It’s been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, forcing coaches, parents, and athletes to change how they viewed team sports. Entire seasons, including practices and competitions, were canceled, and for many, the future of youth sport is still uncertain. The pandemic forced coaches to quickly figure out new ways to connect with athletes, and parents took a more active role in helping kids practice skills and techniques.
While this time has been difficult for everyone, there have been some moments of clarity and insight that have come from the past 12 months. Coaches realized that the mental game is as important as the physical one. Parents realized how overscheduled their children (and they) were. And kids learned just how resilient they could be when faced with canceled games, the loss of an important season, and a lack of in-person social interactions.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were often too busy and overscheduled,” says Sandy Briggs, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA’s) Chief Financial Officer. “This time gave us a chance to hit reset and remember what is most important and then figure out how to make and maintain those connections in our new socially distanced environment. When we get back to practice and game play, I hope we can refocus on what our youth love about sports: friends, fun, teamwork, and play.”
Here are more lessons learned and takeaways from TrueSport experts, coaches, and athletes after one year of COVID-19.
Self-care for coaches, parents, and athletes is critical
As a coach or parent, it may be tough to carve out time for yourself when you’re trying to help your student athlete deal with remote school and solo sport practices, but everyone needs time for self-care, even if it’s only a few minutes. “The biggest challenge was reminding myself that I needed to take care of myself first in order to help all those I work with,” says TrueSport Expert and psychologist Melissa Streno, PhD.
“I learned that it is so important to take time for yourself each day,” says Rick Swan, Head Coach of Colorado College Women’s Volleyball team. “Step away from your daily routine in your home office. Go for a walk, go for a run, get out of the house. I hope that when this is over, we continue to remember the necessity of self-care. To be your best self, you must first take care of yourself both physically and mentally.”
Being adaptable is important in any circumstance
Shifting to virtual practice, FaceTime core workouts, Zoom team meetings, and solo training hasn’t been easy for athletes, or for the coaches trying to prepare for seasons that may or may not come to fruition. Teams have always needed to adapt to things like weather or injury, but never before has the need to roll with the punches been so critical to a team’s success. “I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this is to be flexible,” says Paralympian Aaron Scheidies. “Have an alternative plan for when your initial plans change, because in the world we are in right now, nothing is concrete. We must be able to adapt to new situations and new ways of doing things.”
Those who had the easiest time adjusting to a new way of life were those who had support systems already in place, either through school, team, or family. “The biggest lesson learned was trusting the process, as well as my support bubble, throughout so many unpredictable and uncertain events,” Streno added. “This allowed me to slow down and find more appreciation for things I might normally take for granted.”