A Letter to Coaches in the Wake of a Pandemic

Remember that time you were preparing practice plans, strategizing games, and working with your athletes daily? Now, in the wake of the hysteria caused by COVID-19, mandates for social distancing and restrictions on the number of people gathered in one place has caused the sports world to come to a halt. Spring sports at all ages have ceased, championships cancelled, summer workouts put on halt until further notice, putting a damper on the progress of sports programs. 

Thus, the burning question for a coach: what can I do during this time?

From youth to professional, coaches are experiencing the effects of the pandemic whether it is a loss of a season, loss of a preparation period, an important job that produced income, or even the loss of the constant communication with their athletes. While you’re focusing on taking care of yourself and your family, how can you still be of service to your athletes? It’s a simple answer, communication.

“Communication is the key to success.” This mantra my coach repeated to me every day and still rings true today. In order for coaches to connect with their athletes, they must engage in constant communication. In any relationship, whether it be athletes, family members, friends or loved ones, communication allows both parties to understand each other’s perspectives, clear the air of withheld information or feelings, and increase a sense of trust and empathy. Thus, coaches must find a way to adapt their coaching styles that cater to the needs of their athletes through communication.

Many athletes may feel displaced, confused, or just downright sad and disappointed in being forced to stay home. In this day and age, most of these athletes will likely have their phone in hand waiting for facetime calls or zoom meetings with their friends or checking social media. This time can be used to your advantage; make a move and begin reaching out.

Epicurus once said “you don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationship everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” In the best relationships, the people involved are able to overcome obstacles in order to come out better and stronger. Think about this when you are contacting your athletes. A simple text such as “Hope everyone is staying safe, please let me know if you need anything,” may very well be a good start. Yet, many coaches know that sometimes group texts are not replied to or ignored because the athlete doesn’t deem it important. Thus, it is imperative to not be generic in your check-in’s, but be vulnerable. You too may be finding this time just as difficult as they see it, they just don’t know it. Allow some vulnerability in your communication with your athletes. You don’t have to tell them your life story or divulge into intimate topics, but even just being transparent on how hard it has been for you to adjust day to day activities, things you do to stay occupied, or even sending some comedic content to brighten their moods or even just have them react. But remember, you cannot utilize the same form of communication for all your athletes.

Communication is not a one size fits all approach with athletes. You know this when you see that your players respond differently to different kinds of instruction when you are together. You also learn that people process difficult situations such as the current one in multiple ways and adjust at different rates. When you boost their sense of connection with the team and with yourself as a coach you also help them boost their intrinsic motivation. Most athletes right now are seeking ways to improve their motivation with a lot of unknown information in terms of a timeline of when to return to their sport. For example, you can engage your athletes by having them work on a project through social media, whether it be a vlog about their day to day during this time or even team videos through the tik tok platform (these are gaining popularity). Even then, you can also schedule one-on-one video chats with your athletes where you may talk about how they’re doing, what they’ve been doing to prepare for their return to sports, and what you can do to help. This includes goal setting for finding skills that need improvement, how to improvise working on these skills with at home equipment, or just a simple workout schedule the athlete can follow to take up time in their day. 

So, give it a try if you haven’t already. Set up a one on one through video with your athletes. Organize a group chat with your coaching staff and the team. Find ways to be socially active and connected while we are physically distant. Find solace in these troubled times and remember why you do what you do. We are all in this together as we work to build resiliency to this pandemic through improved communication and connections. 

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