Two-a-days: Standard high school football practice

Waterford High School Head Football Coach Tom Tucker remembers how high school football practice used to be, when the customary “two-a-day” practice was the standard to toughen up players for the upcoming season.

“Throughout the years of football, the right of passage was two-a-days, but there was no reason for it,” he said. “Now, we try to stress quality over quantity.”

Reports on deaths and heat exhaustion related to the popular two-a-day practice schedule on both the high school and college level have led to coaches re-evaluating practices, with schools across the country altering the ritual to include more breaks, more water and less heat.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has pushed for the elimination of two practices per day, instead opting for single practices or alternating two-a-days and one-a-day practices every other day.

In West Virginia, two-a-days still exist, though coaches have trended more toward the same split practices only with longer breaks in between and more frequent stops for water.

And in Ohio, two-a-days are allowed by the OHSAA, though the organization sets specific guidelines and many local schools are changing up the game to keep players safe.

“Heat is a big concern for two-a-days, because the body needs time to recover,” said Jaclyn Schwieterman, head athletic trainer for Marietta College. “Acclimatization is big for football, and if the high school athletes are doing any off-season conditioning, two-a-days are not a good idea.”

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends guidelines for athletics on different playing levels, and notes that risk of heat illnesses during the pre-season is high, and recommends that each session in a two-a-day should not last more than three hours.

“When I first started it was two hours in the morning, a one-hour break then another two hours, but that put them outside in the heat of the day,” said Stephanie Evans, athletic director for Belpre City Schools, which now splits practices up so that one is in the early morning and the other is in the evening. “On the really hot days, sometimes they will adjust the times or even just cancel them if it’s really bad.”

Ultimately the decision is put on coaches, who have pushed more toward alternative ways of handling two-a-days.

“When I was in high school, we did a three-a-day every day, but now we’re at the point where we do a two-a-day with 45 minutes to hydrate and get some light food in them,” said first-year Marietta Head Coach Jason Schob, who played for Marietta in the early 2000s. “Then we alternate and have just one two-and-a-half hour practice so they don’t get burnt out.”

“I don’t have a problem with the heat, but it’s nice to have practices in the evenings now instead of the daytime because you go and then get a good night’s rest when you get home,” said Trent Dawson, a sophomore on Marietta’s team.

Tucker, who has been coaching at Waterford for the past two years, decided to get rid of two-a-day practices.

“We went to a clinic a few years ago and listened to a guy whose school had gotten rid of them, and last year we decided to go with one three-hour practice per day instead,” he said. “As far as conditioning, if it’s really hot, we’ll do that early on or do it later based on temperature.”

Waterford is one of several schools with a coaching staff that works during the day, meaning the evening practices are both better for heat and better for schedules.

“We practice in the evenings because I want the kids to be kids,” said first-year Warren Head Coach Anthony Fish. “They should be able to spend the day being children, and some of them work.”

Fish said his own military training taught him that whenever you practice for something, you should practice in the same time of day that you will perform, so his team practices in two 90-minute sessions in the evening.

“I’m not concerned about safety because I give them plenty of water breaks built into the schedule, and we actively keep an eye on the kids for signs of heat illness,” he said.

Warren senior Eric Hackathorn, 17, has been playing all four years of high school, but really likes the way Fish runs practice.

“He’s very into discipline, and those things help,” he said. “The practices are shorter than they used to be, but we get a lot more done, and because they’re in the evenings, I can still work and it’s not as hot.”

At Fort Frye, Head Coach Eric Huck has also been practicing a “modified” two-a-day schedule for the past five years.

“We alternate evenings and mornings, so in between practices players have a full 24 hours to rest,” Huck said. “We’ll go from two to seven in the evenings then about eight to one in the mornings, and I have them bring in food and give them long breaks in between.”

Fort Frye Senior Levi Baker, 17, is entering his third year with the team, and said he has gotten used to how practice is run.

“I like having them back to back with a short break in the middle instead of at two different parts of the day, because it allows us to be completely focused on football for that time,” he said. “And the heat doesn’t bother me so much, because it’s never really that bad in Ohio.”

Fort Frye Athletic Director Andy Schob said the OHSAA sets specific guidelines so athletes do not have to practice in extreme heat, and mandatory programs are in place to teach coaches and players how to properly hydrate and refuel.

“We have plenty of time to recharge during that break, and we actually all get pretty excited to start back up again,” Baker said.

Evans said she has spoken to her counterparts at other schools who said they have gotten rid of two-a-days, but she finds that most of the time in Ohio, coaches are just sticking with alternative timings, more breaks and more monitoring of players.

“There has to be a balance with getting everything in during practice, preparing the athletes physically, and most importantly assuring the health of the players and team both mentally and physically,” said Andy Schob, who also used to serve as the Warren High School football coach before moving to Fort Frye this year.