Posted in Mental Performance Coaches, Performance Experts, SportStrata Consultants

Coaching through COVID: How to help your student-athletes during times of uncertainty

Coaches at all levels are expected to lead their teams onto the field no matter what the circumstances. Rain delays, handling injuries, building strong cultures, and helping your student-athletes become successful young men and women both on and off the field are on the daily to-do list. But how do you lead your team during these unprecedented times of uncertainty, and the stress, fear, and anxiety that come with an ongoing pandemic? As seasons are being cancelled and questions are left unanswered, student-athletes are dealing with an entirely new wave of emotions and struggles, leaving coaches unsure of how to support them. We’ve taken the time to offer some tips for coaches to help their student athletes work through this difficult time and continue to do what they do best: coach.

Validate their feelings – There is no one “right” way to react to or feel about the changes we are facing due to COVID-19. Losing a season or the uncertainty of whether there will even be one and what it will look like is something that no 18-22 year-old has ever had to deal with before. Losing a season can even cause many student-athletes to go through emotions similar to the stages of grief. Try to let them feel what they feel while validating their emotions if they choose to share them. Validation and empathy do not necessarily mean agreement. Using simple statements such as “What I’m hearing you say is…” can be a great way to be empathetic towards what they are going through. Some may express anxiety and fear while others may be trying to stay overwhelmingly positive in the face of adversity. Either way, check in, ask what they need, and let them know you are there to listen.

Create Team Programming – Is there something you’ve always wanted to introduce to your team but felt like you never had the time? Maybe now would be the perfect time to incorporate team mindfulness practice or professional development sessions with alumni? Fear and anxiety are future focused, whereas depression lives in the past. Mindfulness is living in the here and now. Taking the team through some breathing exercises for when they feel stressed or incorporating some beneficial virtual team time can help calm the worry about the future and find value in the present.

Help them build routine – In any other year, most athletes would be on campus in preseason or gearing up to go back to school with a routine, whether conscious or not, of how they go through their day. Structure is in fact one of the main things that allows student-athletes to strive to be successful in sport and in life. When things get out of whack, and our day-to-day changes, routines are often disrupted, and stress takes over. With protocols and news changing by the day, even if you can’t be together or won’t be having a season, you can help your athletes build a routine to continue to work to be successful. Are there ways to safely build in some sort of competition or fun activity on what would have been game days? Despite not being able to have a set practice schedule for the entire month with all of the changes, can you work with players to plan voluntary practice plans for the next two weeks? If at home for virtual learning, each athlete could benefit from planning their following day out before they go to bed each night. Any way that you can get creative to safely and actively help athletes build structure into the time apart can bring some clarity amidst the chaos.

Incorporating anything new, especially activities geared towards quelling the anxiety and uncertainty facing your staff and athletes during Covid, is an incredibly difficult task.

In response to this challenge, SportStrata has developed a series of virtual trainings in which we help coaches devise a different kind of playbook for dealing with the barrage of difficulties that now face their teams, staff, players, and themselves. Our next available training in this series – Advanced Connected Coaching – can be found HERE and will focus on both developing stronger relationships with players and building a richer team culture using scientifically-proven strategies from sport & performance psychology.