Behind the screens: Coaching in the midst of a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced sports all over the world to come to a halt, and despite this pause in the action, athletes have kept themselves in shape even without their usual training resources. Many athletes have showcased themselves training and conditioning within their own homes, patiently waiting with the right amount of discipline for the moment they will be able to step onto playing grounds once again.

However, the quarantine period has not only meant that athletes turn their homes into new training grounds—it has also pushed coaches to find new ways to guide their players and stay connected to them. These are the mentors who play vital roles for athletes behind the scenes, but for now, they must do so behind screens.

Navigating the unprecedented situation

The effects this pandemic has had across the globe has affected the sports world in a significant way, and the same applies to the sporting community of the University. Chess coach Susan Neri expresses her thoughts regarding the crisis we all face today, saying, “This time of pandemic has greatly affected the sports industries. All our projects and sports events this year got postponed [or] canceled. This poses a [loss] of jobs for many of my colleagues, not just in my sport, but most especially other contact sports or team sports.”

During this time of each year, athletes would have normally been spending their time training with the team to prepare for the upcoming UAAP season. Coaches play a huge role during this time, being essential figures in every athlete’s path of growth and development as they perform under the banner of the Green-and-White.

Now, however, coaches can no longer train and bond with the team in person.

In response to stay-at-home policies, voice call and online conferencing platforms have risen in popularity and utility for people with access to these applications. Several DLSU coaches have also taken to using the same measures in order to regularly check on their respective teams.

“We do Zoom meetings three [times] a week. The meeting includes exercises, regular kamustahan, [updates] for each other, and consultation. That’s how we [have been] communicating so far,” shares Jasper Cabrera, Lady Batters coach.

The squads’ usual training grounds—especially large venues specially designed for the likes of softball, football, and swimming, among others—are very different compared to the training spaces that athletes have created for themselves at home. Recognizing these limitations, Cabrera had to “modify training” regimens, as he conveys, “I [considered that] our athletes [are] not [as] equipped at home especially [when it comes to] workout equipment.”

Further, he faced challenges in implementing variations in training. Citing the need to focus on “strategy and game plans” in addition to “power, speed, [and] endurance”, Cabrera explains, “There are [some aspects] that we cannot practice because we are apart, and that area of training needs to be executed [through] a face-to-face set up or [when] gathered as a team.”

Staying on the right path

The remote arrangements have made staying sharp and maintaining techniques difficult, and these effects may spill over even when contests and leagues return. After all, there is quite a distinction between fitness and what is called “match fitness”—the in-game atmosphere is vastly different and is not easily emulated even in the usual training sessions, much less at home.

“The competitive mindset is difficult to maintain at [home], and this might greatly affect one’s performance when we come back to actual competition,” Neri points out, adding that the Woodpushers at least have an “avenue” to keep playing through online tournaments. “It’s really still different [from doing] over-the-board chess, but right now, we cope through online sessions [or] training.”

Apart from keeping his athletes’ fitness in check, Cabrera also explains that he has found opportunities to further improve as a coach, “I’ve been attending seminars online to help me build [my] confidence and knowledge [on] catching up in this innovative world.” Through the adaptive conditions he has set up for the team, the softball coach is able to keep the players motivated, even though they are apart.

These are just some ways in which the coaches of the school’s sports teams have tried to continue their training efforts through new and innovative ways. With their athletes’ best interests always at the core of what they do, coaches are still able to evolve with the unprecedented circumstances and the difficulties surrounding these times.

For them, time should still be allotted to growing as an athlete—as much as the players have the capacity to do so, given the possibly distressing challenges imposed by the pandemic on different households and settings. “I always tell them that…you have to help your body to stay alive,” Cabrera says.

Charging forward

Evidently, there have been many adjustments that these coaches have had to make in order to continue fulfilling their duties as mentors for their respective teams; though they have been able to make necessary changes to their coaching methods, these also come with ripple effects.

The pandemic has affected plenty of people both physically and mentally, and sporting teams are no exception. “Time may come that we will find ourselves stiffened because we got stuck. It has affected us [in a way] that we don’t know what’s going to happen next, or in the next few weeks,” reveals Cabrera.

Neri has similar concerns, especially as quarantine protocols continue to be extended, which can in a way become disheartening or overwhelming to process. “Motivation and team cohesion are facets I’m anticipating to be affected if [the] uncertainty in [this] situation is further prolonged,” she shares.

Even in an individual sport like chess, relationship building is still one important factor that Neri considers, but this poses a challenge now, given that relational issues are more difficult to fix virtually.

“It’s really challenging to keep up with personal relationships online. The bonding is way too different when my team and I are together rather than just virtually,” she expresses, having had to alter her coaching style to better suit the online mode of training. “[Our team] capitalizes on good and healthy personal relationships, but being apart makes it quite challenging for us to maintain team cohesion.”

With the challenges and difficulties brought upon by this pandemic, coaches are certainly looking forward to seeing their players again and carrying out their training and games in a more normal setup. Both Cabrera and Neri already have plans in mind for their teams once it is deemed safe for their sports to make a return.

”Team building” activities are among Neri’s priorities, with her emphasis on fostering stronger relationships within the squad. “I think all athletes and coaches can relate with me; we all miss the action, so the excitement to go back to normal has always been there,” she adds.

Cabrera, meanwhile, puts it this way: “We are positively thinking we will still step on the green grass field and play ball again.”

With the determination that these coaches have exhibited in the steps they have taken and the changes they have made, it assures that their teams still continue to move their gears, even in the midst of all the uncertainty.

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