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5 Ways to Prepare for the Upcoming Fall Sports Season

High schools across the nation are just weeks away from welcoming new and returning students. Many of these students will be participating in a sport, ranging from football, volleyball and soccer to gymnastics, cross-country and tennis. There are numerous benefits in participating in an interscholastic athletic program, such as building self-esteem, camaraderie and overall health and fitness. George Smith, one of the most highly regarded athletic directors in the country, has worked with athletes of all levels of ability for nearly 35 years, with many of them past or current collegiate or professional athletes. For Coach Smith, it doesn't matter if the student athlete wants to get fitter and stronger or has aspirations to compete at a higher level, as many of his team sports refrain from cutting anyone who wants to participate. But for anyone who wants to get involved in athletics, it helps to have a solid fitness base before being part of the team. Here are five of his tips on ways high school students can prepare for the upcoming fall sports season.
Attend a high school summer conditioning program
Summer Conditioning Program
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Not every high school will have a summer conditioning program, but it’s important for student athletes to stay fit throughout the year. At Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Coach Smith oversees a fitness system that’s divided into “four quarters,” with a summer program noted as the third quarter and the fall sports season as the fourth quarter. The summer program offers weight training and general conditioning, which can include sport specific exercises such as strength, speed and power exercises for football players and volleyball players and endurance training for cross country runners. If a program is unavailable, a high school athlete can stay fit by working with a fitness professional from a local gym, in an organized summer league program or simply training with friends.

Don’t train alone
High School Sports
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Although it may seem convenient to train alone, an athlete can progress much faster with a high school coach. Additionally, there are summer recreational sports programs to get involved with, or friends can start their own summer sports teams. There are numerous benefits for high school athletes in working with a coach, including observation of proper technique in training, having a guided training program with progressions, understanding strategies involved in a specific sport and most important of all, training in a safe environment and receiving positive and respectful communication. Coach Smith also says it’s important to have parents involved in their children’s sports activities for additional support, which may require respectful communication with a coach of any sport.

Hydration and Nutrition
High School Sports Hydration
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High school coaches are well versed in hydration and nutrition, and for high school athletes, it’s far more beneficial to have a healthy diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and good sources of protein than a diet laden with junk food. Coach Smith says one of the biggest challenges for a coach is to help athletes learn how to restrict their intake of sugar. Regardless of the level of ability, a high school athlete (and students in general) should be educated on the health effects of drinking soda, sugary energy drinks, sport drinks with high fructose corn syrup and consuming fast food. High school athletes and their parents should have at least a basic understanding of sports nutrition and know that proper athletic hydration includes not just water, but also a recommended sports drink with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, potassium, sodium and other nutrients.

Undergo a fitness evaluation
High School fitness
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At Saint Thomas Aquinas High School and many schools around the country, student may not participate in the school’s sports program, particularly freshmen and transfer students, until a Preparticipation Physical Evaluation form is completed. This consists of medical history, physical examination by a licensed physician or other designated medical professional, consent and release of liability and completion of the parent permission form. Coach Smith says anyone interested in getting on the football team or other high-risk contact sports such as soccer, field hockey or baseball, must have a concussion baseline test, including the measurement of verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time. Any other high school in the country should have a similar pre-participation program and information may by be found either through visiting, emailing or calling the school, or reviewing information on the school website.

Be mindful of tradition
High School Sports Traditions
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Coach Smith believes his final tip is extremely valuable: interscholastic athletes should recognize past accomplishments of others who came before them, whether it's in sports or academics. Respecting school tradition is, among other things, a way to build character, respect and leadership skills in a young student, which can go a long ways in life well after graduation. Past achievements from the school can help inspire student athletes to do more to excel in their sport of choice and their education. As a testament to the rich tradition of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 100 percent of the graduating class of 2012 matriculated to college, with 92 percent attending a four-year college. Of those graduates, many athletes are now currently competing at the collegiate level.

About George Smith: George has been the Athletic Director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for 31 years as well as its head football coach for 34 years. His wealth of national achievements in high school sports include- winning two national championships in 2008 and 2010, being recognized by USA Today and ESPN as the National High School Football Coach of the Year in 2008, receiving the Power of Influence Award by the American Football Coaches Association in 2009 and induction into the Florida High School Hall of Fame. St. Thomas Aquinas High School was named the nation’s top athletic program in 2011 by Maxpreps and has won more than 85 state championships. Among the past or present NFL players who played on Coach Smith’s teams were Michael Irvin, Tavares Gooden, Major Wright, Brian Piccolo, Geno Atkins, Marcus Gilbert and Sam Young. Other notable athletes who attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School were Chris Evert, Mike Stanley and Sanya Richards-Ross.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on

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