Thursday, July 31, 2014

No summertime fun for athletes

Some student athletes will stay in Lynchburg for training and rehab instead of going home for summer break

While students across the campus of Liberty University cram for final exams, pack up the old dorm and prepare to head home for a hard-earned summer break, the work has just begun for NCAA athlete peers.

Heat — Liberty athletes work out in the summer.  Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Heat — Liberty athletes work out in the summer. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Sure, they might not be playing games, but for student-athletes the offseason involves as much or more work on their game — technique and conditioning alike — as do their playing months.

“When you’re a division I (DI) athlete, there’s really no time off,” sports nutrition advisor Donna Barber said. “If you take time off, you’re going to be behind when you come back and it will be obvious to your coaches. The majority of our athletes are very serious about staying in shape and getting ahead during the summer.”

For many, that means forgoing a long return home to stay put in Lynchburg, where they have full-time access to trainers, workout facilities, advisors and medical staff.

“Gosh, basically our guys and girls are here most of the summer now,” Director of Sports Medicine Jason Porter said.

Porter estimated that anywhere from 50-80 percent of any team’s roster, depending on the sport, remain in town throughout the summer months. Fall sports, naturally, tend to have the highest percentage of team members stick around in preparation for their upcoming season and training camps — an expected 75-plus percent of the football team per cent of the football team, for example, will remain close by campus this year.

“They’ll be taking class or working, so workouts usually go one of two ways,” Porter explained. “They either go (train) early in the morning and then go to class or work and comeback in the afternoon, or they’ll just go to class or work in the morning and then come work out in the afternoon or evening.”

Additionally, for Porter and the sports medicine staff, much of the work put in over summer involves those athletes with and rehabilitating from injuries. Lining up postseason surgeries and physical therapy plans are priorities — a job made easier if the athlete is nearby throughout the summer.

“If you have a student athlete that’s suffered an ACL injury, for example and they’re headed home, that’s trickier for us because it’s long-distance care at that point,” Porter said. “If they’re going home, we set up physical therapy and rehab stuff … with a clinic close to them according to the ACL protocol our doctors here suggest.”

While fully healthy athletes opting to go home won’t have coaches making arrangements for their routine workouts and eating habits, they are armed with training plans from their respective strength and conditioning coaches, a nutrition plan suggested by Barber according to their body composition goals and a healthy amount of self-discipline. Summer break simply isn’t much of a break at all.

Come fall, when the campus comes back to life and sports start back up again, Flames fans may be tempted to think student athletes’ lives are all bright lights and glory. The staff involved in supporting their hard offseason work, though, beg to differ.

“Come spend a day in their Nikes,” Porter said, smiling. “There’s an awful lot of work that goes into it.”

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