This year, with the start of high school fall sports, athletes and coaches welcomed an abundance of changes to the way that their athletic programs were run. The biggest of these changes was an end to a tradition older than every athlete, and even some coaches: two-a-days.
For health and safety reasons, Maryland passed legislation placing strict regulations on this year’s fall preseason and all preseasons in the years to come. In past years, almost all sports have held their preseasons and tryouts in a two-a-day format, having one practice in the morning and one practice in the afternoon. Typically each practice was about two hours but some sports were known to exceed that.
The new law says that for the first five days of preseason, two-a-days are not allowed. Instead, every sport can have one practice lasting a maximum of three hours and a walk through lasting a maximum of one hour. The practice and the walk through need to be separated by a two hour break and during the walk through, no equipment or running is allowed. After the first five days, two-a-days are permitted but every sport can still only practice for a four hours at the most, with a two hour break in between practices. And a coach cannot administer a two-a-day consecutively after another two-a-day. So, they are still only permitted to occur every other day.
Upon hearing the news that two-a-days were no longer allowed, many student athletes, including myself, were ecstatic and relieved. For us, it meant less time in the scorching heat, running laps around the track and going through endless drills. But after hearing the details of these new regulations, many of us were slightly disappointed. It became the consensus that one three hour practice was possibly worse than two two hour practices. The two hour practices that we were used to were tough; but they went by quickly and then we got the chance to take a quick nap and grab a snack. The idea of a three hour long practice was scary and made everyone even more anxious than they had been for two-a-days.
As preseason for fall sports wraps up and the regular season begins, I would like to reflect on these past two weeks. While I understand the state of Maryland’s attempt to ensure the safety of all student athletes, I also question how successful their solution really was. We ended up spending four hours a day in the heat, which is the same amount of total time as in past years. The concept of a one hour walk through was really only beneficial for sports that could go over plays or film, but for those sports that don’t use either, it was an hour that could have been used to improve athlete skills and fitness.
The new Maryland law also restricted the amount of padding that players could wear through the first week of preseason; they were not permitted to be in full pads until the 5th day of tryouts. While this rule was aimed at football players to keep them cool and protected from overheating, it also regulated goalies who would normally wear pads. For example, our field hockey team’s goalie was not allowed to practice with us until the 5th day. This meant that she could not participate in our team practices, as well as our first scrimmage. When she finally could join in on practices, she was a week behind everyone else and it proved to be a disadvantage to the team. We knew that the situation was completely out of our goalie’s control and even though she quickly caught up, we were all a little frustrated with the hindrance that was put on our team, and all field hockey teams, by the new law.
While two-a-days were something that almost all student athletes used to dread, this year’s preseason made me and many of my peers nostalgic for the way that preseason for fall sports used to be. In years past, we had counted down until the first two-a-day with a drawn in sad face on our calendars. We had complained and whined and tossed and turned the night before.
But what many of us student athletes didn’t admit to, or even realize before this year, was that deep down, we looked forward to two-a-days. It was a tradition older than all of us, and it symbolized more than just running drills. Completing two-a-days was something to be proud of and was almost like a right of passage into whichever team you had decided to try out for. And even though we always wanted to end practice early to get home to our air conditioned houses, by the middle of the season we were grateful for the extra hours of effort we had put in.
After enduring two years of two-a-days and one year without them, I can definitely understand the pros and cons of both. Making it all the way through any type of tryout, regardless of its format, is something to be proud of and can validate your spot on a team. And in all fairness, I cannot say whether or not this year’s preseason provided better health and safety insurance for athletes. But what I do know, and be aware that I never in a million years thought I would say this, is that I miss two-a-days.
I miss the angst that I used to feel the week before they began and I miss the feeling of accomplishment at the end of every day. The two-a-day tradition was such a huge part of fall sports and school athletic programs as a whole and it is a shame that future student athletes may not get a chance to experience it. I don’t know if two-a-days will ever return to Maryland high school sports, but I am thankful and appreciative that I had the opportunity to be part of the tradition.