High school coaches can now practice year-round with their teams after a measure was passed Friday by the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council.
The measure, which passed by a vote of 39-5 and goes into effect July 1, does not put limitations on out-of-season practices with the exception of helmets and shoulder pads not being allowed during football workouts.
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Essentially, what it means is this: A football coach can now practice three, four, five teams a week during the winter sports season; a softball coach can do the same during the fall season.
Marcus Williams, athletic director for the Chandler Unified School District, said he doesn’t believe the measure will have any dramatic effect on the high school sports landscape because so many schools already have out-of-season programs, whether it’s fall baseball, open gym for basketball or clinics run by coaches.
“For larger schools, it’s not really changing anything,” Williams said. “We’re just legalizing what has been going on.”
Scottsdale Prep Athletic Director Duane Edinger, who was one of the five no votes, said he’s concerned the legislation will hurt smaller schools, which rely heavily on athletes playing more than one sport.
“Being at a small school and involved with small schools for 31 years now, I believe that year-round practicing really hinders the opportunity for students to be multi-sport athletes,” Edinger said. “It’s going to encourage coaches to practice year-round, and for small schools to have the opportunity to have a variety of sports, we need multi-sport participation. This discourages that.”
AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer echoed Edinger’s remarks, saying, “Small schools wouldn’t survive if they didn’t share kids and do it in a positive way.”
Williams believes the danger of practicing year-round and thus encouraging single-sport specialization will be lessened if coaches work together. He said the football coaches in the Chandler Unified School District already have talked about not wanting to have to work year-round and “advocating for more multi-sport athletes.”
But Slemmer again used the term “implied coercion,” suggesting that even if a coach encourages athletes to play multiple sports, kids might feel pressured to practice with the sport they like best or one they believe is their ticket to an athletic scholarship. He’s also skeptical that coaches will keep their promise to limit practice time.
“I’m confident they’ll talk about it at a district and school level, but I’m not sure when the rubber meets the road that coaches are really going to say, ‘I’m OK with this,’ ” Slemmer said.
One of the reasons behind the measure, according to Williams and others, is to try to woo kids away from club sports out-of-season by giving them an opportunity to practice with their high school coach.
“To me, we’re giving control out-of-season to the school and district,” Williams said.
Edinger, although he was against the proposal, appreciated that aspect, saying, “I’d rather have my student practicing with my coach instead of a club coach.” He also said that it helps even the playing field for rural schools that don’t have club programs nearby because they can now have their kids practice throughout the school year.
But, he added, the consequence is giving families another reason not to have their kids play more than one sport. He also cited studies linking single-sport specialization to a greater risk of injury. A recent study funded by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and conducted by the University of Wisconsin found that athletes who specialize in one sport are 60 percent more likely to suffer lower-body injuries.
“That’s another negative,” Edinger said.
As part of the measure. spring football is defined as 18 practices over four weeks.
A main reason for moving in this direction is coaches feeling a loss of control in the advent of club sports and how 7-on-7 all-star teams from various schools are taking off.