It’s Bowl Season. Which means, two things: 1. Playing teams that you don’t often play against. 2. Playing in a location that you don’t often play at.
When you play in locations you are not used to, new obstacles arise – whether it be the playing surface or playing conditions – the playing challenges are plentiful.
However, its not just the team or playing field that is different, no, often the city is different and that city is often a tourist destination with plenty of distraction. Whether it is Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Atlanta or New Orleans, the attractions are enticing, the bars are more grand than their local college watering hole, and a week of preparation with little to do outside of normal football schedules and no class to keep them busy.
As the Florida Gators and Louisville Cardinals prepare for their January 2nd battle in the New Orleans Superdome for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the teams are in their final practices and walkthroughs, and while they have team activities planned, the enticement of Canal Street and Bourbon Street is there.
Sure, walking down Bourbon Street and Canal Street is not necessarily harmful (except for the occasional slip-and-fall because of horse feces); the temptation of ‘Hand Grenades”, “Hurricanes” and Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club saying “no” is easier said than done.
The reason bowl season is different than the regular season is because during the season, coaches don’t have to babysit players on road trips. Why? Because the team flies in on Friday night and their time is immediately occupied with dinner, meetings and walkthroughs; after that they head straight to their rooms/bed. They wake-up early in the morning, prepare for the game, play the game and then drive straight to the airport fly home or hop on the bus and drive back to Gainesville. They have no time for shenanigans.
While the Gators certainly seem better behaved under Will Muschamp than Urban Meyer, here are a few tips on how to handle New Orleans.
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Obviously, Bourbon Street and Canal Street offer a wide variety of activities, and while, yes, there can be trouble, the worst thing you can do is ban going out. It is important to have a discussion about safety and decision-making, but not allowing players to explore creates animosity and anger. Allowing players one or two nights to have fun and let loose will keep the players sane and limit the temptation of sneaking off. (It seems that Thursday night (12/27) was the night on the town for the Gators players.)
- Organized team activities. There is much to do in New Orleans, outside of partying, which can benefit the players. Whether it is a visit to the National World War II Museum, St. Louis Cathedral, or Mardi Gras World for cultural life improvements. And of course something for less organized, there is also paintball fields, bowling alleys and movie theaters – perhaps Quinton Tarantino’s, “Django Unchained”. No matter, keep the team occupied, together.
- Practice early in the morning and/or late at night. Practices early in the morning to make sure players are not up late partying and practices late at night tire them out. Sure it sounds like babysitting, but ultimately, that’s one of the roles of a coach on bowl road trips.
I am certainly no expert on handling a football team at a bowl game. There are two ways that you have to look at a bowl game, and I think Charlie Strong said it well, “…I want my players to enjoy the experience. They deserve it as a team because they’ve worked so hard to get themselves here. They already know it’s all about business…”. There has to be an equal balance of both reward and work and realize that your preparation during the year and your record that brought you to the game is more important than a 190 Octane from Fat Tuesday.