The Elephant in the Room: Addressing the uncertainty and isolation head-on with your athletes

Updated: May 20

Many college sports are not coming back this year and the sports that do come back will look different. Coaches have changed and players have changed. The problem is that there are many of us who are holding on to a false sense of return to play, which can keep us from acknowledging what we do know. We know that players and coaches are cut-off from each other and there is uncertainty. How we handle this uncertainty and isolation right now, can be crucial for the success of programs when play does return. As coaches, what can you do to minimize the impact of isolation and uncertainty among your players and keep your program moving forward? Below are four strategies that are a great way to start.

1. Monitor the participation. When you send out communication (E-mail, Text, Etc.) monitor who is responding and how quickly they respond. This is not an indicator of accountability, but an indicator of motivation. The loss of comradery takes a toll on athletes and over time, the isolation can erode program participation. Monitor the participation so you can see what athletes may need additional support.

2. Talk with players individually. The first way to increase someone’s enthusiasm is to show empathy. Talking with someone individually gives you a chance to follow-up and show you are listening and trying to be the best support. Use this time to identify preferred communication methods, wellness checks, and motivators.

3. Engage with your athletes in non-sport activities online. You can really strengthen relationships when you are able to get to know individuals beyond the game. If you only reach out to check on sport progress or run “team meetings” it can burn athletes out. Mix it up and use technology such as Zoom or Google Meet to do team building activities that can bring teammates and coaches closer.

4. Have a development plan that is NOT contingent on COVID. This is a great time for personal development. This has been plastered everywhere on social media and it holds true for this. Get together with your staff to review program values and player development. Create individual development plans with your athletes. This can give them the structure that is no longer available.

When we acknowledge observable facts, it goes a long way to improving the motivation of those you lead. Then, engaging in useful strategies that strengthens relationships will provide you the flexibility to make the necessary changes while maintaining the enthusiasm of your team.

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