The official start of mandatory fall practice for public high schools in New York is Aug. 13.
Yet virtually every day this summer, Section 1 athletes have practiced or worked out, usually supervised by high school coaches.
Under state regulation, these sessions are not mandatory and are open to all students, regardless of whether they plan to try out for the team.
And while many athletes appreciate the opportunity to group-train, serious questions surround summer training.
“People usually slack off in the off-season. This makes us ready for the season to come out strong,” Yorktown varsity soccer player Isabella Saljanin said this month before practicing with 10 other players. “We can run a mile together. It’s easier to run with the team supporting you. There’s not much pressure to be here.”
On the other side, many wonder if practices are truly optional everywhere; whether they unfairly cut into family/vacation time and whether a lack of attendance influences playing time, or even making a team.
Some suggest the state or at least Section 1 should place limits on off-season practice.
Pressure to participate
Bill Tribou, the former 23-year Horace Greeley head varsity football coach, who’s currently an assistant at Hackley, thinks the state should ban all organized public high school summer practices and workouts.
“Once school is over, there shouldn’t be one thing. Let people live their lives,” Tribou said.
“I’ve gone full cycle from full psycho,” he said, admitting during part of his time at Greeley, his practices weren’t truly optional. “You call it optional when a coach is looking cross-eyed at you that you’d better be there?”
He said he gave up his entire summers, working in the weight room with players five days a week.
“A lot of coaches would rather win than have a break,” Tribou said. “A lot put in time and sacrifice family.”
In his case, he figures the scoreboard return was “marginal.”
North Rockland athletic director Joe Casarella said coaches must be understanding about kids missing optional practices.
“I think some parents may worry the coach will take it personally,” he added. “I tell them not to worry about it.”
That hasn’t stopped accusations.
Casarella said parents have called him, claiming their child was cut or wasn’t made a starter due to missing optional training.
“All I can do is ask the coach and, of course, he’ll say, ‘No,’” Casarella said.
“Parents are concerned with the time commitment,” said Tribou, who added he’d advise parents of marginal players to forego optional practices for scheduled vacations.
Irvington and other schools in Irvington’s conference, including Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley and Rye Neck, have decided to delay official practices until Aug. 20. Athletic director Artie McCormack said the Aug. 13 start doesn’t let kids “connect with their families.”
McCormack, who believes summer workouts may be more mandatory in some communities, is fine with them if optional and conducted in “moderation.”
But he said coaches who run more than one or two practices a week risk later being challenged by parents who want to know why their child, who attended each practice, isn’t starting over someone who did not.
“When you’re a coach with all these practices, you set yourself up,” he said.
‘Like the wild west’
Harrison football coach Dom Zanot ran a football camp in June and now oversees Monday-through-Thursday strength and speed training. A fluctuating number of students attend, including non-football players.
Running back/linebacker Justin Altamuro, who’s a regular, said Zanot makes players feel comfortable about taking time off.
“It’s not a high-tension environment,” Altamuro said.
Zanot said some players are missing more than that in Europe with family.
He values summer workouts, but criticizes the lack of standards and oversight. With individual districts setting their own policies, it’s like the “Wild West,” he said.
Zanot scheduled off-time for the week before and after July 4.
But, in theory, coaches in all sports can — if they receive their AD’s blessing — conduct practice seven days a week throughout the summer.
Zanot doesn’t support that practice.
He also questions why the state prohibits contact and use of protective equipment the first two days of official football practice and doesn’t allow scrimmaging and full contact the next three days, while placing no limits on what occurs before this, in the off-season.
The absence of guidelines also creates coach-parent problems.
Some parents don’t like summer practice while others advocate for their school to practice more than their rivals, Zanot and Harrison athletic director Chris Galano said, referring in part to Harrison fans keeping tabs on what Rye is doing.
“I’d like some rules to follow,” Zanot said, “because, with no rules, coaches’ reputations are being formed.”
Galano advocates capping the number of off-season practices for each sport and limiting the number of football practices in which helmets and pads may be worn.
Galano is partly concerned about player “burn-out,” over-use injuries and the lack of an “even playing field.”
Robert Zayas, director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, said NYSPHSAA won’t recommend any policy changes but sections may individually tighten rules or propose a vote by all sections to do so statewide.
Casarella doesn’t envision limits.
He predicted a large backlash were Section 1 to implement rules and subsequently lose in state playoffs to a team from a section without similar limits.
Connecticut doesn’t allow “sanctioned” summer practices but “you can condition as much as you want,” said Gregg Simon, associate executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“We want kids to enjoy their summer,” Simon said. “They need downtime – time for kids to be kids.”
He called over-use injuries a big concern.
But Tony Maselli, assistant director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said individual NJ school districts currently decide what they’ll allow.
Mandatory workouts aren’t banned, although Maselli speculated making them mandatory would be a “tough sell.”
“Most schools would frown on that,” suggested Maselli, who noted official football workouts may start as soon as Aug. 8 with other sports allowed to begin Aug 13.
But he indicated some concerns about summer workouts are shared between the states.
“It’s really summer stuff out of control – no time for kids to be kids,” Maselli said.
Some districts and conferences, he said, are talking about instituting “blackout periods” when no organized practices/workouts would be allowed.
Wayne Guarino, Montville High School athletic director, said many of his school’s teams have non-mandatory workouts and/or practices that allow for time away.
“At the moment, I feel that our coaches do a tremendous job communicating with families in order to allow student-athletes time away,” Guarino said. “However, high school sports teach many young athletes what it means to make sacrifices and how to deal with adversity. … There are always going to be upsides and downsides when evaluating programs.
“Attending summer workouts provides student-athletes with a regimented schedule and a great amount of responsibility,” Guarino added. “These workouts help the student athlete prepare for the school year and inevitably learn discipline.”