This section is from the book "A Scientific And Practical Treatise On American Football For Schools And Colleges", by A. Alonzo Stagg, Henry L. Williams. Don't miss: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
In the early days of college athletics and amateur sports the popular belief was universally accepted that a most rigorous diet must be entered upon if the young aspirant for college honors would fit himself properly to represent his alma mater in the boat, on the running track, or in individual contests. Many an alumnus who pulled an oar on the crew in the fifties and sixties, will recall visions of raw beef, a limited bill of fare, and a prescribed daily amount of water that made the training of thirty years ago a hardship for which dim dreams of possible glory seemed a doubtful compensation.
These old ideas have now changed almost entirely, and the young collegian of to-day, who secures a position on any one of the college teams, and obtains a seat at the "training table," is an object of envy rather than of compassion to his classmates. The training table diet of to-day is almost sumptuous, and few men in college enjoy better living than the members of the university athletic organizations. Roast beef, lamb chops, beef steak, roast lamb, and broiled chicken, oatmeal, rice, mush, and the cereals, potatoes served in all styles but fried, stale bread, onions, garden vegetables in season, eggs, dry toast, apple sauce, baked apples, prunes, grapes, oranges, figs, dates, and fruits in season (with the exception of raw apples), rice and bread puddings, furnish an abundant variety from which to choose.
A few things only are put upon the proscribed list: Pies, cakes, salads, all forms of pork, veal, rich dressings, fried food, ice-cream, confectionery, soda water, so-called soft drinks, (and it is needless to say drinks of a stronger nature,) tea, coffee, and chocolate, should be cheerfully and absolutely given up. From the first day of training it should be rigidly enforced that all pipes, cigars, and cigarettes be laid aside, absolutely, until the contests are over.
Regularity in all the daily habits of life is of the greatest importance. The hours for rising, for meals, and for retiring should not vary from day to day; and in so far as it is practicable to do so, it would be advantageous to have the regular practice come at that portion of the day in which the important games of the season will take place.
That the football player should have long hours of restful sleep is a point too frequently overlooked. While it is impossible to state a definite time that shall apply to all cases, a sleep from ten o'clock in the evening until seven the next morning, and a short walk before an early breakfast, will be found to be of the greatest benefit in all instances. Probably a large proportion of the cases of over-training, that occur during the football season, are caused by late hours, irregularity of habits, and insufficient rest. Had these points been carefully attended to, the hard work upon the field would have produced no hurtful result. When the recreation period of the players makes it necessary that the daily practice shall come immediately after the noon meal, it will be found more healthful to have the practice hour preceded by a light lunch, and postpone the hearty dinner until night. But should the daily play come in the morning, or in the middle of the afternoon, it will be better to have the dinner hour at noon.
Over-training is something which is much easier to prevent than to remedy when once it is an accomplished fact. In preparatory schools, where a less violent and less tiring system of training is followed, no thought need be given to this point, but in the larger colleges one or more cases of over-training among the valuable men is apt to occur toward the end of a season of hard work.
Should any one of the players get into this condition, he should be given an absolute rest for several days, and then be allowed to play only part of the time during each remaining day of practice. An immediate change of diet with a removal of all training-table restrictions, will also be found of value.
"When a faithful worker finds himself coming upon the field day after day with a worn and tired feeling, no longer able to play with his former dash and energy, and his speed gradually decreasing, he should at once suspect that his muscles are becoming over-tired, and so fatigued that they cannot recuperate between one day's work and the next.
The practice of drinking water during the game is exceedingly bad, and never should be permitted, though rinsing the mouth is admissible. The best results will be obtained if no water whatever is swallowed until more than an hour after the practice is over. The habit which some players have of chewing gum during the game is pernicious. After the first week or two has passed, the mouth will be found to be far less dry where no gum is used, than where a constant flow of saliva is kept up by the act of mastication.
During the season there undoubtedly will be a number of rainy days. These by no means should be lost. As a rule, it is best to practice upon the field as usual, since the most important game of the season may come in bad weather, and the experience of having frequently played in the mud with a wet and slippery ball will prove invaluable.
On special occasions light work in the gymnasium, tackling the bag, and practicing the signals indoors, may be substituted with advantage. Every team should be provided with a tackling-bag. This may be made of leather or canvas, and should be from four to five feet long, a foot in diameter and stuffed with hay, hair, or excelsior, to represent the body of a man. No better practice can be had for low hard tackling than to have such a bag suspended by a long rope from a rafter in the gymnasium over a number of floor mats, letting the men run half the length of the floor and spring for it from some ten feet away as it swings slowly backward and forward. But except on such special occasions when no out-door practice is taken for the day, indoor gymnasium work should be given up, as the exercise upon the field demands every energy.
During the last few weeks of the season, when the final eleven has practically been decided upon, and team play is being developed, an opportunity should be found each day to send the eleven up and down the field in their regular positions, upon short runs of from five to fifteen yards, with no opposing rush line drawn up against them, in order that the signals may be thoroughly drilled into each player and substitute, and all learn to work together as one man. It is of the highest importance to have a number of substitutes, each of whom is thoroughly acquainted with the signals, as the replacing of a player in case of accident by one in the slightest degree unfamiliar with the signals will destroy team play and cause the side a loss much greater than the value of the man who has left the field.
The number of regular games a week a team can play 2 to advantage cannot be definitely stated. The condition of the men and their especial needs must determine this. As a rule, more than two match games a week cannot be played if the best results are to be obtained. A hard game should not be played within less than a week before one which is considered to be of great importance, if it can be avoided, on account of the danger of having a valuable man disabled, and in order that there may be an abundance of stored-up energy upon the day of the important contest.
During the last few days before the final game, the practice should be short, but sharp while it lasts, with a considerable amount of time devoted to practicing the signals, falling upon the ball, and perfecting team play. On the day immediately preceding the game an absolute rest should be taken.
It is a mistake to attempt to play the full hour and a half on each day of practice throughout the season. About two half hours of sharp work, with a rest of five minutes between, will produce the best results, and in the earlier regular games each half should be limited to thirty minutes.
The daily practice of the team upon the field will not afford sufficient opportunity to the backs to become proficient in kicking and catching the ball. When it is possible; a half hour should be devoted by them at some other portion of each day throughout the entire season to punting, catching, and goal kicking. Numerous minor sprains and bruises will necessarily be received during the season, for which hot water and flannel bandages will be the best remedy.
In case of a sprained ankle or a serious bruise to one of the muscles of the leg, a long period of disability may result from continued playing, and the captain should insist that a player so hurt should leave the field at once. A thin leather anklet had better be worn inside the shoe by each player in the team as a safeguard and protection.
When a man has a bruised and sensitive knee, a moist-tened sponge, the size of a fist, placed just under the knee cap will afford relief and protection. Sprains and bruises of a serious nature are more liable to occur during the first few weeks of practice than at any other time in the season. This is due to the fact that many of the men have just returned from long vacations of ease and idleness, and their muscles are not ready to endure the sudden strains and wrenches to which they immediately find themselves subjected. The careful captain will see to it that the promising new candidates for his team and the old men are all gathered together from one to two weeks before the season of actual playing is to begin, and put through a series of light exercises, given short runs, made to pass, kick, and fall on the ball, and are given such general light work for wind and muscle as shall enable them to engage in the regular practice without danger. Thick sweaters and overcoats should always be in readiness to put on after playing, and proper care taken to guard against catching cold.
Cleanliness is a hygienic necessity during the football season, and every team should, if possible, have hot and cold water shower baths connected with their dressing rooms.
Long hot baths are weakening, and should be avoided; though upon special occasions, when a cold has settled in the muscles, a Turkish bath may prove of great value.
The captain's word upon the field is absolute law, and should be followed with unquestioning obedience.