Coaches Understand Waiting - Help Your Athletes Do the Same
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Will there be high school football this fall? Max Preps is tracking, state-by-state, where high school athletics stand. The picture is decidedly mixed, and certainly unnerving to young athletes.
As a special teams coach, I routinely field calls and text messages from my athletes, each asking the same question: "Are we going to have a season, Coach?"
As the Max Preps tracker shows, many of us simply cannot answer that question at this time. Most of us coaches have lived long enough to understand that in terms of the time lost, it's a blip. Six months, a year. We can grasp how long that is and manage how we move through it.
For a high school athlete, however, it's not so easy. First, a year in their life simply feels longer to them than a year of my life feels. Second, they have a lot more at stake. Seniors worry they may have their season taken away from them. Senior night. Final goodbyes. Those last Friday Nights. Everything they've longed for since they were in pee-wee ball, gone.
For juniors, there are huge questions about how this affects their recruiting, if they hope to play in college. For many, the junior year is when they become the leaders of the varsity squad. Opportunities gone.
What, then, can we do to help them through this period? Some tips.
Listen: As coaches, we are accustomed to teaching, explaining, talking. In times like this, it's better to just listen. Give your players space to express their fears. Accept what they say. Affirm the fears.
Be Positive, But Don't Spin False Optimism: Yes - it's ok to be positive with your players. This will end. Life will go on. At some point. No, this is not the end of your life. At the same time, don't promise that everything will be fine and the games will be played. The nature of this pandemic is such that none of us can promise that. Even if your school starts playing, a surge in cases can shut things back down. We have seen this repeatedly over the past few months.
Focus on Getting Better: Remind your players that there are lots of things in life we simply can't control. What we can control is how we respond. And we can all respond by getting better at my craft. At our school the coaching staff is sending work-out schedules, hosting Zoom meetings to teach our offense and defense and just connect. The player's job? Continue to work as best they can. Kickers can kick. Linemen can run drills. QBs can practice throws and footwork. And on and on. Help them take control of the situation, set goals, and reach them while we wait the games.
None of this is easy. All of this, however, reflect the life lessons that we coaches try and pass on to our players. Long after the games are gone - whenever that day comes - the skills players take from these moments will last them the rest of their lives.