Contact rule not a blow to MISD programs

Posted Monday, Aug. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The University Interscholastic League caused a stir in the Texas high school football community earlier this year when the organization announced it was striving to make contact limits for practices.

In June, the UIL approved and handed down its mandate – restricting schools to 90 minutes of full-contact practice per week during the season. While old school coaches and players who grew up with the sport some 20 or 30 years ago were probably declaring how soft the game has become, Mansfield ISD coaches agreed that the rule won’t have much impact on their practices and coaching styles.

“Football has changed and evolved so much,” Mansfield High head coach Jeff Hulme said. “Even teams like us that run the ball more than throw the ball, we don’t really hit and tackle and take people to the ground that much in practice. I think it’ll make everyone pay attention to it, because it’s a new rule. But I think the way most people have been approaching it, I don’t think it will have an impact at all.”

Lake Ridge head coach Kirk Thor concurred, adding, “Once the season starts, we do very little contact to the ground. We keep kids up and off the ground to protect kids from injuries. We’ve had that in place for a long time.”

All the coaches agreed that the general approach to football practice has evolved over the years, as science has revealed more about the body and how it responds to things like training and trauma.

“I think we’ve become smarter,” Hulme said. “When you think back, a lot of schools didn’t even have trainers on their staff. Getting water during practice? That was a bad thing, too. But I think it’s just a matter of learning and being smart and being more intelligent when it comes to practice. I think if you went back 20 or 30 years ago and those coaches could have seen what happens when you give the kids more water, they probably would have had better practices. But they just didn’t realize it then.”

Summit coach Travis Pride said most schools already instituted contact limits at practice, even though it wasn’t necessarily an official rule.

“The coaches that are cognizant of the pros and cons of too much contact versus not enough contact and all that; I think we’ve probably already adhered to that. It’s never been documented and written down or put into the practice schedule per se.”

For fans concerned that the UIL is turning the game they love into glorified flag football, Legacy head coach Chris Melson also pointed out that the definition the UIL used for full contact still allows them to be plenty physical in practice.

“The definition they came up with is taking people to the ground,” he said. “Offensive and defensive lines can come off the ball hard every time and make full contact up high. So I don’t think it will be counterproductive at all.”

While all the coaches agreed the contact limits were beneficial to the players, they did express a certain degree of concern that additional cuts to the physical nature of practices could have unwanted effects. There’s the idea that if you limit physical contact too much, players won’t be adjusted for the demands of a full-speed game, actually resulting in an increase in injuries.

“I think those are questions that are good questions, but it’s unknown right now,” Hulme said. “I think we could have some issues where kids aren’t ready. The actual speed of the game increases dramatically over practice. The contact is harder, the hits are tougher. If your body isn’t used to that, that could produce some problems, no doubt.”

“I think it’s a question we wrestle with all the time,” Thor said. “How much contact do you have to get to make sure they’re physically ready to handle it in a game, vs. how much is too much to keep them safe?”

Pride hopes the UIL and other governing bodies still afford the coaching staffs some discretion to determine where that line is for their own teams.

“You do have to be cautious about going too far the other way,” he said. “It is a full-contact sport and you have to learn to play at that speed. There’s coaching involved in taking hits and delivering hits. So if you’re never able to play at that speed or that level of physicality, that could be a concern.

“I don’t want it to be micromanaged so at some point they continue to eliminate it, because I think there’s a fine line,” he continued. “There’s some things you can only teach and experience full speed. If you limit contact all week, or some of the things that we heard were potentially coming down – where they would really limit contact – I think there’s a danger in that. You have to teach a kid how to tackle. Explaining it to them isn’t nearly as beneficial as showing, demonstrating and then having them actively engaging in it.”

Hulme agrees, and analogizes with a pitcher in baseball.

“I think that’s the one thing a lot of people will be anxious to see. If you’re asking a baseball pitcher to throw strikes, but you’re only allowed to throw in the bullpen five minutes a day – how’s he’s supposed to build up his arm strength or know if he can throw strikes or not?”

Regardless of what future changes are in store, the current restrictions don’t appear to change much at all.

“We’ve got to play football games on Friday nights,” Pride said. “So the more full-contact exposure during the week, the kids are more likely to be banged up, bruised or sore. The last thing they’re going to want on Friday night is a lot of contact.”

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