During the dog days of summer, the weight room can feel like a high school athlete's worst enemy. But in fact, it's more often than not its best friend.
Coaches of all sports are in agreement on one fundamental issue of sports: success comes with the willingness to work beyond the limitations of in-season practice hours.
These days, it's difficult to find a school or school district that does not provide some kind of summer weights and conditioning program. But just because the programs are there, success is still far from a guarantee. Consistency and a push for commitment from the coaches plays a big part in getting the athletes to buy into a summer program.
And considering that any team workout in the summer is optional, credit must be given to those players who still show up to improve as athletes.
"With our offseason program, we’re moving into our fourth year and a huge reason that we’re showing success in the fall," Rampart football coach Rob Royer said. "We have great commitment from our kids. We try to get them in here early so they can get out and be a kid, do other sports or go on family vacations. We really try to get things rolling and get them done."
Royer runs the football team's workouts in the summer. A school the size of Rampart tends to get a high number of athletes committed to offseason programs. So much so that they're able to break into their specific teams and build the relationships that they'll rely so heavily on once the school seasons begin.
And this is far from a football-only trait. Regardless of school, the importance of bonding and building team camaraderie is at its peak during offseason workouts.
"You only get so many summer hours before your actual season," Regis Jesuit volleyball coach Ellen Miks said. "So having that momentum and time before the season starts gets you a better shot at a much better preseason."
But not everyone has that luxury. A lot of the Class 4A and 5A schools don't have difficulty generating numbers for athletics, prompting a high participation rate in offseason workouts.
But what of schools with smaller enrollments?
The programs are still there. The coaches still make the commitment. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the mentality shifts from a sport-focused relationship to a school-focused one.
Manitou Springs gathers all of its athletes into one unified strength and conditioning program. The logic was fairly simple. A school with less enrollment relies more on its multi-sport athletes. The bond must be tighter for the school overall, not just its individual teams.
To help with this, the Mustangs rely on coaches with a full understanding of athletic conditioning to help run their program. Assistant football and baseball coach Brandon DeMatto has a vested interested in the athletes that walk his halls.
He also works in the P.E. department so his words do not ring hollow when he talks to his kids about being better athletes, not just better players in a specific sport.
"We have so many kids that are multi-sport athletes," DeMatto said. "We have to develop them from an athletic standpoint rather than a sport-specific standpoint. Once they go to football, they're going to basketball. While there are some things that translate between the two sports, there are things that are more important for a basketball player than what they would be for a football player.
"Then you start getting into baseball from basketball. You look at all the different methods in terms of a baseball player, you're more rotational versus basketball players are more vertical. It just requires us to be broader in terms of our program."
Schools smaller in size tend to have one big disadvantage going for them in anything optional, however. It's optional and the size of the enrollment can limit the participation numbers. In order to keep them up, sometimes the coaches must bend over backwards to keep their kids involved.
"One thing we do is open (the weight room) twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening so kids who have to work all day can make it at night and kids who have baseball in the evening can go in the morning, whatever it may be to make it more accessible to them," La Junta football coach Clint Buderus said, whose team won a title last fall. "During the season, we give them a day off from conditioning for the top kids who made the most weight sessions. We give them t-shirts if they make 20. There are a lot of incentives to make try and make it important for them.”
And what's important for everyone is that all athletes and all coaches are on the same page. The summer programs at larger schools might be sport-specific while smaller schools might be more generalized, but the end goal should be the same: the kids should be working to become better overall athletes.
Regardless of school size, communication between coaches is essential in making sure the athletes are benefiting as much as possible.
"It's always good to work with other head coaches and the crossover of players in multiple sports," Doherty football coach Jeff Krumlauf said. "I know we have a football weights class and throughout the year, those kids are in other sports. We do communicate with other coaches. We ask what they're looking for, what else do they like? On game day we'll make sure they're breaking a sweat but not doing something like squatting so much that their legs are dead for that night's game. Cohesion is always a good thing."