Before the Minnesota State High School League put a mandatory halt on the spring activities season from March 18-27, coaches were allowed to meet with their students one last time.
The MSHSL updated its policy to make things clear on how those coaches and athletes could proceed while school is not in session for at least through Friday in order to take all necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. There are no practices or competitions. Participants cannot get together in groups, and coaches cannot place undue pressure on kids to take part in any individual workouts or skills training. Coaches can, however, find ways to help students get through what is unchartered territory for everyone involved.
“The big thing for us was about building community, keeping kids connected,” Osakis track and field coach Lee VanNyhuis said. “It’s kind of tough. The biggest thing is not necessarily staying in shape, but having the kids feel like they’re still a part of something even though they’re socially apart from each other. Luckily, there are more tools for that now, and that’s what they’re trying to tap into.”
VanNyhuis also addressed with his athletes the uncertainty of what might happen to the spring season going forward.
As of the morning of March 23, activities for MSHSL members are allowed to resume on April 6, but that is very much up in the air with responses to the COVID-19 pandemic evolving rapidly.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen here, but we’re going to try to focus on what we can control,” VanNyhuis said. “(The meeting on March 16) gave the seniors a chance to address the team. It might be the last chance to talk to the whole group, so some of them took advantage of that and talked about staying connected.”
Athletes for many area programs are taking advantage of technology to do that. VanNyhuis will send daily optional workouts through a group text-messaging app to parents and students. Some might be workouts related to track and field. Some are just general ways to keep them busy if they are having a hard time with the isolation of being away from the team.
“I’ve heard from some parents who said their kids are just glad to have something to do, something to look forward to throughout the day,” VanNyhuis said. “Something to maybe get them outside if it’s nice out so they don’t get stuck in a rut...not being out in public, but jogging on a road or getting some fresh air is a big part of that.”
Athletes are using tools like Facetime or other video-chatting apps to see each other and do virtual workouts together from their own homes.
The primary focus for a lot of coaches in offering these suggestions for their kids is that it helps them stay positive. Osakis softball coach John Stigman offered some simple ideas that his players could do to stay active like playing catch with a family member or one other person.
“I think my biggest concern was more for connection,” Stigman said. “Each day we are trying to get players to connect with each other or check in. Teammates need each other at this time, so we have started a communication tree so we can continue to interact with each other. The mental connection is as important if not more important than the physical skills. Our players have been having discussions on successes, failure, wishes, and memorable moments. Sharing highs and lows of their journey together.”
It is easy in sports to focus on wins and losses, but winning teams often have strong cultures within their programs. With so much uncertainty surrounding whether or not students will even get a spring season in this year, the focus for many is doing everything they can to maintain a sense of togetherness that comes with being part of a team.
“This is kind of a reminder that there’s things that are more important than sports,” VanNyhuis said. “One of the roles that sports plays is building that community, and that’s the challenge we have as coaches right now is keeping that going. Even if we don’t have competition this year, we’re going to keep on trying to connect with our kids and be there for them in different ways.”