Social coaching while social distancing

In times such as this, many things can come to mind that will comfort us in the unknown. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Regardless of your beliefs or opinions, this text goes on to explain the ebbs and flows of life and how little control we have over the events in our lives.

As a college strength & conditioning coach, this time has been the most unique and saddest of seasons in my career. I have watched teams wait to hear if their season was going to be canceled after preparing for several months. I was sitting in a film session with our men’s basketball team when we found out our conference tournament was being canceled. Watching seniors not get to experience, or even know, they have played their last game in college has been heartbreaking.

No one could have predicted the spread of a virus that would affect our world and the shear structure of sport – to the point of complete cancelations of events, championships, and entire seasons. Analyzing the present and looking to the future, coaches on all levels are trying to figure out with these unique dynamics how to go about training their athletes. This situation is at its finest forcing us into another version of a “constraints-led approach.”

Social distancing is recommended by the CDC and being enforced on a local level now all over the world, but staying social is still a must. I have seen many coaches, programs, etc. share at-home programs, bodyweight training, and various circuits. While the WHAT and WHY are shared, how many coaches are focusing on HOW they are getting this across to their athletes?

During the March HMMR Hangout, the topic came up about how to break the monotony of training plans during this time and keep athletes engaged. Programing push-ups and bodyweight squats will only go so far, even though it seems it is all we can do in the confines of our home. The coaches at FAU Strength & Conditioning have adopted a few strategies to address this topic.

Social media

Social networks have allowed us to stay connected and have changed the way we relate to each other. A few months ago coaches might have complained about how much time athletes waste on them, but during this time such connection is a must, not only for our physical purposes of training but mentally, spiritually, emotionally, etc.

What we have done at FAU is to use Instagram as a medium to not only share workouts but also have athletes repost on their stories their training. Tagging friends to do 10 push-up challenge is great (which looks like people need to practice doing more push-ups!) but completing actual training sessions is our expectation while our athletes are gone.

Reach out to everyone you train and have them “tag” their workout to your main social media stream. People love their names posted and photos shared, and idea I learned years ago from Tony Holler concept of “rank, record, publish.” Many of the resources that have been shared on HMMR Media are being given to our student-athletes such as Vern Gambetta’s leg circuits, Nick Garcia’s warm ups, and even isometric ideas from Cal Dietz.


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Social challenges and competitions

Sending take-home programs with basic sets and reps are manageable but using time as a constraint has been useful to our athletes. With so many people not having access to a track, gym or an open area that provides enough distance – AMRAP’s, EMOM, Timed Sets, Tabata, etc. are all ways to use time to create arbitrary “distances” for athletes.

While this can be taken to extremes, we have found that the use of time is a great target for athletes to compete against themselves daily. Including sending home a multi-week program, we have begun to send out challenges as a daily workout to do. With some of our athletes unable to even leave their residences, these types of circuits can help get a lot of training done in a limited amount of time.

Setting up training like this also has a social impact. Naturally timed-based training sessions led to competition not just against themselves but their teammates as well. Have your athletes share their daily, weekly, and monthly results. Share those who have the best times or most reps on team threads, social media stories and pages. Being apart isn’t an excuse to lose connection and camaraderie in a team.

Social communications

The five basic senses of touch, sight, hear, smell and taste, are all ways to induce stimulus in training. These sensations also greatly impact the social nature of the training environment.

One way we are trying to tap into our senses is through messaging apps like Teamworks and video messaging via Zoom. Teamworks has been tremendous as athletes can have threads between each other to not only share what they have been doing training-wise (during a “voluntary” time of training) but also share documents for daily habits, nutrition and even quotes that they have found to each other.

Visually and auditory wise, using Zoom is going to be our “Ace Card” of sorts as we continue during this time away to get our athletes together. We plan to implement these calls with teams to bring everyone together not only physical training but to discuss various personal (lifestyle, nutrition, recovery) and psychological (spiritual, emotional, cognitively) resources to maintain our focus on holistic student-athlete development.

Final thoughts

On the positive side, this situation is growing our understanding of how to best connect remotely to our athletes. While we all hope we do not see another pandemic soon, NCAA coaches have to help athletes train remotely every year when students go home over vacations.

I hope that this article is not only thought-provoking and provides real examples but most of all stimulate ideas that will help better your athletes while they are not under your care! I would love to hear what others are doing during this time!