Finding Silver Linings: How Spring Coaches are Working Around Coronavirus

With the NCAA’s cancellation of spring athletics amidst the coronavirus pandemic, everyone involved with spring athletics from student-athletes to coaches and strength coordinators to medical staff have had to make alternative plans in order to continue the progress that was being made towards this year’s spring seasons. Of course, for student-athletes, there are a series of decisions that have to be made: do they continue training as normal? If so, why? If not, also why? With plenty of uncertainties in both the present and future, student-athletes turn to the people that they tend to trust the utmost to make a guiding decision for them and their teammates ‒ their coaches.

Given the unique set of circumstances student-athletes are faced with, coaches also face a unique dilemma: how do they provide the most effective advice, guidance, support and – on top of all that – coaching, for their athletes? So much of the ability to coach a group of individuals into a team relies on the daily group efforts that take place in practice, in the gym, and in the locker rooms. Without that cohesive environment, the question of how to move forward is one that is at the forefront of every spring coach’s mind.

In speaking with men’s track and field head coach Al Fereshetian and women’s track and field head coach Jay Hartshorn, they gave their honest and frank assessments of the current situation, as well as on how they are guiding their teams forward in a time when the team is – rightly so – not necessarily at the forefront of many student-athletes’ minds. 

Coach Hartshorn commented on the mentality she is bringing to her team: “I am not sure with everything else going on right now that the team needs to be anyone’s priority. I understand that the athletes love our team, and they really miss it, but we don’t need them to feel like they have unrealistic expectations placed on them in terms of bonding and training.” 

She also acknowledged the difficulty of the situation as a whole, for both her athletes and herself. “The students have to adjust to new ways of learning and many have lots of family commitments and stresses. I find myself busier and perhaps more stressed than I thought I would be so, I am assuming the same goes for the students.”

Coach Fresh, as his athletes know him, has a similar mentality, “My primary focus to date has been to make sure everyone is adjusting to this drastic change and our new current reality as well as possible. We have started having zoom meetings face to face, and that will continue in the upcoming months.”

Coach Hartshorn also has been staying in touch with her athletes since Bates’ closure back in March. “The women are using a Google Doc to share photos, thoughts, concerns, etc while we are away. So far we are up to 72 pages of content, mostly of pictures. Some event coaches have been doing zoom meetings as well.” 

While Coach Hartshorn would love to have a full virtual team meeting, she explained that this wouldn’t be worth the effort, “With a team of 45, it is pretty hard to have a full meeting via Zoom that wouldn’t be just me talking at everyone. I’m a big emailer, and likely I’ve been sending too many emails, but I always try to include a silly story or something like that.”

As little of a detail as it may be, a silly or funny story tacked onto an email serves as an important reminder of the importance of maintaining a positive attitude in such negative circumstances. Given how hopeless everyone involved with spring sports felt following the cancellation of the spring season, it’s little details like the stories in Coach Hartshorn’s emails that can provide a bit of light in dark and uncertain times to student-athletes.

Coach Fereshetian also provided some much needed positive perspective, “I believe that there is purpose to everything that happens and that we can and should learn and grow through it all. We are all learning how to be more creative, how to function and grow when we do not have our normal environment around us. I do believe in the end that this will build even greater perseverance which will lead to even greater character and potential for success when everything returns to normal.”

“As the old song goes: ‘you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone,’” Coach Fresh added. “But that too is creating a greater appreciation for the opportunities we have had and will have again in the future.”

It is important to recognize that there is a silver lining to even some of the hardest situations. This long break presents a tremendous opportunity to regroup, refocus, and capitalize on making the most out of a very difficult situation. Whether it be becoming stronger, faster, more flexible, mentally tougher, or whatever one’s weaknesses might currently be, there perhaps has been no better time to be able to focus exclusively on turning that weakness into a strength, and in turn, rebranding oneself as a student-athlete.