When it comes to designing a high school football training program, there are two major goals to keep in mind: one is to improve a player’s ability to perform on the field and increase your team’s chance of winning, but you’ll also want to improve a player’s overall physical fitness in order to prevent unnecessary, and possibly catastrophic, injuries. Some aspects of training address both these goals, while some will require specialized attention. Football is a multi-faceted sport that requires a diverse skill set from each player, so focusing on only one aspect, such as strength or speeds exclusively, won’t help your players reach their full potential. You’ll also want to include exercises and drills that improve agility and balance, build core strength, and prevent injury in your training program. Although the specifics that make up an optimal training program may vary somewhat from position to position, it’s important to take an all-around approach regardless. Here are some tips for how to develop a training program that addresses the needs of all your players to help to create a well-balanced team where the sum is truly greater than the parts.
While it shouldn’t be the only goal of a high school football training program, strength training is certainly an important aspect. Strength, of course, is about much more than how much a player can bench press or how big a player’s muscles are in relationship to someone else’s; it’s about reaching optimal levels of strength for a specific position and a specific person. When designing a strength training program, keep the focus on individual goals rather than competitive ones, with a special emphasis on performing exercises correctly. Make sure players understand proper form and the importance of going slowly and maintaining control throughout the movement instead or jerking or rushing. Controlled repetitions help to build not just muscle strength, but the tendons and ligaments as well. Stronger tendons and ligaments will not only decrease the chance of injury, they will also contribute to increased power.
There are four main types of strength training you should include in your program. Functional strength training is an important aspect; make sure your players are working all the muscles in their body equally, not just the obvious biceps, pectorals, and quadrilaterals, for instance. Working calf muscles, hamstrings, triceps, etc., will create a balanced, symmetrical strength that will both improve performance and prevent injury. Hypertrophy strength training, wherein the focus is on increasing muscle mass, is important but should account for no more than 50% of the total workout focus, even for linebackers. Maximal strength training, which increases power, involves lifting heavier weights for smaller amounts of reps. Power strength training, on the other hand, is a combination of less weight and explosive movements to build quick and powerful muscle response. These types of strength training shouldn’t be done simultaneously but rather in cycles, with each type building on the next. Start with a cycle of functional training, then a cycle of hypertrophy training, followed by maximal and then power strength training to develop all around strength and power in your players.
Although speed training is of varying levels of importance depending on position, all players will benefit from being able to run faster and for longer periods of time. A linebacker won’t get a whole lot of benefit from long distance runs, but working on interval sprints of distances between five and twenty miles with a focus on explosive starts can improve their play. Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, on the other hand, will benefit from longer runs of varying intensity; have players run 100 yards, with the first 20 run at a half pace, sprint for the next 20, slow down for the next 20, and so on. You can use this drill to increase agility as well by having players switch between running forwards and running backwards every 10 or 15 yards. Agility can also be increased through the use of tire or ladder drills and plyometric exercises. When designing your agility training program, however, don’t overlook one important aspect: balance. Good balance and body awareness not only lead to improved agility, it may also reduce the risk of injury. Proprioception exercises, once used almost exclusively for physical therapy and rehabilitation, are a great way to improve your player’s balance. This can be as simple as performing basic stances such as standing on one leg with one’s eyes closed for a period of time, or you can use balance boards or other controlled unstable surfaces.
One last important tip for what to include in your high school football training program: neck strengthening exercises. Developing strong neck and shoulder muscles is a critical way to help prevent injury during training and games. They are quick, easy to do, and should be incorporated regularly into a supervised training routine to ensure they’re done correctly.