Coaches working to help players stay positive
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a sudden halt to the spring sports season, high school coaches have been helping their athletes stay in shape with various workouts they can do at home, keeping them physically ready for whenever they resume competing.
When it comes to dealing with the mental side of what their athletes are going through, that can be tricky.
"This is most definitely the hardest thing I have had to do as a coach," Grayslake Central softball coach Jason Schaal said. "I try to give them space to be with their families because in a time like this that is what is most important."
Athletes are dealing with a range of emotions from disappointment to anger to frustration to sadness.
Trying to get a read on that as a coach, while not being able to gather as a team, is a challenge.
But coaches are making sure to maintain a supportive voice. That certainly includes St. Charles North baseball coach Todd Genke, who has several Division I players back hoping to make a return to the state tournament.
"We have done quite a few things to support the mental side of the game," Genke said. "Each player had to create a one to two minute video and share how they have been staying in the moment mentally. These have been wonderful to see. My players are reading books, watching videos, and participating in many mental and positive self talk imagery. I have also had my varsity players team up with the lower levels to keep them invested as well and offer ideas and resources to help those young players.
"I think our student-athletes are learning a life lesson of just how important being together on a team is for their mental and physical well-being and competing as a program."
Schaal created senior profiles to help his players through this idle time.
"The girls have told me that it is good for them to think about the games we have played in the past so I am hoping that helps a bit," Schaal said.
Willowbrook boys track and field coach T.J. Artman is focusing on maintaining a positive setting for his team.
He and his assistants send out encouragement via Twitter and Google classrooms, celebrating things like college offers.
"We encourage staying mental in shape too," Artman said. "We have so many coaches and programs working together at Willowbrook. It's a rough road we are all traveling together but we will reach an end destination and resume or reset our goals and move forward."
Veteran Barrington softball coach Perry Peterson is paying close attention to the mental state of his players including some of the team's veterans who told him the e-learning process has been a challenge.
Peterson has since adjusted the fitness instructions he had originally given his team.
"The teachers have assigned more work than players thought they would receive," Peterson said. "With this player feedback, I have backed off from consistent meetings in order to give the athletes some space to accomplish their daily tasks. It is most important to our coaching staff that the girls are mentally strong and resilient at this challenging time, so we are trying not to overload them with too many softball responsibilities as well."
Kevin Katovich's Rolling Meadows basketball players normally would be in the weight room. He said he's been having weekly Zoom meetings to stay in touch and get a feel for their mental state.
"They miss their friends, we all certainly miss the social interactions," Katovich said.
Katovich knows first hand what spring athletes are dealing with. His daughter plays soccer at Fremd and is missing out on her senior season.
Chris Curry, Vernon Hills boys volleyball coach and an assistant AD, said one of his team's mottos is control what you can control.
That outlook seems especially fitting today.
"It's really difficult because people who know me know I'm big on control," Curry said. "I'm trying to control all the variables for them. And while I won't say I won't take my own advice, it's difficult. I'm usually fairly organized and I have a plan for everything. So I've got to let go of that a little bit. Hopefully I provide a good example for the kids and modify."
Curry said the emotion he hears the most is disappointment.
"We try to get them refocused from being a little disappointed and maybe a little angry to what are you going to do about it?" Curry said. "There's some kids who have turned that corner. We try to get them past all the thoughts of what their goals were, not in order to give up goals but to modify them. I think this is a good life lesson. You make all these great plans and then something comes along that you can't control. There's a couple reactions to that -- one is the heck with it, I can't get what I want, I'm going to give up. That is a losing strategy. A more successful strategy is to modify."