High school sports, performing arts and activities play a vital role in the lives of students across the country. Involvement in co-curricular activities has been closely tied to improved test scores, higher grade-point averages, higher levels of attendance and fewer disciplinary problems. Given the current situation in the United States involving COVID-19 with schools and sports shut down across the country, now more than ever it is vital for coaches to stay connected with their athletes.
Given the fluidity of the situation surrounding the Coronavirus and the ever-changing state mandates and federal recommendations, it is important that coaches be creative in order to engage with and stay involved in the lives of their student-athletes. While state shutdowns of schools and activities may not allow for in-person contact, there is still a number of ways in which coaches can utilize technology to stay in touch with their athletes.
It is also important to consider that during this unprecedented and unpredictable time, students are experiencing a wide array of emotions. Many are dealing with the disappointment of canceled seasons, or the stress and anxiety of having their daily routines interrupted. Providing students with a sense of normalcy, as much as possible, may be one of the best things that educators can do for athletes.
One of the most important things coaches do with student-athletes is to build positive, supportive and healthy relationships with them. Coaches play a much larger role in the lives of their athletes than simply providing sport-specific instruction. Many athletes look to their coaches for help with life skills, and to be a positive role model and mentor in their lives. Staying connected with their athletes and just simply being available for them is perhaps the single most important thing that coaches can do to help during this difficult time. While maintaining social distancing and using technology, the following are several ways that coaches can stay connected with their athletes.
Access to Information
Utilizing a resource such as Google Classroom in which students can access information like daily workouts, health and wellness data, as well other vital information can be a great way for coaches to stay connected with their athletes. When deciding which resource to use, consider the feasibility of sharing information and sending messages to athletes and parents. It is important that students can refer to resources that will help them stay active, and to be prepared for competition when sports and school resume.
Coaches can schedule time each week for teammates and the staff to interact online, for example, when practice sessions would normally have been held. These sessions might be done on Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. using Zoom or Google Meeting mediums. This is an easy and great way to share ideas, to encourage athletes and to stay connected. Coaches might consider having a set agenda to go through with their athletes, or they could possibly also have a more free-flowing time where athletes can talk, share concerns and perhaps laugh a little.
These team meetings can also be used to emphasize teachable moments. In times like these, many athletes may be struggling to adjust to the new norm. It is important to encourage them to utilize this time to learn things about themselves and establish a platform for them on how they can set goals and create their own growth plan. Remind young people that this situation is only temporary, and that when sports and school do resume, they do not want to be left wishing they had done more to prepare themselves.
Service to Others
A great way to engage student-athletes is if coaches can help them create team service projects. Typically, these initiatives are done in large groups, but athletes should be encouraged to find ways that they can give back to their communities on an individualized basis while still utilizing social distancing guidelines. This might include mowing the yard for a neighbor, sending an encouraging note to a family member, or being creative how they could help someone in need. One of the many benefits of sports and being a member of a team is the idea of community and understanding that the individual is a part of a much larger picture.
Coaches should consider taking time to help their athletes to package game tapes to send to college coaches. The HUDL app, or even YouTube, could be used to create highlight videos. This time can also be utilized to create video clips from previous seasons to help athletes see skills they do well, in addition to areas where improvement may be needed.
Recognizing Your Athletes
By posting a variety of articles, write-ups and photos on social media, coaches can recognize their players. This is a great way to commend athletes who should be in the midst of their season. For example, coaches could choose to do a “Senior Spotlight” or “Athlete of the Week” and post it on the school’s athletic department website or team social media account and, at the same time, keep the community updated on team members.
Coaches might also consider creating a season outlook article featuring the returning varsity players from previous years, and what they expect to see from newcomers. This effort would look very similar to a preseason article that a coach might write prior to the start of his or her season.
A virtual signing day might be another option to recognize those seniors who are going on to play at the collegiate level. Create a Zoom or Google meeting and have the players and their parents join the coach and athletic director. This could be done individually or by the entire team.
The difficult situation surrounding COVID-19 and school closures will surely pass, but now more than ever, it is important for coaches to find ways to connect and engage with their athletes. It can also be a great opportunity to find ways to teach valuable life lessons and for student-athletes to continue to grow and develop.
Micah Harding, CAA, is the athletic director and South Unit principal at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio.