Practice makes perfect, they say.
Actually, that saying has evolved over the years to “perfect practice makes perfect.”
Evolution has played a part in sayings. It’s played a part in football too, as the relatively new game has changed dramatically since it branched off from rugby in the 19th century.
The ball has changed. The helmets have changed. Pads have changed. The field has changed.
And practice has changed.
Recent afternoons spent watching the Butte High football team practice made this clear. Three decades ago, I began practicing football at Naranche Stadium as a Butte High sophomore. The practices I’ve seen this year had some similarities to those drills, but the changes were apparent.
While we had quite a few more players on the field, we certainly didn’t have the overall size and speed as the new breed of Bulldogs. Really, the only things that looked the same were the mesh practice uniforms and the graffiti on the warehouse walls.
By necessity, coaches have learned new methods to streamline practice and make the most of the time the players spend preparing for Friday night. Grey and company have organized the flow of practice to where there is very little standing around and watching.
“We’re trying to get in 130 or so plays in practice,” Grey said.
And those plays aren’t walkthroughs.
“We want to make practice as much game-like as we can,” he explained. “We want the speed and the scenarios to be good enough to where Friday night isn’t a shock.”
And that leads to another element different than years past – there’s no conditioning during practice. Grey explained that players are expected to be in shape, and he wants their best effort during practice time.
“If the guys know there’s going to be conditioning coming up, they tend to hold back and save up for it,” Grey said. “But we’re running a lot in practice as it is, and they’re still going to be tired.”
There’s also a heightened awareness in regard to player safety. Hydration is emphasized, especially in the warmer months, and the players’ health is constantly monitored by a staff of well-equipped trainers.
Butte High is ahead of the curve when it comes to concussion prevention and treatment. Coach Grey and his staff emphasize form and technique in tackling drills, which often end on a landing pad.
One of the biggest changes over the last thirty years has come in the “film” department. A generation ago, it was actual film we were watching. Coaches Jon McElroy and Ron Richards practically wore out the projector reviewing plays, and reviewing and reviewing… We did that drill for the sophomore team, the JV team and for varsity, and each time it was a meeting held at the school. The bulb company probably loved us.
Film is now just a word.
“The kids watch film on their phones and iPads, sometimes right after the game,” Grey said. “And we can keep track of who’s watching what. Everything is on the internet. It’s really cut down on our meeting time when we used to watch film.”
That leads to more time available to spend running plays on the practice field. The result?
Well, the Bulldogs are defending State Champions. That says a lot for their practice habits.