoidance. Most also have courses that help the athletes become better students as well. After all, without the grades, there is no future in college football.
And it should be mentioned too that kids in these types of programs also steer clear of problems that youth can typically get involved with. There are many positive attributes to these programs.
But at 53-years-old, it just seems to take away the charm of high school football.
It is obvious to see those kids out there who are men among boys because of all the additional conditioning and training running the others into the ground, but that is progress I suppose, and if they help my favorite team win a BCS title, then I guess I like it after all.