Camping Out In The Gym

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.10, December 2005,

By the time the 5 a.m. wakeup call made its way around the Therrell High School gym in Atlanta, first-year Head Coach Terry Davis had already been up for 30 minutes. After all, he had to let in the parent and community volunteers who cooked breakfast before he could rouse his team from its school-bound slumber. The early rising team went on a two-mile jog to the local mall and back, showered, had a hot breakfast, and was out on the practice field by 7 a.m.

The morning session was followed by another volunteer-prepared meal at lunchtime. Depending on the day, team meetings and weightlifting sessions, or maybe a quick nap, filled the early afternoons. A second practice took place in late afternoon, followed by dinner and a team meeting. There was some free time throughout the day, but lights were out by 11 p.m.

The Therrell football team followed this routine for one week, turning a regular preseason camp into sleepover camp. With the exception of their early-morning jogs, the team never left school property, sleeping on mattresses brought from home and set up on the gym floor. Davis and his assistant coaches slept in the gym as well—Davis either in the middle of the floor or in the doorway. “That way I could keep watch, and if anybody wanted in or out, they had to step over me,” he says.

During Davis’ first coaching job in 1983 as an assistant at Adel (Ga.) High School, he participated in a sleepover camp put together by the head coach. Davis has done the same thing at every school he’s coached at since. “Anywhere I work, until I coach at the college level, we’ll do this in the school gym,” says Davis. “It gives the team a real sense of community and discipline. Plus we were able to get in 24 sessions in one week.

“We did double and triple sessions, and had meetings in between and at night,” he continues. “The guys get into a routine—then team-building happens faster, and a whole lot of important information is conveyed quicker.”

Going into Davis’ first year at Therrell, he knew things had to change for the team to be successful. “We were coming off a 2-8 season, and I knew I had to do something,” he says. “And the players really bought into it, since they knew they weren’t going home. Because they knew they were going to be here all night, there was no need to hurry up, no ‘five more minutes to get this done.’”

Before holding the camp, Davis was required to submit management and emergency plans to the principal. “Luckily, the fire station is only about 200 yards away,” Davis says. “I’m sure that helped to have the plan approved. But every school has a gym, and every school can do this. I don’t see why any principal wouldn’t allow camp—just get your emergency plan in order ahead of time.”

Davis has only heard good things about his newborn tradition at Therrell. Any parent who had time available volunteered, and while some players were skeptical at first, all were fully on board Davis’ program by the end of the week. “We had one player who had a bad attitude, and he knew it,” he says. “He came up to us during the last night and said he was sorry for the way he’d been acting and that he would have a better attitude and be a better person. It was completely out of the blue. I turned to another coach and said, ‘See? Attitudes are changing.’”