A winning condition in Bremerton

The Bremerton High School football team runs prints during practice Wednesday, a preseason football tradition meant to build stamina and strength. - Wesley Remmer/ staff photo
The Bremerton High School football team runs prints during practice Wednesday, a preseason football tradition meant to build stamina and strength.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/ staff photo

It’s been two decades since John Freeman was a teenager. He rarely played video games or watched television and he certainly didn’t have any friends on Facebook.

“When I was a kid we went out and played — played football, played baseball, played basketball, played war out in the brush,” said Freeman, the strength and conditioning coach at Olympic High School whose job is to keep teens fit. “We were doing all these things that are good for the body. Kids nowadays, what do they do? They sit in a chair.”

In a time of ever-present technology and meals on the go, football coaches are placing an added emphasis on conditioning and, in some cases, shifting their approach toward getting student-athletes in shape.

Summer conditioning programs have become the norm, not the exception, and practices are being structured in ways that keep athletes moving, not standing still.

But coaches are saying some students entering football programs are in worse physical shape than previous years, echoing warnings that the young generation is not active enough. Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, with the prevalence of obesity among 12- to 19-year-olds increasing from 5 percent to more than 18 percent, according to data released earlier this summer by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

It’s not a problem for all student-atheletes, but coaches say the trend makes summer programs and pre-season conditioning all the more necessary to ensure players are fit enough to compete.

There was plenty of running this week as Bremerton and Central Kitsap players prepared for the 2010 season with twice-daily practices and conditioning drills under warm, sunny skies. The regular season kicks off Sept. 3.

Trainers scurried to keep water bottles full at Olympic. Players broke into groups for end-of-practice sprints at Central Kitsap High School. Sweaty linemen grunted and pushed sleds at Klahowya Secondary School. Blue-and-gold-painted logs rested next to large tires on the sidelines at Bremerton High School.

No matter the scene, there was plenty of huffing and puffing

“I don’t like it all,” Bremerton junior Marshall Stevens said of conditioning. “But it’s very important, actually.”

Some coaches seek to make conditioning fun, creating games and incorporating competitions. All coaches agree that the risk of injury is less likely among players who are in good shape.

“The No. 1 thing I tell the guys is, ‘This is not a punishment,’” said Nate Gillam, who implemented a summer workout program when he became head coach at Bremerton six years ago. “If you sit on your butt all summer and try to get in shape for a game that’s two weeks down the road, it’s not going to be pretty. You’re going to get hurt and it won’t be any fun.”

Although coaches don’t require student-athletes to attend summer camps — “It’s kind of an unwritten rule that you don’t do that,” Gillam said — players are expected to be fit when they arrive for preseason practices in late-August.

At Bremerton, the coaching staff asks each player to dedicate 50 hours of their summer to training. The team held three, two-hour conditioning or weightlifting sessions per week throughout July, drawing between 20 and 30 athletes a day.

Although Gillam said last week that his 2010 squad “is actually in pretty decent shape,” he, like Freeman, feels as though youngsters aren’t as active as they once were.

“I don’t know if it’s a laziness thing, I just think it’s a focus thing,” said Gillam, who as a teenager spent much of his free time camping and hiking. “The activities they are doing nowadays — they don’t go outside, they don’t play, they don’t run around.”

“You’ve got the iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, all those things. There’s so much stuff to do, and physical activity is not one of them.”

Among those who turned out for Bremerton’s summer program were Marshall, the junior who admitted he doesn’t like conditioning, and seniors Bud Coy and John Huntwork.

Huntwork and Coy said that it took time, but they now understand the importance of conditioning. And although they both admitted to playing video games with teammates on a regular basis, they also acknowledged it’s up to them, as teammates, to lead by example.

“You have to be dedicated and realize you only get this one time to play football,” Huntwork said. “You can play video games the rest of your life.”

Added Coy: “Video games are nice, but they are not nearly as fun as the real thing.”

What is even less fun than running is getting hurt.

Olympic coach Tim Allbee, who defers to Freeman for conditioning drills during practice, said the most fit athletes are the least likely to sustain injuries.

In his many years of coaching high school football, Allbee has seen in-shape athletes recover from injuries faster than those who were out of shape when they went down.

That’s one of the reasons he enrolls players in Freeman’s strength and conditioning program as soon as they register to play football at Olympic.

To that degree, Allbee and Freeman said many muscle movements are learned, that players must learn how to properly exercise.

“The bounce back time is immensely faster when you’re in shape,” Allbee said.

At Central Kitsap, 11th-year coach Mark Keel attempts to keep conditioning fun — and competitive — so that players don’t dread running or stretching or lifting weights. He models some of his workouts after those of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who in nine years at the University of Southern California developed a reputation for running fast-paced, competitive practices.

Like Allbee and Gillam, Keel runs summer training sessions to keep his players fit. Between 40 and 50 of the 72 athletes listed on Central Kitsap’s roster showed up consistently this past summer.

“Guys have seen the result of all the hard work and how we are playing later in the season nowadays, and they agree with it,” Keel said of conditioning.

But with remote controls, keyboards and technology making it easier for young people to interact with each other, the temptation to skip a workout remains tempting for many.

That may never change.

“Video games can be pretty addicting,” said Marshall, who frequently plays basketball at the YMCA in East Bremerton to stay fit. “Sometimes I’m not in the mood to go down to the Y and shoot around.”

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