By Pat Genovese, former Head Coach, William Smith College
When you are frustrated with obstacles impeding your practices, perhaps rereading this post will place your thoughts in perspective and help you appreciate what you have, yet inspire you to forever uncover ways in which to improve your program.
Few of you will remember the long winters, harsh weather and limited practice venues of the past. The pre-season started in tiny gymnasiums with 36 women on a team, then advanced outside to blacktop parking lots enabling you to practice on three-quarters of field and build your cold air lungs.
Eventually you’d get on natural grass where the ground was still frozen, offering multiple tripping mishaps. Practices during lake effect snow squalls and the unpredictable northeast weather that could blanket 4 to 6 inches of new snow on your field calling for massive snow removal. “Snow removal” meant coming to practice in ski gear and lining up on one side line, rolling large snowballs off the field. This left stripes of brown grass, with columns of snow in between which we hoped the sun goddesses would melt the next day, allowing us to practice outside, on the natural grass. A great workout!
Often in late March, natural fields were not feasible to play contests on. With the support and generosity of access to the turf fields at the University of Rochester, Cornell, Union and the Syracuse Carrier Dome, game sites were changed, travel plans made, and officials switched assignments; luckily games were able to proceed as scheduled. We were always grateful for those Athletic Directors at those institutions willing to help out when their schedule allowed us access to their venues.
Protecting home grass fields for home games, especially NCAA games, was another matter. Tarps covered the creases and what is now the fan. Tennis squeegees were used by the team to soak up puddles, and “stay dry” thrown on wet areas.
During late February and early March you had FOUR practice plans ready to go every day – one for inside, one for outside, another for the weight room, and a final one to use if you ended up running stairs and hallways.
Horizontal snow, rain, and gale force winds while practicing side by side next to the Hobart men’s team, with my college classmate Dave Urick at the helm made it quite a quandary. Both teams refused to go in before the other. FINALLY, A HAND WAVE AND A DRAW AS BOTH TEAMS DEPARTED THE SAME TIME. We always felt prepared to play contests in whatever weather conditions, as most days one practiced in a variety of elements.
Finally, turf appears. The only issues now are plowing the field, which is done with PVC piping covering the plow blade, and getting out of the area safely when freezing rain or lightning appears out of nowhere. Climbing and exiting the field through the spectator bleachers, which were made of aluminum, was treacherous. Slippery steps and icy railings called for a single file exit so one could catch the person in front from falling to the ice queen.
Having people admire your facial tan. Responding that it is not a tan, it is rust and windburn.
Miraculously, winter immediately turns into hot summer without any time to acclimate to the heat. NCAA Championships were often down south, which required adjusting to 80+ degree weather with equal humidity. That meant more conditioning and wearing full sweats while pre practicing for those events. Again getting your humid lungs. Look what some of you might have missed either playing in or coaching back in the day! Even at the Sanford School in Delaware in March, when college tournaments for spring training occurred, we can recall one weekend of 45 mph winds. We still played and loved every minute of it.
Look what we have today. Large Field Houses, some housing two or three indoor fields with the height necessary for practices. Turf and grass turf fields with some accessory turf/grass turf fields nearby. Some very well maintained natural grass fields.
Acknowledge the administrators and coaches before you who strived for the best facilities and venue to match your outstanding programs. Be grateful, yet continue to fight to meet the future needs of your program.
Geographic regions bring unforeseen natural forces that interrupt practices and games. Respect them, do not take chances with Mother Nature. Safety first for you, your staff, players, trainers, officials, spectators.
We appreciate today the turf fields, manicured natural grass fields, indoor facilities, locker rooms, team weight rooms, athletic trainers, sport psychologists, strength specialists, dentists, orthopedic personnel, and physical therapists who support and keep our program solid.
All programs will face obstacles with academic schedules, practice times, NCAA issues, departmental policies and restrictions. However, as coaches your expertise is taking on challenges and working though them for the betterment of your staff and team. Provide the best environment for your staff and players to work in… and be the first to show your appreciation for what you have due to those that came before you.
Looking back, some of the tightest practice spots – small gyms, box lax – honed the best small game tactics. Creativity, making adjustments on the fly, and challenging your players are everyday projects. Just when you think you have covered it all – WHAM… prepare for the unexpected, remain cool and calm under pressure and the attitude will become contagious.
Have a great year!