In the past weeks the Leading Edge team has conducted interviews with coaches and leaders across the country to capture insight and inspiration on how programs are moving forward during COVID-19 challenges. The article below is a combination of some of those interviews. To listen to full interviews , check out The Leading Edge Podcast.
Adversity is something that everyone faces in life. The degree of that adversity is unique to the individual, but rarely unescapable across the board. The one constant is we don't dictate the terms. Enter the coronavirus pandemic. It has proven a formidable foe, stopping not only sports but modern society in its tracks.
The End of a Season
With the severity of the global pandemic coming into focus, Doug Soles, Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Great Oak High School in Temecula, California, addressed his team. No one knew it would be one of the last times the group would meet.
In plain yet powerful words, he illustrated the magnitude of the situation to his student-athletes, “Things are going to get real. Things are going to change...We need to be prepared for anything."
Coach Doug Soles addresses the Great Oak Cross Country team about upcoming cancellations (video above)
His words were a reminder, a warning, and most importantly encouragement to his athletes: be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Be the leaders needed during these critical and uncertain times.
Thankfully for Great Oak Track and Cross Country, Coach Soles has conditioned his athletes to be team players and individuals to be depended upon in adverse conditions. Over years of training, building a multi-year state championship program, Coach Soles is confident that his athletes know how to draw upon their experience gained from athletics and competition.
“We’ve trained them for events. We’ve trained them for adversity. Our kids are really good at dealing with adversity.”
Fighting for a roster spot, overcoming a bad call by a referee, bouncing back from a mistake or a bad play – it's possible the resilience gained through sport has never served this generation better.
Many of the coaching adages familiar to athletes are now on full display in our communities. “Hang in there”, “Keep your chin up”, “Teamwork makes the dream work”, “You can only control your attitude and your effort”, and other sayings are now useful advice for all of us, regardless of our athletic predisposition.
This pandemic has proven our interconnection at the global scale. Teamwork will be critical across communities, companies, industries and countries as we begin to get a handle on the struggle facing us all. Early signs are promising while despite social distancing we have supported local businesses, helped our elderly and those in need, and tightened our family ranks to support one another like never before.
The reality is that regardless of one’s opinion of sports, we are all on a team.
Bigger Than the Game
Coronado High School (CA) Head Baseball Coach Morgan Cummins has attempted to put this period in perspective for his players.Not only has the season been cancelled but, due to league rules, he can’t even talk to the players right now. As tough as that is, Coach Cummins acknowledges that, “It’s just a tough thing in general. Life is bigger than baseball and while of course we all have a passion for the game…we have to do what’s right for the greater good right now.”
In a salient reminder that sports equip us with much more than just athletic opportunities, Coach Cummins had wise words for his players.
“We need to take what we learn from the game and apply it to ourselves as human beings.”
There are just some things that box scores can’t communicate. There is no substitute for the learnings experienced through participating in sports.
Optimism by Default
Montville High School (NJ) Head Cheerleading Coach Kelsey O’Connor has recognized that providing perspective for her team, for their parents, and for her community has been important. The magnitude of the situation is evident, but optimism must still pervade the attitude of her athletes. If her athletes make the choice to be positive, if they default to positivity she knows they will prevail.
“I’ve really seen a lot of positivity. They’ve been great with communication and being on board and understanding.”
It’s the hopeful drive and commitment, in the face of the unknown, that fuels one another inside of the program. The prospect of the upcoming fall cheerleading season makes sure that her squad has something to look forward to.
“It makes it a little bit sweeter to look forward to being out there on the sidelines again, on the mat again. All together at practice, at games, at competitions"
We know that somewhere down the road after all of this is done, we will be together again.
Coach Kelsey O'Connor
Eventually, life will go back to “normal”. It will be a new normal, but we’ll take with us the memories and the lessons from these days, weeks, and months when our reality was so drastically altered. Life is about making the most of your time, no matter the circumstance. The opportunity to showcase our collective resilience and fortitude is in itself a gift.
Rain or shine. Good or bad. Win or lose. Safe or out. As Charles Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Ready for Resilience
While not being able to be with his team, Head Coach Shawn Dodd at Eastlake North High School (OH) is drawing on revelations realized through personal hardship in order to best guide his players.
“It’s a message that I share with all of my players over the years…I tell them life is gonna throw you stuff much harder than I am going to give you…You can choose to be relentless and resilient and fight your ass off…That’s what we choose to do.”
"The hardest thing you have to go through in life wont be staying at home, I promise you that."
-Coach Dodd posts encouraging messages to his team via the team twitter account.
It’s messages of confidence and empowerment that our country was built upon. Inspired messages like Coach Dodd’s emanate from the American spirit and will fuel our rebound.
We share this obligation as group leaders to instill the values that we wish to pass down to future generations-- our teaching, coaching and leadership will become our legacy.
Improving Together While Building Leaders
At Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Coach Tyrone Hicks is challenging his girls to get better with various workouts and activities-- all while joining in himself.
“What I enjoy the most is I’m doing it right with them. I’ll be honest. I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
No pain, no gain, right Coach Hicks? He goes on to say,
“I put a picture of this hill on the group chat. It’s basically like ‘Whose bright idea was this.’ One of my seniors sent a message back and said ‘Just don’t think about it. Just get it done.’
I said ‘You know what, you’re right. She said ‘look at me coaching the coaches.’
The shared experience of challenging ourselves to get better while overcoming this pandemic together is providing opportunities for growth, for coaches and players alike. Coach Hicks recognizes that may not have been available to us otherwise.
“I’m really expecting a lot of leadership out of her coming up next year and she’s already starting now. I think that’s what’s most exciting to me.”
Leading the Way by Showing the Way
A coach can be a friend, a mentor, an educator, a role model, a leader and so much more. It is said that, “attitude reflects leadership” and in these unknown times, coaches and educators are now more than ever sharing their gifts for everyone to see.
The kids who we currently serve will be a driving force out of this pandemic. The foundation for action in the face of challenge is being simultaneously tested and laid. Young people will take what they see and learn now and pass it to their future teams.
Every kid needs a champion. Thankfully our families need look no further than the coach who is capably guiding student-athletes through the unknown toward a brighter future. One filled with the everyday joys that we relished not so long ago.
This too shall pass, and with a chosen predisposition to elect to see the good, we’ll be even stronger than we ever were before. Better today than yesterday. Better tomorrow than today.