Offseason practices are a chance for teams to make sure that rookies learn how to go through an NFL practice and a chance to make sure that veterans are maintaining the shape necessary to keep their play at a high level. Yet, despite only 13 offseason practices to work with, some coaches prefer to use that designated time in a fun way rather than the grind of a practice in the heat.
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy cancelled practice on Wednesday for some sort of a team-building exercise that he chose not to divulge and instead keep a surprise. In the past the Packers have gone clay shooting and played dodgeball, although the latter ended with assistant coach Alex Van Pelt rupturing his Achilles.
McCarthy isn't the only one to spend valuable practice time off the practice field. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin takes his team on an annual trip to Dave & Buster's, the Miami Dolphins played some kickball (which didn't go exactly as planned and ended with kicker Caleb Sturgis injuring his quadriceps muscle) and the Seattle Seahawks spent a day seeing a pre-screening of the new Entourage movie after a team trip to Hawaii in April.
McCarthy talked to the media on Tuesday about the value of team building time (via Rob Demovsky of ESPN):
"To me, people win, people lose," McCarthy said. "The opportunity that our players will have tomorrow, they'll be in groups of four, maybe five, and there'll be guys that ride in a cart with Aaron Rodgers or with someone they've never really had a conversation with. This is about culture. It's about developing the bonding between your players and coaches and support staff. So it's very important."
Steelers defensive back Will Allen is entering his 12th season in the NFL and his sixth season in Pittsburgh, so Tomlin's annual trip to Dave & Buster's wasn't a new experience for the 33-year-old veteran.
In an interview with Steelers.com, Allen explained the merits of a team outing similarly to McCarthy in that it gives players and coaches the opportunity to speak with, be around and get to know others that they don't usually interact with.
"Coach (Mike) Tomlin is affording us the opportunity to grow closer," said Allen. "Different groups of guys get together here. Maybe the defensive backs will hang out with the offensive line, however the combination will be. He is allowing everyone to mingle and get to know each other a little bit and let some competitive juices come.
"You get to know people in a more in-depth way. You have pockets of guys who hang out together, now everybody hangs out together."
It's impossible to gauge how much these team-bonding exercises translate to success on the field, but they are strategies employed by some of the NFL's best coaches on some of the NFL's best teams. Teams like the Seahawks that have found so much success together can be an intimidating group for newcomers and rookies, so team-building exercises can make younger players feel more welcome with a winning team.
Even Bill Belichick took the New England Patriots to the movies before the beginning of a postseason run that ended with his fourth Super Bowl victory. It's hard to argue with those kind of results.