Behind the lines: What off season?

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    The off-season, it used to be a time when kids found summer jobs, hopefully, something that would teach them a few skills they could use later in life. My friends and I were lucky to live in a time when the off-season was exactly that, a time away from sports.

    Those days are gone for many teenagers these days. The summer months are full of camps, workout sessions, and in the case of sports like soccer and volleyball, there is no off-season, ever.


    The burnout rate in wrestling is perhaps the highest of all sports since boys and girls now begin hitting the mat when they’re barely out of diapers. It’s not hard to understand why so many promising wrestlers walk away from the sport in their pre-teen years, or perhaps hang on until their freshman year before abandoning their parent’s dreams forever.

    As a coach, I was guilty of summer camps as well, but nowhere near the level, the off-season has reached these days.

    Wyoming had a strict off-season schedule until the mid-1980s. The rule was that there was none. A coach working with a team out of season risked termination, his team risked suspension, and the entire school’s athletic department risked sanctions.

    Not many risked it.


    That all changed beginning with time limits on off-season practices, games, and team camps.

    Players were always able to attend an individual training camp, usually at a university, but the cost and the call of a few extra bucks in a summer job kept many away.

    The funny thing about those early years of taking kids to a seven-on-seven football camp, or a weeklong team basketball camp was that it dramatically improved your performance during the regular season.


    What wasn’t so funny was that everyone began to do it, so the advantage was eliminated.

    Gradually the more “competitive teams” (read that as those driven by on-the-edge coaches and insane fan bases) upped the number of summer games from 15 or 20 to 30, then 50, and in the case of a couple of East 4-A squads, a whopping 60 game summer schedule.

    It became ludicrous, and the other sports cried foul. Many towns, including Riverton and Lander, had trouble fielding American Legion or Babe Ruth programs since their prospective players were tied up at football and basketball camps all summer, along with strict lifting schedules in the gym.


    It was all done in the name of competition, better competition for those that bought into the program was the promise. Sometimes, it worked and other times it didn’t.

    As my late friend Harold Bailey often said, “You don’t win the Kentucky Derby with a plow horse.”

    Year-round workouts have a marginally positive effect, but there has to be talent, desire, and a strong will to win in place before you play a single sport year-round.

    Contrary to the clueless advice that focusing on a single sport makes you a better athlete in that sport, the truth is that a balanced athletic life makes you better at each sport.

    Playing basketball, football, baseball and hurdling, sprinting, or jumping is the best way to improve in all three sports. The same holds true for volleyball, basketball, and soccer.

    There aren’t many single sport athletes in Division I basketball or volleyball, there are none in football at any level from Division III to the NFL. Multi-sport athletes just have an advantage over those who are guided into a single, 12-month-a-year single-sport program.

    You can argue, but you’ll eventually lose when the kid playing those extra sports beats out your son or daughter for a scholarship.

    Which brings us back to the “off-season.” Lifting weights, running, and training is always a great way to develop during the off-season, so are limited numbers of skill development camps, and maybe a dozen or two off-season basketball or volleyball games played across the state, or even against teams in neighboring states.

    Most of the kids I coached had summer jobs. They worked on their home farms and ranches, at local hardware stores, irrigating, driving equipment, and stacking hay for neighbors and even a couple of the tougher ones lied about their age so they could work construction jobs usually requiring being 18.

    We found a weekend, or maybe a four-day period for the guys to go to team camps. Some were informal affairs. Al Redman would call me, and we’d go to Ethete to take turns playing Big Piney, Worland, or Thermopolis on the Chiefs big floor. We played two games at once, side by side, let the kids rest for a while and get a little something to eat, then play the other team. By the end of the day, we’d all had three full games and it was just a quick ride home for us, and another hour or so for the Punchers, Bobcats, and Warriors.

    We played at a team camp in Lander several times as well, always against Class 3-A competition. That helped us, and we were competitive enough in those days to give them all a good game.

    Douglas had a great team camp with players and coaches staying at the State Fair dormitories. Where else could Shoshoni square off with Wheatland, Douglas, Newcastle, Buffalo, Kelly Walsh, and Saratoga, not many other venues brought such a varied lineup to play.

    Casper held camps as well, and the Cowboy State Games in those days featured age-division basketball with high school teams using the games as a summer development camp. It all worked well.

    The best camp was held at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. It cost a lot more than the other camps for each player, but the recreation department offset some of the cost. We didn’t do fundraisers, so each kid had to find his own funds.

    In the summer of 1987, we went 11-0 against Colorado 4-A and 5-A competition, we were state champs the following spring.

    In 1989 our record was 8-3 against the same schools, Golden, Cherry Creek, Brush, Trinidad, and Los Animas to name a few. We missed the big dance in an overtime loss, with a third-place conference finish.

    In 1992 we couldn’t beat anyone at camps in Douglas and Saratoga, even JV teams beat us.

    We finished the season with a perfect record, 0-18. There were a couple of overtime losses and we played everyone close at the end, but it was a winless effort.

    Harold’s works came back often that year. The kids were great, they just were thoroughbred racehorses and were better set for the plow.

    The off-season. Take a little time off, but just a little. Play other sports, work out, go to the lake, catch a few fish, and spend summer as it was intended to be.


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