from Peter Smith
The 2021-22 academic year in athletics has been seen the ‘restart’ for varsity sports in the smaller NCAA and NAIA colleges. As one administrator aptly described the effect on Fall and Winter coaches and programs, “now more coaches know what it is like to be a baseball or softball coach, with significant schedule changes and abrupt postponements” So how did athletic administrators and coaches handle the ‘on/off’ disruptions depending on COVID on their campus and on opponents’ campuses? We checked in with some prominent NCAA Division III A.D.’s to get their thoughts.
Kiki Jacobs, Athletic Director, Roger Williams
“During COVID we learned we figured out what was important and what wasn't as important. Many coaches on our staff have been able to 'trim down' some of their workload by figuring out what needs to be done, and what can be given up.
“I think as an AD, I am more flexible with office time. Yes, student-athletes need to be able to swing by a coach’s office to talk, but coaches don't need to be here all day to get recruiting and other things done. There is a balance between being here/being present and working remotely”
Doug Zipp, Athletic Director, Ohio Wesleyan
“I think one of the more important outcomes that I have personally seen with coaches is their ability to cope and deal with uncertainty and having to ‘figure it out’ and adjust on the fly. This is not a situation where many coaches respond well, as they typically lead their lives with a standard routine, practice plan and consistent expectations of their student-athletes.
“We quickly realized that being more efficient with practices, taking days off during the week (more than is required) and using athletics to provide a constant outlet for stress of the student-athlete is very important and can actually be done without putting your team at a competitive disadvantage. Who would have thought we would ever be able to do that?”
Jill McCartney, Athletic Director, Kenyon College
“I think that our coaches learned some things that they might not have otherwise and that helped them move forward. For instance, some coaches found that returning to basics during the offseason was more valuable than they realized and that they would continue this practice.
“I believe that coaches would say the most difficult part was the threat of shutting down and not knowing which players would be available from one day to the next--and whether games would get played.”
Now to the present … How are the coaches are doing now?
McCartney explained: “I would say that they are fatigued, both from the duration of the pandemic as well as from the ‘atrophied muscle’ of not having had full seasons for a year or more.”
On the home to work balance she observed “Some who were able to attend family events for the first time during the pandemic are now feeling somewhat torn or stressed about not being able to attend, say, their child's game or concert because of their practices and competition--and that is a new stressor.
So, given these opinions the transition from COVID restrictions to living with COVID in the athletic world has created stressors for coaches and administrators (as well as student-athletes). Athletic support staffs’ health and wellness becomes a key component in the transition back to competition enabling a continued excellent and safe athletic experience for the students.