This is where the fun really begins. In just over a week, local teams will hit the fields for their first fall practices, and in just under a month, it’s officially game time.

But while fans may be just starting to think about what’s coming during their favorite team’s season, the players and coaches have been thinking about it for months. For most football teams, players get just a short break before hitting the weight room during the winter months. They then participate in spring practice and work out all summer before finally competing in the fall. There is little to no break.

And what determines success isn’t what happens on Friday nights. Ultimately teams have to put it all together and they have to do so against other teams who want it equally as bad as their competitors. But the most successful teams aren’t just starting to think about the season. The most successful teams have been pouring their blood, sweat and tears onto their exercise equipment and practice fields for a long time now.

Workouts during the summer are ultimately voluntary for players. Under AHSAA rules, they do not have to participate. That goes for football, volleyball and any other sport that’s allowed practice and play dates during the summer months. But if a student-athlete is committed to his or her team, those practices aren’t voluntary.

Thursday, Benjamin Russell volleyball coach Magan Ford talked about her team’s chemistry and how well the players gelled together as one. That’s likely because every girl has wanted to be at summer workouts; they’ve spent a lot of time together over the last couple months and they want to do well for each other.

Football teams that have been going at it throughout the spring and summer are at a serious advantage compared to those that just get started in the fall. Look at a team like Central Coosa. The Cougars have had under 10 players showing up to summer workouts, according to Coosa coach Brett Thomas. When fall practice officially begins, Thomas will be teaching things that other coaches were teaching back in May. He and the Cougars who have been working are at a three-month disadvantage.

For a team like Reeltown which has struggled with injuries the past couple years, getting in that weight room early and often and building strength and stamina could be key to the Rebels making a deep playoff run in a few months. And take Horseshoe Bend’s football team; the Generals have needed these past 12 weeks to get used to their new coach and create that bond with Jeremy Phillips.

Being dedicated to working out during the offseason makes as a student-athlete better as an individual — it makes them faster, stronger, more agile — but being dedicated as a team to commit to an offseason plan is that much more important.

But it’s also important as fans to remember success isn’t always measured by what’s on the scoreboard. It shouldn’t always be judged just by wins and losses. A team like Central Coosa with low numbers and offseason struggles is always going to have a hard time; a team like Horseshoe Bend very well might see some growing pains.

Like Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl said at last week’s UAB Medicine Russell Medical Cancer Center’s annual cancer survivor dinner, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“We all love our team,” Pearl said. “They may look like men but they’re not. … Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on them and we have such great expectations for them, and I think we have to be a little more tolerant sometimes when they don’t win.”

And just because a team hasn’t won on the scoreboard doesn’t mean the players haven’t won some more important life lesson.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.