by Matt Williams, The Salem News, August 18, 2011
You can't build a multi-million dollar mansion on a lousy foundation and you wouldn't run a Lamborghini coupe without the proper engine block. The finished products, much like the high school sporting events beginning in a few short weeks, can't work if they're not built with the right parts.
For the past few weeks, hundreds of North Shore athletes have been laying that foundation and improving their athleticism at a speed and conditioning program run by Going the Distance
, Fernando Braz's coaching service.
Boys and girls ages 12 through college meet at Bishop Fenwick's track three mornings a week and go through workouts designed to improve speed, strength, agility and endurance.
"The philosophy is really to lay the foundation so that when these kids go into preseason and tryouts, they're ready," said Braz, who is also the boys track coach at Peabody and has been running this camp for four years.
The athletes are primarily from Peabody, but the camp draws students from Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham and as far away as Woburn and Waltham. Going the Distance
also operates a similar program in the Merrimack Valley, once a week on the campus of Merrimack College.
The workouts consist of running and basic agility exercises like drilling quick feet on ladder runs, shuttle runs and medicine ball work. The students are constantly moving, jogging between each drill, and that simulates the explosiveness of in game action.
"I feel like this really prepares you for the season both mentally and physically," said Katie Brunelle, who will be a senior on the soccer, basketball and softball teams at Peabody this year.
"The mental part just comes from knowing that when you're tired, you can push through it."
It's a common misconception that to get better at sports, you need to be playing sports. You need to be active, absolutely, but the campers are learning that vast improvements can come from working without the ball. Non-specific motions and strength training that helps all athletes are some of the hallmarks of the program.
Take for example Nico Manganiello, who will be Peabody's top-line center next winter, and believes the workouts have made him a better hockey player even though it involves neither skates nor ice.
"When I get on the ice, I feel faster and I feel stronger on my skates," he said. "This kind of work puts you in position to use your skills. It's top shelf."
Guillermo Hodge, a 16-year-old sophomore focused on basketball, agreed that the camp makes him better even if he isn't taking 100 free throws: "Stamina is the key. You're working out and there's other guys that aren't, and hopefully because of that late in the fourth quarter you're getting by them."
Many of the athletes are going into their freshman year and the program helps them prepare for the transition from youth sports to the more intensive atmosphere of high school competition.
"I think I'm a lot better prepared for double sessions, being able to recover for that second practice," said Connor Wolff, a freshman who plans to try out for the Peabody High soccer team.
"I've also met some of the older players here and that makes you more comfortable going into the season."
Braz, who is a Hall of Famer at both Peabody High and Boston College, said about 600 student-athletes are enrolled between the North Shore and Merrimack Valley programs. The North Shore camp is up 30 percent from last summer and staff including Tom Holleran, Matt O'Brien, Henry Breckenridge, Pat Mayo, Tim Hanley, Joe Rocha and Annie Starrett help run the program.
Naturally, kids work harder when they're in a group setting and the reinforcement from the coaches only helps further that end.
"It's all about athletes. Our goal is they'll be able to get into their game and at the end of the game, they're as fresh as they were at the beginning. Every kid wants to be the one that makes the difference and to do that you have to be in shape," said Braz. "We have every sport you can think of in terms of athletes whose primary sports range from rugby to football, baseball, soccer, hockey and track."
Education is part of the process, too. Student-athletes learn to properly stretch, warm-up and cool down. On off days, they have program workouts to be carried out at home to build both responsibility and endurance. Braz said that most students can finish one lap at the start and by the end of the five week program are breezing through 12 minutes of running.
"It's doesn't matter who you are or where you are in terms of ability, our job is to make sure you're better by the time you leave us. It's about improvement," Braz said.
The plyometrics and stretching also have a element of injury prevention with aims to strengthen the muscles that protect tendons which can be easily injured.
The most important thing, though, is explosion.
"In any sport, if you know how to separate yourself from your opponent you're going to be a star," said Braz. "Everything is about that first step."
More photos here