Coaching and COVID-19

The new ‘normal’ – me coaching baseball last week

All aspects of our lives have been impacted by the Coronavirus, including youth sports. Many states canceled youth sports for the spring and then eventually the summer.

Here in Goodyear, Arizona youth baseball was suspended in March at the height of the national response to the virus. The league my niece plays in restarted two weeks ago. I have been helping as an assistant coach. The league has mandated that coaches wear masks while interacting with the players and other coaches – although in each of the last two games I coached, while all the coaches on our team were wearing masks, none of the opposing team’s coaches were wearing them – mirroring the situation in greater society, much as youth sports often does, right? In addition, the league has mandated social distancing for the players – i.e. only a few are allowed in the dugout and the remainder are just outside the dugout (still behind a fence) and are sitting approximately six feet apart.

Should we be playing at all? Many children (and parents) could really use the activity, camaraderie, and physical energy outlet that comes with playing youth sports after being out of school and in stay-at-home orders for several weeks. According the Aspen Sports Institute Return to Play risk assessment (an excellent resource for anyone concerned about youth sports during this time), even with the precautions I mentioned above in place, playing team baseball is a HIGH RISK activity. Did my niece’s league re-open too soon (again, questions that mirror the broader virus-related dialogue)? I like what the Aspen Sports Institute has said about returning to play (in this case they’re talking about playing basketball); it’s

Worth keeping in mind: The NBA – with all of its resources and access to medical experts – hasn’t even returned yet to playing, with plans to do so in late July in a bubble environment.

https://www.aspenprojectplay.org/parent-mailbag/posts/2020/6/22/what-should-return-to-play-for-youth-basketball-look-like

Ultimately the decision to play is up to each state and local league’s discretion; not to mention parents’ feelings about the safety and risks. My niece had to change teams when the league restarted because some of the players on her original team were not coming back – at least a few of them due to concerns related to the virus. Further, we learned last week that one of our players’ family members has the virus and therefore he wasn’t going to be playing for two weeks while his family quarantined.

What about coaching, if the athlete’s league’s are playing? As with my general response to the virus, I believe I am taking appropriate precautions. Our city has mandated wearing a mask when being in public and maintaining appropriate social distancing. I am following the league-directed recommendations as well. I am wearing a mask for the entire practice or game. It is uncomfortable in the Arizona heat, but really, there are medical professionals and others who are required to wear their masks for 8+ hours a day; so, I’m not really going to complain. I help the manager remind the players that they need to maintain social distancing as much as possible.

When interacting with the players, I am trying to act as normal as possible, however. In trying to behave as I would if there was no virus, I’m trying to present the children with a respite from the anxiety they are likely feeling – just as we all are. It’s not a normal situation, though, is it? Again, the folks at the Aspen Sports Institute have good advice recognizing how coach’s need to be more sensitive to each player’s mental health than maybe before the virus.

My recommendation is for coaches to be hyper aware of the reason the league is playing during this time – and indeed the reason for youth sports, in general; to provide the children the opportunity to have fun with their friends and learn to play a sport…in as safe an environment as possible. If at any time, the coach feels one of those goals is going to be compromised due to the virus situation, the coach needs to take action. These actions can include recognizing a possible increased stress level and injecting a deliberately fun activity – regardless of the potential impact to the result of the contest (which Hustle & Attitude coaches understand shouldn’t be the primary driver, anyway); maybe backing off the discipline and letting the athletes let loose a little more than would be typically allowed; and even removing the players from the situation if it becomes unsafe for them in any way.


Additional resources for coaches:

  • Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) offers online courses to help coaches be equipped with skills to deal with players’ social and emotional needs
  • PCA also has ‘Coaching During COVID-19‘; a blog post and Facetime Live Tips a Tools Tuesdays video (30 minutes) by Kelly Kratz  
  • Up2Us Sports has training for coaches to help players improve their mental health, heal from trauma, and learn conflict resolution skills

Published by Chad Millette

I am a father, a husband, a retired Air Force officer, and a dedicated youth recreational sports advocate.

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