The Survey Says…
New Practice Rules A Work In Progress
HARRISONBURG – When the Virginia High School League’s new out-of-season practice rule went into effect during the summer of 2011, Turner Ashby’s longtime athletic director John Woodrum had two immediate concerns.
First, athletes might feel compelled to focus on their top sport year-round rather than playing a variety of sports. And second, more time allotted to athletics meant the possibility of less time directed toward academics.
“The goal is for kids to realize they are students first,” Woodrum said. “That’s the thing that’s concerned so many of us, not just at Turner Ashby.”
After a full school year with the new VHSL rule, Woodrum and TA assistant principal Phil Judd created an out-of-season practice survey, which Broadway, East Rockingham and Spotswood borrowed as a model to conduct their own online surveys to poll parents, players and coaches.
“We decided after one year, let’s get a feel for how things are going and if there are any suggestions about what best fits our program over here,” Woodrum said of the thinking behind the survey. “…We want kids to be able to participate in other sports.”
Thus, the TA administration wanted to know if it was creating an atmosphere conducive to that and if there was any way of configuring a school policy to “make kids feel like they don’t have to specialize.”
Mid-size schools such as those in the Valley District have a limited number of athletes, so to fill competitive teams consistently, they would prefer athletes play more than one sport.
“We’re in schools where we need our students participating,” Woodrum said.
Turner Ashby principal Steve Walk said the school received 54 completed surveys, which were conducted through monkeysurvey.com over two-to-three weeks this winter. Woodrum declined to reveal specific results until after he consults with coaches and other administrators in May, but did say that some coaches at the Bridgewater school felt concerned with player and coach burnout because of the VHSL’s decision to allow virtually year-round practices.
Woodrum said the first thing he told his coaches last year about the changing offseason climate was they didn’t have to change a thing.
“You don’t have to do anything different than you’ve been doing, as far as we’re concerned,” Woodrum recalled.
SHS athletic director Bill Andrews said results at his school were mixed from roughly 30 completed surveys.
“There were some people who thought we were going too hard and some people who thought we were going to easy,” Andrews said.
East Rock athletic director Eric Phillips said the Elkton school’s survey produced “mainly positive” results with little negative feedback. Harrisonburg did not conduct an out-of-season practice survey, according to athletic director Darrell Wilson.
Ultimately, how much offseason practices increase is left up to the coaches at SHS.
“I think they’re all on board as to it’s their decision,” Andrews said. “…The discussions I’ve had with my coaches, I basically said to them, ‘Make opportunities available for the kids – you have my blessing on that – and just don’t make it too much.”’
Rockingham County has no official policy on the matter. There’s no Valley District or Region III policy, either. However, elsewhere in the state, that is not the case.
Albemarle County, for example, puts formal limits on offseason workouts.
Phil Giaramita, the Albemarle County Public Schools communications officer, said the school division – which includes Western Albemarle and Monticello – is in its second year under a “15-15-10 rule.” He said coaches are allowed to have 15 days of sport-specific drills per off-season (there are two off-seasons for each sport), and 10 days in the summer. Strength and conditioning workouts are still permissible year-round.
“It’s actually worked really well,” Giaramita said, noting the structure it provides in sharing athletes and facilities between different sports with less risk of injury. “One of the things it has led coaches to do is to really plan and structure their time a lot more precisely and a lot more effectively.”
Andrews said many Spotswood coaches limit themselves already in order to spend time with family, using SHS boys’ basketball coach Chad Edwards as an example. Others have secondary jobs that pull them away from practice fields.
Ultimately, the VHSL out-of-season practice rule has athletic directors wondering if local systems should be tweaked or if they’re better left untouched. For now, it remains a work in progress.