Inspiring growth mentally, physically

Pandemic allows opportunity for coaches to connect with athletes in a different way

Daniel Newman, Sports Editor

A basketball coach talks to basketball players
Coach Leep has invited former NBA players and SPU alumni to speak to the team via zoom, to help athletes develop their skills while they cannot practice as a team. (Calvin Quisumbing)

If a coach were a body part, they would be the backbone.

While the team plays the games, the coach holds them together, making sure the individual athletes on the team are pushing themselves to be the best players that they can be. They set up practices to help the players improve and prepare strategies to defeat the opposition. There is a plan in place for almost every situation.

Still, there are some things which no coaches can prepare for. There is no playbook or an agreed upon strategy for coaching others through a pandemic.

Now that the new normal is upon them, coaches at Seattle Pacific University are implementing new strategies and encouraging athletes as they work on their craft alone. 

The women’s basketball team and coach Mike Simonson would normally be in the gym four times a week during spring quarter. Instead, they are meeting as an entire team twice a week on Zoom. The different coaches on the team also make sure to have a meeting with each player individually at least once a week. One meeting a week is focused on leadership and team-building, and the other is focused on watching film of their games from last season to see where they can improve.

While not being able to help his players improve their skills in the gym, Simonson reminds himself that every coach in the country is going through the same thing.

Instead, he and his staff are appreciating the time they have to connect with their players and talk to them about their lives and their mental health. This is something that they do not necessarily have time for while teaching the game of basketball in person, as that often takes priority.

“You’re in a space that allows you to connect with your team on a different level,” Simonson said in a phone call.

Head men’s basketball coach Grant Leep and the other members of his coaching staff have also been meeting over Zoom and watching film of old games, while also occasionally having guests to talk to the team in their Zoom meetings.

Leep said that the guests have been former NBA players, former coaches and other Falcon basketball alums. These guests have spoken to the team about different skills that they have learned while playing basketball and how those skills help them in their lives today.

Things like focus, preparation, understanding and accepting a role have come up quite a bit. It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve gotten a lot out of those meetings,” Leep said in an email.

Associate head coach of track and field Chris Reed said the track team has been taking a different approach to meeting during quarantine.

We have had one Zoom meeting and plan to do a few more but, for us, this spring is so vastly different than we were expecting and we feel it is important to respect the space that student-athletes need during this time,” Reed said in an email.

Different teams can be coached in different ways. Basketball is more of a team sport, so their coaches are focusing on ways to improve mentally during meetings. Since the track season was cancelled essentially before it started, Reed knows that normal procedures would not be of much use.

“We had an entire competitive season cancelled and there is simply no way to effectively simulate that remotely,” Reed said.

Reed and the other coaches have been holding individual meetings over Zoom with each athlete, checking in on their progress and providing encouragement when needed.

“We have had positive and productive conversations with the majority of our team members. They have all seemingly found something in this period of time to work on or improve. I am eager to witness — in person —  that growth whenever it is we are allowed to truly work with them again,” Reed said.