During this offseason, the Illinois football team has been updating fans on its YouTube page with highlight videos of winter workouts and spring practices. There are also videos of the team bowling and playing dodgeball.
For head coach Tim Beckman, all those activities are part of promoting a competitive culture to get wins in the fall.
Yes, even dodgeball.
Beckman said the team tries to have three competitions in the spring semester. The team already went bowling and played dodgeball, and Beckman said the finale would either be a 3-point shooting contest with pads on or a home-run hitting contest.
“It’s year number six for us to do this, I did it three times at Toledo and now three times here,” Beckman said. “I think it’s fun, the kids have a blast with it.”
While seemingly fun events, Beckman believes there is a true correlation between these events and success on the football field. At the beginning of winter workouts, Illini players held a draft to break up into small “teams” that they would stick with for the duration of the offseason. There are specifications to who can be on teams, forcing players from different position groups to join together.
“You could have a DB working with an offensive lineman or a running back with a defensive lineman,” Beckman said. “They might not get to see a lot of each other in practice because we’re split off offense and defense, but these competitions enable the team to be a team and be family. It’s about building the whole team.”
The competitions extend into every aspect of the player’s life either on the field at practice, in the training room or the classroom.
“I think it helps us translate it to the rest of our lives, to be competitive,” defensive tackle Austin Teitsma said. “We have to stay competitive in everything we do and it’ll translate onto the football field.”
Points are given or taken away based on conduct, and there is always a weekly reward for the winners and a penalty for the bottom team. The coaches have been keeping track of one-on-one drills in practice, and even tallies for showing up to class and training session are accounted for.
With the team having practice at Gately Stadium in Chicago on Friday, the team leading in points for this week — a group of running backs Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson and Matt LaCosse — gets deep-dish pizza while the team at the bottom has to clean out the locker room.
“The ones at the top get rewarded, and the ones at the bottom have to pay a little bit,” Beckman said.
The team’s first winter event, bowling, was a little more low-key, but breaking out the dodge balls on the practice field made for a nice break from workouts for the players.
“It was a blast, coming out here after our winter conditioning,” Teitsma said. “It was a little crazy because some of us aren’t the best throwers, but we had a blast with it.”
Teitsma said his team earned second place in the dodgeball competition, leaving him “a little bitter” about the final result.
Stephen can be reached at email@example.com and @steve_bourbon.