July 31, 2008
Training camp is like a dentist appointment, you dread it all month long, you see its impending approach, and when it's finally there you are sweaty and nervous and your heart races. Only unlike a dentist appointment it wont last an hour, the professional to whom you've entrusted your care isn’t trying to make you as comfortable as possible, and there really is no way to dull the pain of two-a-days.
It’s a combination of Christmas day excitement and what I think the proverbial lamb must feel on its way to slaughter. Everyone has their little routines that get them mentally prepared for the torture that lies ahead. Walking into our training camp dormitories I looked down at the carpet and thought to myself, “What is it with these industrial carpet patterns?” I read somewhere once that they make those patterns a certain way, especially in
Go to wholesale club. Buy bottled water, Gatorade, cashew nuts, and one tin of chewing tobacco. While the water and Gatorade are for hydration, the nuts are a calorie-dense food that I consume before bed in the hopes of maintaining my weight (which I never do). And the tobacco, my most grievous vice, is to keep me awake for the endless cycle of meetings that will I will endure in the weeks to come.
Training camp is a completely outdated practice. Going back to the very roots of football, back when there was an actual “off-season” and the purpose of a two-a-day was to get the out of shape lumberjacks and insurance and car salesmen back in shape. The problem is that in football today, from professional to pee wee, there really isn’t a true “off-season." The modern football landscape and the desire for elite athletes to perform at elite levels means that after the fall there is winter conditioning and weight lifting. After the winter there is spring football practice (and more weightlifting); after the spring there is summer conditioning and lifting, and summer leads right back into fall.
But the only purpose of training camp I see that is still relevant is to turn the unfocused into machines, let go of politics and social matters (only concerns for the outside world), and become a drone memorizing defenses and formations and blocking schemes and countless line stunts. In his 1982 football recollection, The End of Autumn, one-time Kansas City Chiefs center Michael Oriard wrote "thinking was an unwanted burden, it was easier to stumble from bed to practice field, from meal to meeting, without much reflection." Under Oriard’s (astute) observation, I should probably stop writing right now. The truth is I have very little in common with the training camps of the 1920s and 30s that were associated with the birth of modern football. I am not sequestered miles from the nearest modern amenity; I sit in a college dorm with a fan, internet access, a TV, DVD player, and a cell phone.
But the grind of football is the same. Two-a-day workouts in the summer heat are still two-a-day workouts in the summer heat. And a yelling football coach is still a yelling football coach. And being out of touch with society (and reality for that matter) is also a burden. We miss girlfriends and parents and showering alone. We miss our own beds and actually being treated like adults who can manage their own time. Instead, every minute of every day is mapped out in a way that would make the Marines jealous.
What I really can't understand is that no player enjoys training camp, yet most players eventually become coaches, or should I say most coaches were once players. Yet none of them have done away with this ridiculous practice. It's like the minute the whistle blows on the last play of your last game, your mind starts to work backwards, erasing all those days you were sweating and puking your guts out in the high sun of August, and you begin to romanticize about how "when I played, men were tougher and coaches more informed--the game was harder." No. Training camp sucks. But perhaps it is a necessary evil to ensure that the bonds and ties to the game from generation to generation are never broken. After all, misery loves company.
"Leave me no compromise on things half done. Keep me with a stern and stubborn pride, and when the last fight is won, God keep me still unsatisfied."