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#SPORTS: COACHING IN THE COVID ERA (2021-01-24)

Just a brief background to demonstrate my expertise on all things coaching. (You’ll get used to the self-deprecation / sarcasm, I promise.)

I have 11 years experience coaching basketball teams, comprised of kids from the age of 7 to 18, including three fairly unsuccessful seasons of varsity boys basketball and one glorious 14-win season, that I will continue to cherish as if we won March Madness or hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy.

I also have roughly six years of coaching football, mostly to 6 to 12 year olds, with a year of JV/varsity thrown in, and even one season of coaching semi-pro football, where more than a few of the players were older than I was.

And let’s not forget all of the seasons of T-Ball, Coach-Pitch, Little League, travel ball … I coached that, too. But really, who hasn’t?  And who can’t?

Point being, I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the years coaching kids of various ages in various sports. It’s been eight years since I’ve been on a sideline, and I do find myself missing it at times.  Not a LOT of times, but some.  

One thing I can say with absolute certainty, is that I do NOT currently wish I was still coaching.  Not in the “Covid Era.”

I have always said, and will continue to believe, that in general, youth and high school coaches tend to receive too much of the credit when their teams win, and not enough of the blame when they lose. Obviously, that’s not a popular statement, especially among coaches.

But that’s an argument for another day.

I’ll just leave this here: My first three years of coaching varsity boy’s basketball, we won 18 games total. The next season, we won 14 games.  

First playoff appearance in a long, long time.

Most wins in a season in even longer.

First District 4, Class AA playoff win ever.

Two 1,000 point scorers.

I could go on and on.  And I usually do.

The fact is, I did not become some “great coach” in a year.  My players improved. The competition did not. Very simple.  

Some aspects of coaching kids are controllable by the coach. Not all, but some. I could open the gym doors on a Saturday at 10 a.m., but I couldn’t make kids come and work to get better.

I could schedule around first days of hunting seasons.

I could beg and plead with kids to take care of themselves, avoid getting colds, and hope to Coach K (the basketball God) that the whole team wouldn’t catch the sniffles that Johnny caught.

Everything is so different now. We are trying to navigate a full-blown, world-wide, life-altering, life-ending pandemic.  And one of the many, many things that has had to take on much less importance is sports — especially high school sports.

Some areas have suspended or cancelled sports altogether. I’m not going to pretend to know how different coaches in different sports in those areas are trying to cope with the loss of their seasons. Virtual practices? I have no idea.

Everyone knows that here, in the NTL and adjoining areas, we’ve started sports, and have had extended, forced breaks.

Kids get plucked off rosters at the last minute, practices and games are cancelled with little-to-no notice, and innumerable other “inconveniences” to basically make navigating a sports season nearly impossible.

Yes, the most unfortunate victims of all of the uncertainty are the children. They are losing precious, few opportunities to be kids. To be athletes. Their emotions and expectations and disappointments are a roller coaster. Everyone feels for them.  

I also sympathize with our coaches.  Yes, for the most part, they can have as many seasons as they wish. Student athletes can’t.  This isn’t a competition on who to feel bad for. Just a reminder, coaches are struggling too.  

They, too, are being kept from doing something they put a lot of their lives into. Gone are the days of worrying about kids catching the sniffles. Or, how many kids got their buck early enough to make that 3 p.m. practice.  

Now, on top of trying to coach, educate and mold our kids, they also get to play “mask police” for their players, and be reprimanded if one of their players’ masks falls under their nose. Coach K forbid!

For all of these reasons, and more, I’m missing coaching less this year than ever. And I am giving the men and women who are trying to keep their teams safe, together and successful, more credit. We all should.

——————

Lance Larcom is a former Canton varsity boys basketball coach, and frequent contributor to Northern Tier Sports Report, and Valley Sports Report.

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