I think it is safe to say that there has never been a course created or an experience a coach could pull from on how to plan for and attack this situation. This has been a trying time for sure. But ultimately, this has been a time where, if done correctly, players and teams could still have improved. At Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Indiana, the Lady Titans basketball program, like everyone else, has experienced our share of challenges and has taken many steps to combat the challenges of coaching in a pandemic
Challenge 1: Coaching with Masks On
Like all coaches, this has been a change for our staff. The biggest part of this is the difficulty in communicating and talking in a loud gym and the inability to show emotion in our facial expressions. There are many coaches, just like the great Pat Summit, who used emotion in their facial expressions to help coach their players. This is something that we have had to adjust in our practices to ensure we are able to continue the teaching of the game that is necessary to improve as a program.
Challenge 2: Keeping Everyone Healthy
It is imperative to emphasize the importance of masking up and putting ourselves in positions to remain healthy. We have consistently talked to our players about avoiding situations where they could be compromised and possibly contract COVID or become a close contact.
Challenge 3: Volatility in Schedule
We had arguably the best schedule our program has seen in over a decade scheduled for this season. Then we had received an invitation to play in an 8-team holiday tournament with seven schools more than double our size, many of which routinely play for sectional championships. Due to our county COVID status, we were forced to drop out of that tournament. Luckily, we were able to get in a shootout with two other quality teams to partially make up for the games lost in the holiday tournament. We have had multiple other games rescheduled or dropped within 24-48 hours of tip off. This volatility of scheduling has been very difficult to coach through. Needless to say, our Athletic Director has earned his money this season.
Challenge 4: Inability to conduct Team Gatherings
One of the things we pride ourselves in as a program and staff is developing a strong team culture/bond. One way we do this is through team gatherings and give-backs. We were unable to host our annual holiday giveback, where we’ll volunteer time to ring bells for the Salvation Army and/or donate gifts and time at our local YWCA. Unfortunately, we were unable to have our annual team Christmas Party as well. We have had to become more creative to help develop these strong bonds.
Challenge 5: Ticket Guidelines
In Indiana, every county has different ticket guidelines. Some counties allow two tickets per player. Others allow two tickets per player but can only be parents. Some allow six tickets per player. Others tickets are sold at gates, while others sell online. It can be a major challenge to stay on top of the various ticket guidelines from game to game.
Related: Best Face Mask for Basketball
Steps to Overcome Challenges Coaching in a Pandemic
Step 1: Daily COVID/Temperature Checks
One step our athletic department has established to help keep everyone healthy is a daily COVID and temperature check. We record everyone’s temperatures and ask a series of questions to check everyone’s health status. Then we file these away in case an issue arises in the future.
Step 2: Networking
With the volatility in our game schedule, it has become that much more important to network around the state with other coaches. I talked to a veteran coach this past week and one thing he mentioned he will miss when he retires is the camaraderie of the coaching fraternity. Every coach can understand and relate to the difficulty of fulfilling a schedule during these trying times. This season has shown the needed importance of developing those relationships with coaches around the state.
Step 3: Ornament Party
In an attempt to keep some semblance of normalcy for our players and do some form of team-building activity, we held a socially-distanced ornament party with our players. We got the players soft drinks and individually packaged snacks. With Christmas music playing, the girls paint their own ornaments. We then took the ornaments and had them “fired up” at a local pottery store that finished the ornaments. Many of the girls commented on how fun this activity was and we feel it met the important goal of team-building and improving our culture.
Step 4: Ticket Sales
One piece of advice: Try to have your athletic director conduct ticket sales online. This could take the collection of money and distribution of tickets out of your hands. It is important to be organized and have a system in place to ensure all money is collected and all tickets are distributed. As much as can be done online or via mobile sales, the better.
In conclusion, while this time is difficult, it is important to look at it through the lens of we still have a great opportunity to coach this great game and see young people grow. If we view this time as a positive, our players and those around us will view it the same way. Good luck and coach them up!
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