JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — COVID-19 was not only a widespread and dangerous virus; it was also invasive and extremely personal. Everyone in the world has been affected by COVID-19 in one way or another.
For athletic coaches, the coronavirus put a halt to their careers as sporting competitions across the United States were canceled for the season. As the virus forced people into isolation and quarantine, coaches found they had the time to plan and prepare for how they too would combat living in a world with COVID-19.
Head coach of the Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse team, Mindy McCord, explains the obstacles she had to overcome during isolation as she describes how COVID-19 created a stressful environment for her family.
As a career-driven person, McCord identified her role as a mentor and coach.
“I had never known anything else other than having a season,” McCord said. “In 26 years of coaching, that’s what I knew and it was very hard to see something taken away from you so quickly and not understand really what’s going on.”
As athletic seasons across the country were being shut down, and with no guaranteed solution or set outcome in sight McCord had to think about her future.
“You have to think about your job security,” she said. “You always hope you can maintain your job.”
Coach McCord was joined by her husband, Paul McCord, as he served as associate head coach on the JU lacrosse team up until the year of the pandemic. Due to the pandemic, the McCord’s believed that they both “couldn’t be in the same type of position because of the vulnerability with sports.”
This forced Paul McCord to reconsider returning to coach the dolphins in the 2020-2021 season.
“You need to set your family up to be in a position to survive a pandemic like that,” McCord said.
As Mindy and Paul McCord separated their roles, change was hard for her due to the fact that she had worked along side her husband for so many years. Although this was a difficult time for their family due to COVID, McCord also said that she was thankful for the time of isolation as it brought her back to her family.
McCord was able to take a step back from coaching and focus on being a mother to her son. She also found herself developing a new role as a Kindergarten teacher as schools too were shutting down across the country.
“Things can change any second,” McCord began. “It is important to learn how to be able to adjust, be flexible, and to be patient.”
After the NCAA revised protocols and analyzed the potential threat of the COVID-19 virus, they produced a new set of regulations in a Return to Play manual to allow the 2020 – 2021 season to go ahead. Although this meant that coaches and players were finally able to begin to train and compete, due to the new regulations, training and games would be conducted very different.
Coaches found themselves in new territory and following all these procedures whilst trying to best prepare their athletes for a championship was frustrating. COVID-19 limited numbers allowed in a certain room at a time, enforced that masks were worn in close proximities, and with social distancing created confusion on how to best train contact sports whilst remaining COVID-safe.
Coach Mike Bedford is the newest addition to the Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse coaching staff. As assistant coach, Bedford explained how COVID has impacted how he has had to coach the team as he tries to lead them to their consecutive ASUN Championship.
“We were extremely mindful of the situation,” Bedford said. “The last thing we wanted to do was cause some type of outbreak for our team that could be transmitted to other teams and shut other programs and our athletic department down.”
With everyone having the same goal in sight of having a competitive season, Bedford believes that each player, team, and coach had a responsibility to help manage the virus.
“We needed to be very mindful of where and what our student-athletes were doing on a daily basis,” Bedford said.
Although coaches and players felt they had the pressure to monitor their behavior and act accordingly to ensure they were following the rules put in place by the NCAA and university, Bedford also stressed the importance he felt in providing athletes with as much normalcy as possible when it came to lacrosse and training activities.
As a coach, Bedford felt he had to get creative along with other members of the coaching staff. This meant the addition of smaller working groups that could rep drills with limiting the number of people and chances to be exposed to COVID.
“We were able to utilize their time more than we have in the past,” Bedford said. “Our players all had a lot more on-field time directly with our coaching staff.”
Even with players entering quarantine and not necessarily being able to train as a full team, Bedford points out how the smaller training groups was an opportunity ceased by the dolphins.
“The benefits were twofold,” he said. “Firstly we had an opportunity to spend one on one coaching time with our student-athletes and especially our underclassmen. It was really great to help establish relationships.”
Secondly, Bedford said that this new style of training allowed for the coaches to not only focus on their players’ physical health but their mental health as well.
“We were able to establish these relationships, create a dialogue with our student-athletes so we could really understand how they were handling the stresses of this situation,” Bedford said.
Coaches were not only faced with challenges in their personal lives or with the current team, but also in plans for the future as recruiting was also influenced by COVID-19. As coaches, it is important to focus on your next recruiting class to not only fulfill the spots of those who graduated the year prior but find players who will take your program further.
This year due to the coronavirus, coaches saw a constant dead-period since the season ended. Coaches had no opportunity to evaluate student-athletes over the summer which would have been huge for the incoming class of 2022. Even when the season had restarted and coaches were back on college campuses, recruits were still made unable to visit or be invited on official visits due to the COVID-19 travel rules.
Brittney Orashen, associate head coach of Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse team, is highly involved in the recruiting process and explains that due to COVID, recruitment has not only been difficult for the coaches but her future potential players as well.
“Any student-athlete or a potential student-athlete who would come to take a look at JU we weren’t able to have exposure to,” said Orashen.
As a coach from a small school, Orashen found it difficult not being able to invite players to campus to sell the university.
“One of the biggest selling points of our program is our location and the look of our university,” she said. “We have a beautiful campus close to the beach and it’s important for us to showcase that to our incoming players as we strive to be the best place to play lacrosse.”
As well as not being able to showcase the campus, Orashen also feels that not being able to meet players in person is tough on the recruiting process.
“We are in a new situation where we are recruiting players that we have never personally met before,” she said. “We typically like to meet the players and their families to make sure they are the right fit for our program and that we recruit players who are not only talented but align with our values and culture, which is a lot harder to do over the phone.”
From recruiting and managing the team to their personal lives, coaches have been asked to take the time to reevaluate and restructure their way of living due to COVID. Coaches have had to step up and demonstrate their leadership in a time of confusion and do so confidently whilst ensuring the safety of themselves and their student-athletes. The coronavirus has added several obstacles that they have had to overcome to continue to do what they love which is to teach, coach, and mentor others.