Friday marks the first day of practice, which allows us to take a look at why so many MIAA coaches are angry about the annual confines they have to deal with when it comes to getting their teams ready to play.
When MassVarsity spoke to Braintree High coach Brian Chamberlain a few weeks ago about two of his best players, the conversation went in another direction when it came to how the his colleagues can approach the offseason.
To put it lightly, Chamberlain is not happy with how his sport is treated, and from the rest of the coaches we spoke to over the past few months, it's a near-unanimous take.
Basically, the restrictions imposed upon high school coaches here limits how they can develop their players.
"You talk about the (Massachusetts High School Football) Coaches Association, football's under attack," Chamberlain said. "We've got to do things to protect the kids more. So, why not move (the start date of preseason practice up)? And then the MIAA gets involved in the practice scheduling. Contact practices are very minimal now."
The core issue seems to be the MIAA mandating procedural matters that the coaches feel they should be able to have autonomy over. Chamberlain used one example of the frustration that has been bubbling up for years.
"We just got the MIAA to approve, the Coaches' Association put a proposal up, Tom Lopez of Lincoln-Sudbury, he wrote it up and we voted on it withIn these first three days of non-contact, they told us we couldn't use agility pads," Chamberlain said. "Well, we're like, this is the perfect time for us now to teach the kids what it feels like to tackle something, have their arms around it. You don't have to go to the ground with it, just so they can get used to it. Get used to blocking a pad. That's the time we should be using it, when there's no contact, we're using a pad. And they finally listened to us and approved it, so we can use agility pads. But for the first couple years in this new system, we had agility pads out there, we couldn't use them for anything.
"The MIAA wanted us to use them for agility. A lot of teams use them for agility. We also use them for blocking. We use them for tackling things. So, they wouldn't let us use those for the first couple days. So for the first three days, we were handcuffed. . . . So they finally let us put those pads in for teaching how to block and how to tackle, but we can't go to the ground now. But for the MIAA to make a concession, it's a big thing. It's a safety thing where we can teach the kids."
What Chamberlain points out is that limiting contact in the early days of practice actually has the opposite outcome of its intended effect.
"We're teaching kids how to fall, and my high school coach used to say, your body's getting calloused," Chamberlain said. "Because that first couple days, your body's going to be sore, you're going to have bumps and bruises on you, and by the end of the week, you're back to normal. You're used to it.
"These kids aren't getting that. That's why you go to these football camps that start out there soon and they go full contact right away, I go, 'What are we doing full contact for? We haven't done any conditioning hitting? We have to teach them still.' It's tough, but our hands are tied as to what we can do. It's frustrating."
Chamberlain pointed to the late start some teams have to deal with, and an inconsistency between certain programs that make it difficult for everyone to be governed under the same umbrella.
"The first three days are supposed to be a conditioning thing. Well, that's great for the small schools, the South Shore Voke Techs, the Blue Hills, and schools things like that," said Chamberlain, who teaches at a vocational school. "That's great for them, because their kids aren't there all summer long. But for my kids who are in the weight room all the time, like Brockton or Xaverian or Mansfield, our kids have been working out all summer long. They don't need to be in conditioning. We have so much to teach them, and we have such little time.
"We're already handcuffed as it is with the kids. We have a camp, a clinic out in Pittsburgh every year, (assistant coach Wes) Burhoe and I, and we talk to high schools from California. And they're like, 'Every spring, we have a week, we put our passing offense in.' We start laughing at them. 'We say, we have two weeks to put everything in.' The guys go, 'How do you guys do it that way?' We go, 'That's what we have to do.' "
While spring football isn't allowed anymore, Massachusetts did have it in the past. Chamberlain echoed what many coaches have said in regards to the need to have it return.
"In California, in Ohio, they have one week of non-contact football (in the spring)," he said. "There's helmets only. There's no contact. So they put the passing game in and they work on coverages. They just work on the fundamental things that we have to do in August. They would have done it in June. Connecticut has spring football. And we're not talking about spring football like the colleges do where it's a big thing and there's going to be a lot of contact. We just want to do it where there's no contact.
"You're installing everything, and you're getting a feel for what kids are going to be good at, what kids aren't going to be good at. . . . We have so many plays and not enough time to narrow it down because we don't have enough time to teach it."