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Sports column: Athletes and snow do not mix

The same story plays out nearly every year, yet it never ceases to cause chaos and consternation. Winter sports end, the weather starts to turn for the better just in time for spring sports, but it is only a tease by Mother Nature. She responds with mounds of snow, dropping temperatures and swirling winds to thwart athletes, coaches and fans all over Minnesota and the Midwest in general.

Most years, this routine only affects the first few weeks of the season toward the end of March and is dealt with some grumbling and consternation. However, every once in a while, like this year, the horrible weather decides to kick things up a notch, making outdoor sports unplayable for a good chunk of April and even into May.

While athletes can handle the former scenario, the latter drives them nuts. After all winter indoors working out or playing a sport, they are ready to be outside in the sun and to be able to stretch their legs. Running short sprints and making safe, short throws just do not cut it with the pent-up energy of months. Speaking as a former player, here are some ways to keep athletes engaged should practices be kept inside for longer than expected:

• Make conditioning meaningful: Many spring sports (besides track and field and lacrosse) consist of shorter, explosive running or movements. So in week three or four, laps around the gym or a track are not bettering athletes and they are most likely bored out of their mind. Do something like playing pickle, or some sort of pursuit drill, that makes the running competitive.

• Use space wisely: As time indoors drags on, coaches are driven to try drills they do not necessarily have the room for. Trying to make long passes, practice ranged shots, etc in a cramped gym is often chaos and does not realistically represent what would happen in competition. Leave those for outdoors and instead keep perfecting skills that are gym appropriate..

• Break up the monotony: Let's be honest, practicing indoors is not the most exciting. Hitting is done in a cage, off tees or soft-toss. Fielding drills are basic, baserunning one-dimensional and situations unrealistic. Inject something different into practice to throw the players off balance and bring some excitement. Reverse roles between different groups of players (switch offense and defense, pitchers and catchers, field events and running events or switch hands for certain skills). Some may not be beneficial overall, but it will break up the practice and help keep kids engaged from start to finish.

• The last tip is for the coaches themselves: Don't be afraid to include yourself. The team may be just a few weeks into the season, but you have already put double or triple the time in. Take a mental break during practice by competing with your players, delegate a drill to another coach and just observe, or better yet have captains or team leaders take over parts of practice. It will be a valuable experience for them and allow you to rest your voice, rest your mind and see what kind of leadership your players actually possess.

These are just a few tips to keep things fresh as we move into the middle of April and are still in the gym, with no end in sight.

Alec Hamilton

Alec Hamilton is a RiverTown Multimedia sports reporter covering Hastings, Farmington and Rosemount athletics. He graduated from Drake University with a journalism degree in 2014. 

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