More and more coaches are reaching out to each other, discussing how to best coach a team during this COVID-19 pandemic. We live in strange times. Who would have believed in February that by the end of April we would be:
- Ending the winter and spring season with no championships?
- Saying goodbye to our seniors with no graduation ceremonies?
- Working remotely and talking virtually with fellow coaches and teams?
- Unsure about our jobs and income for the summer and fall?
Best Advice on What to Do and What Not to Do
Because this is the first time we’ve faced this kind of situation, many coaches are uncertain as to whether to “stick to their guns” with training or to rethink everything. Let me offer some big picture “dos” and “don’ts” to some questions I am hearing. First, don’t overwhelm your team with sports training. Like you, your student-athletes have never been in this type of scenario before. Many are wondering if all their coach is thinking about is winning games, meets or matches and keeping their job. Or, is their coach thinking about them? Regardless of whether you see yourself as a “people person” or not, we have to communicate we care about our people—your fellow staff and student-athletes. Let me offer some tips on how to do this:
How to Host Conversations Remotely:
1. Personal items before business items. If they know you care about their personal life, they’ll feel secure enough to focus on team business. Talk about personal wellbeing, then the team.
2. Hard conversations before easy ones. I’ve found it’s better to begin by handling the tough stuff, maybe even the bad news, before you get into the easy or good news. Hard then easy.
3. Big picture before smaller details. Providing the big picture allows any personality to place details into a proper perspective. Give them the box top, then show where their puzzle piece fits.
One sophomore baseball player told me recently, “I get the feeling our coach doesn’t know how to have normal conversations that aren’t about baseball. I mean, I like him and everything, but I don’t think he’s sure about what to do these days. We’re like fish out of water.”
That may well be true. So, what’s a good game plan?
Your To-Do List
Below is a list of items to keep in mind as you attempt to lead your team remotely:
- Be systematic and clear in giving assignments. Say them, then, write and send them.
- Be as transparent as possible. Admitting you don’t know something makes you believable.
- Be hopeful and optimistic about coming through this time, whenever it ends.
- Welcome them to help you plan for various future scenarios, from worst to best.
- Began discussing how they’ll onboard incoming freshmen into your team culture.
- Talk through daily struggles (routines) to maintain workout intensity and consistency.
Coach Theresa “Tree” Beeckman remembers, “9/11 happened during volleyball season when I was the Head Volleyball Coach at Delta College. We were supposed to have a match that day. The first thing I did after it happened was going to my office and call my team in so we could be together and have an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ moment before I sent them all home to be with their families. An important difference here is that there hasn’t been one definitive moment in this pandemic. It has been several evolving moments. Therefore, coaches can’t expect just one or two conversations or check-ins to suffice. Because there are going to be several defining moments along the way, coaches will serve their players well if they have multiple ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ team moments along the way.”
UGA football coach Kirby Smart admits, “I know as coaches we were used to having control of a lot of things, and there are things involved in this that we don’t have control over and rightfully so. We want the medical experts; we want those people to make the big decisions.”
How to Invest Your Time
During this time of parentheses, consider investing your time a bit differently. With the big picture in mind, what if you made sure you planned time for the following:
- Spend 2 hours a week on your craft. Become a better coach. Learn and grow.
- Spend 6 hours a week minimum connecting with your team as people, not just players.
- Spend 8 hours a week with your fellow coaches, making sense of your new normal.
- Spend 4 hours a week on personal growth, not just professional growth.
- Spend 2 hours a week pouring into your student-athletes and staff as a mentor.
- Spend more hours than normal with your family and/or friends, virtually if need be.
The key is to continue to put things in context for your players. People need perspective in times like these. Lead from principles, not panic. And while you want your athletes to improve on the field or on the court, you’ve got to help them see down the road.
“We are asking and challenging our guys to be somewhere local, have a pen and paper, write things down,” Coach Kirby Smart said. “Really use this as a time to commit to their trade because you have so many hours during the week, this is a small piece when you talk about the time our kids have on their hands now. Take two hours out of seven days, and say we are going to dedicate this to knowledge and learning a trade.”
Believe it or not, it’s times like these that reveal the best leaders.