MCGILL: @HerdFB Mat Drills Provide Insight Into Toughness
The Word on the Herd -- Feb. 22, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Early morning darkness surrounded the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, and players on Marshall University’s football team stood outside of a roll-up door awaiting the start of weekly mat drills.
The players at the front of the line took their fists and started pounding the door from, the lone sounds before dawn outside of the indoor facility. That’s when the MU coaching staff, awaiting inside at six different stations, knew their players were ready for the grind.
“You heard the banging on the door,” said Mark Gale, the assistant athletic director for football operations. “They just couldn’t wait to go.”
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said he has participated in mat drills from the time he was a collegiate player.
“We did it when I was a player back in the Bobby Bowden days,” he said. “I don’t think in all my years as a player or coach that we didn’t do it.”
The goal of the drills is a simple one: discomfort. The players are sorted by position groups and assigned to six different stations, where assistants and the strength coaches direct the players through the drills. The time at each station lasts six minutes, and then the position groups rotate to the next station and the next wave of physical toll.
Moments of respite are fleeting.
“No. 1, you’re trying to put them in the most uncomfortable situation you can to find out how they respond, to give them adversity to see how they respond,” Holliday said. “To being out there early (in the morning), to the discipline part of it, to the toughness part of it, to the leadership part of it – you want to find out who is going to fight you to the end and who is tough. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Mat drills are every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. Holliday is not simply reciting a cliché coaching line – there is nowhere to hide.
One player was transitioning stations when he slowed from a jog to a walk at the 27-yard line. His station began at the 40, which meant he had 13 leisurely yards before he was spotted. The player and his entire position group had to return to the previous station and sprint to the new station.
“Most of (the stations) are done by position groups,” said Ryan Yurachek, a rising senior tight end. “It’s kind of how it is in the game. If we’re running power and the guard doesn’t pull and block the linebacker, the play is over. That’s how it is in the mat drills. If someone screws up, if one out of 12 screws up, you have to start over.”
So this isn’t just an hour-plus physical grind. Mat drills are about discipline, accountability and mental toughness.
“It builds competitiveness and toughness, especially the tug-of-war at the end,” Yurachek said. “You get a reward for winning and a consequence for losing. It builds competiveness among the entire team. Not only is it good cardio and gets you in shape, but it is more of a mental thing than a physical thing.
“The more you grow up the more you realize what you get out of this.”
More than one player was caught by an assistant coach with hands affixed to hips. That is a no-no, and coaches will call a player out if they see it happening.
“The mat drills exist to make you uncomfortable and then have to perform a skill and a task with your teammates in a really uncomfortable setting,” said Luke Day, the head strength and conditioning coach. “It’s the closest to what you have to get done on the field. That’s all it is – getting you to think outside of how you feel.”
After the stations portion of the mat drills concludes, each position group is called upon to repeat the drill surrounded by the entire team. A couple of players are chosen out of each group.
Then, 1-on-1 matchups are set at midfield pitting players of similar weights. The players are a long way from the eager pounding of the roll-up door, so their energy and enthusiasm is tested in the 1-on-1 situations.
Players are forced to dig deep, which is what the coaches want to see.
“We’re all competitive until we’re tired,” Day said. “Stuff matters a whole lot to me until I get fatigued and then I’m no longer as passionate about what I said I liked or how much I want to win. You do that and you do that more consistently you start to learn to push past your brain saying ‘Hey, this is uncomfortable, we should stop doing this.’ Overriding that is a big deal. It’s why you win or lose.”