Behind the Whistle: Learning and Growing During a Pandemic

PHOTO COURTESY OF FROSTBURG STATE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Taylor Sindall is the head coach at Frostburg State University.

I was extremely fortunate to be offered my very first collegiate head coaching job last summer in the midst of the global pandemic that we have all come to despise, COVID-19. I had so many plans, ideas, implementations, etc. and absolutely could not wait to get started.

As the weeks and months continued, I found my positive enthusiasm slowly draining as bad news upon bad news flowed steadily into our lives. If we are all being honest with ourselves, this pandemic has been TOUGH. Tough on mental and physical health, tough on budgets and salaries, tough on relationships and so much more. Being a first-time head coach, or someone who works in collegiate athletics in general, this past year-and-a-half was not at all what we were hoping for or expecting. It has been a hard situation to navigate.

What has been thrown at all of us has been unexpected and tragic and yet has brought so much wisdom and growth. While my first year as a head coach was not what I had expected or hoped for, it has still brought so many amazing lessons and I could not be more grateful.

I’d love to share some of those with you:

FLEXIBILITY IS A NECESSITY

As coaches, we understand that we need to be flexible because things always change. Weather throws a wrench in practice plans, opponents run a new offensive set that wasn’t on the game plan, players sustain injuries and the list goes on. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new meaning to the word “flexibility.” There were days when practices had to be canceled due to possible exposures or positive results. Recruits were unable to visit campus because of out-of-state travel restrictions and new recruiting mandates.

So, we remain flexible, we make adjustments and we create new opportunities. Instead of practice, we did virtual film sessions. If a recruit couldn’t make it to campus, we set up virtual tours and phone calls. We must remain flexible; we get creative, we make it work.

THE X'S AND O'S REALLY DON'T MATTER

Okay of course they matter, but not as much as we think they do.

It is important to have a slow break and settled offense, a solid defensive set, a clear, a ride and everything in between. But you know what really matters? Being with your team any chance you can.

While at times it is frustrating when your team isn’t understanding a concept or making the necessary adjustments in a specific drill, we need to take a step back and remember that we are so lucky to be able to even be on the field together during these times. There were times this year when practice was just plain ugly, and all I wanted to do was send the girls home for the day, but then I reminded myself that this specific practice session could be the last opportunity we would have together on the field as a team. So, I decided, let’s just be together and give them the opportunity to right the ship. Cherish every moment together, the good, bad and ugly.







GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

During one of the sessions of our virtual IWLCA Convention this past December, one of the questions that was asked of us was, “What is an important lesson you have learned during the pandemic?” The vast majority of us had an answer that had to do with the mental health of our student-athletes, and while this has always been a priority of ours, it has been moved even further into the spotlight over the past year-and-a-half.

While reflecting on the answers of some of my colleagues and preparing an answer of my own, I realized that not only do we need to hyper-focus on the current mental health status of our athletes, but on our own mental health as well. My answer to the question posed was, “To give myself a break.”

As I mentioned, I was so eager to start my first head coaching job and was full of excitement and enthusiasm. I quickly realized that I would not be able to implement or achieve all of the things I wanted during the pandemic, and that was a hard pill to swallow. We all want so much to succeed and be the very best, we hold ourselves to such a high standard, as we should, but it is important to recognize that these are unprecedented times, and we all deserve a break.

So, if you turn your video off on your staff Zoom meeting because you haven’t had your coffee yet and still have bags under your eyes, or you put off something on your to-do list and it sits there for a couple of days, who cares? If we want to be able to support our athletes with their mental health struggles, we have to take care of our own mental health and cut ourselves some slack. We are all doing our best with what we have, and it is important to make our own mental health a priority so that we can be our best selves for our players.

STRUGGLE IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR GROWTH

So many of us have been truly struggling for the past year-and-a-half. We are still dealing with a deadly pandemic, while social unrest and injustice have run rampant in the previous year in our country. Many of us were unable to celebrate the holidays surrounded by family and friends as we normally would, and there is still so much uncertainty for the future.

And yet we persevere.

We are here, we are alive and we are making an impact on the lives of the future of our sport and our country. We are truly living through and making history right now and growing into better educated and adaptable versions of ourselves. And that is something extraordinary.

I don’t claim to know everything, or honestly much at all. I am still learning and growing as a coach and as a person. But I am so grateful to be where I am and to have the opportunity to mentor young women, to make a difference, to make history and to share these lessons with all of you. So, here’s to being flexible, enjoying time with your team, giving yourself a break and growing through your struggles!

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