Coaching Through a Pandemic
If you have been following along on my coaching podcast the past couple of weeks, you have probably guessed that trying to coach through a pandemic is quite difficult. The kids have been great. The administration has been great. Everything has worked out pretty well for the time we have had to practice. Besides a couple of rainy days, we have had some decent fall throwing weather. Granted, I haven’t coached indoor events outside since my time at Fredonia. Yet, it doesn’t look like we are going to have an indoor season anyway.
A couple of weeks ago the SUNYAC conference made the decision to cancel their winter sports seasons. Yes, halfway through October, they cancelled all their winter campaigns. At Alfred State, we are not affiliated with a conference for indoor competition, so it might not cause that much of a disruption to our season. I can’t help but wonder which conference will be next. At the Division III level, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if our indoor and outdoor seasons are cancelled. The NCAA has already awarded student-athletes a waiver to compete for the previously missed outdoor season. With the loss of another season on the horizon, athletes may be granted a fall (XC), winter (indoor track), and spring (outdoor track) waiver for future competition. A whole year’s worth of competition, as long as you are registered for at least 12 credit hours per semester, or are finishing a degree program in which you can take fewer than 12 credits (if you only need 3 or 6 for example).
Having conversations with your athletes about their future may be a difficult one to have. At Alfred State, I have six freshmen and one sophomore. If our seasons are cancelled, everyone would be eligible to come back for a fifth or sixth year without penalty to compete. But at the Division III level, unless you REALLY love the sport, it may be difficult for athletes to make the decision to come back. We (Division III) are non-scholarship athletes. I would find it difficult to encourage an athlete to come back for that last season just for the sake of competing. Sure, if they would like to work on a minor or double major, then I’d be all for it. But coming back just to compete for one more season, well I couldn’t make them, but I also probably wouldn’t say no. If they would want to come back and compete then I’d be all about it. Keeping them engaged, that may be the difficult part.
I discussed it briefly in my most recent podcast episode when I answered a question about motivation. They question was about keeping your athletes engaged in practice with the looming doubt that there would be an indoor and outdoor season this year. I’ve actually discussed this topic with my kids since I recorded the podcast. I think it really comes down to figuring out their why.
I’m not trying to get philosophical here, but training for the sake of training without the notion of competition for a full calendar year may be tough for some athletes. As an adult I’ve struggled with engagement and focus with the idea of competing three months away, let alone a year or longer. I explained the current situation to my kids—we discussed the unknown, controlling what we can control, and really thinking about why competing and being a member of the team is important to you.
Some of you might think that these conversations I speak of occur in a classroom type setting, but 99% of the time they happen when the kids are taking a break from throwing. And in this more recent case, it occurred in damp and rainy conditions before practice ended. Now I don’t know the athletes really well yet, and they don’t know me well either, but I believe these conversations help reveal what athletes value. I explained that if our indoor season is cancelled, we’ll hopefully be better prepared for the outdoor season. It’ll save their bodies from throwing the weight (LOL), and it will give us more reps to take in the discus, hammer, and javelin. I see the position in the situation. My college age self would not have been as receptive, however I think I have more forward thinking now than I did 20 years ago. Hopefully those experiences (longer-term planning) can positively lend themselves to better outcomes for my current group of athletes. The nice thing about being focused on the process over the outcome is that if we had planned out a perfect indoor season peak, it can and will probably be wiped out, outside of our control. Focusing on getting quality reps in, learning the technique, and taking our time in training should lend itself to a higher-quality outdoor season. It should, but then again as I already suggested, we may lose the outdoor season too.
Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.