Coaches, how are you serving your athletes during this time of COVID-19? Recognizing that we each have to take care of our families and ourselves first, ask yourself if you feel a responsibility to help your athletes during this unprecedented world-wide challenge. Perhaps you have seen one of the, oh I don’t know, 10 MILLION resources being shared for at-home workouts and thought to share one of them with your team. Maybe you’ve come up with some creative challenges for home based workouts that they can do. Could be you’ve simply reached out via email or text message to stay connected. Whatever the case may be, student-athletes right now could use your voice! When the sports world has essentially hit a “pause button,” reassurance from the influential voices in their lives is a helpful means for keeping your players mental and physical health intact.
So, what can you do? Many of the same things you would do in ‘normal’ times! Here are some suggestions for what to do, and how to be, during COVID-19:
1. Be present: more than anything you need to do, or provide, just simply be present for your athletes. Do so by making it known to them that you are available to at any time should any of them want to talk, need resources, or any other way you can help them. Sometimes simply knowing that someone you trust and respect is there for you in a time of need, is all you need.
2. Develop the coach-athlete relationship: while many coaches intuitively know the value in developing the coach-athlete relationship, there can be a lack of understanding of the components of this relationship or how exactly to nurture it. Renowned sport psychology researcher Dr. Sophia Jowett has a handy 3C’s model for the coach-athlete relationship, referring to closeness, commitment and complementarity as the three elements to consider. Here is a short take on each:
Closeness: refers to the caring bond between coach and athlete; mental and emotional support between them
Action step: let your players know you care about them as people, not just players
Commitment: refers to the intent of coach and athlete to remain connected over the long term
Action step: talk about intentions for next season and beyond, things to look forward to
Complementarity: refers to the coach and athletes ability to work together and benefit from doing so
Action step: set or be available for regular check-ins; create a shared document for you
and the team to contribute to regarding the program
Dr. Jowett’s work is highly influential in the sport psychology cannon regarding coaching and definitely worth a read; check it out!
3. Model appropriate behavior: while this doesn’t mean you have to be wearing a face mask while FaceTiming, it can be mean talking to your players in your live sessions about doing so, or about staying safe at home as a best practice during this time. Also, try modeling behavior that is positive, productive, and focused on those things which you and athletes can do during this time, as opposed to focusing on what you can’t do.
4. Give and guide: surely, giving resources and guiding athletes to the proper resources is a helpful way to stay engaged during COVID-19. Consider resources for them to stay in shape with home workouts, know where to go for mental health help, and have any updates on the school/changes to programming. In a time of great uncertainly, having a basic roadmap helps more than ever!
5. Thing long-term: while some elements of sport may have irreparably changed, in all likelihood, we will have some semblance of sport back in effect in some time from now. Consider what the players and your program’s long-term needs and recognize that this so-called “pause button” is an opportunity to some more global thinking. Instead of getting caught up in simply ‘doing the next thing,’ take a wider-lens angle at what could be beneficial in the big picture. What are your players needs going to be next season? How will you excel as a group? Have you defined your program values? Have you brushed up on your X’s and O’s? Are there ways they can build their physical strength baseline during this time so that they can come back next year with a stronger foundation? All these topics – and many more – are worth of your consideration in this worldwide opportunity for re-assessment (do you like my mental reframe there?)
Coaches are performers in their own right! We have a responsibility to our athletes to be present and help them during a time of great uncertainly. While they are likely already inundated with resources for what they can do, adding a few more can’t hurt. Most importantly, make it clear to them that you are present for them as needed! Then, continue to develop your relationships, model appropriate behavior during COVID-19, and take this time as an opportunity to think big picture about their needs and your program.
Best of luck to you on your journey and let me know how I can help!
Jowett, S. (2016). How to create a relational coaching environment. Connected Coaches, UK
Coaching. Retrieved from: https://community.ukcoaching.org/spaces/10/welcome-and-