In order to find success in sports, you have to be able to adjust. Whether it’s making an audible at the line, switching from a man to a zone, or employing an infield shift, adjusting on the fly can make the difference between victory and defeat.
This season, we’ve had to adjust more than ever in so many different ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges that we never thought we would be tasked with handling. These days, every time we’re able to get out on the field, it’s already a win.
Through mask wearing, contact tracing, and other preventative measures, we’ve been able to give our student-athletes the opportunity to play the sports that they love. But it’s been far from easy.
Several football teams had to deal with cancellations due to COVID exposure, and basketball season has been a near-impossible puzzle navigating the treacherous waters of indoor contacts and rising infection numbers.
As we turn our attention to the spring, a group of teams and athletes who lost nearly their entire seasons a year ago are chomping at the bit to get back at it and handle some unfinished business. Those baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and golf teams deserve that full season more than anyone.
But what will it take to accomplish that mission and complete a spring season with minimal issues? It will take vigilance, hard work, and a bit of creativity to get the job done. Here are a few suggestions to have a safe, fun, and successful spring high school sports season.
- Avoid crowded contact zones.
We know the virus will spread well when a crowd of people are gathered around. The more spaced out we are, the lesser the chance of that spread. If there’s a way to prevent this close contact as much as possible, it should be administered.
In sports like soccer and lacrosse, we can advise players and coaches on the sidelines to stay six feet apart if possible. With large fields and fewer players on a roster compared to football, it’s certainly possible.
The only troubling sports might be baseball and softball, since athletes not in the game are confined to a dugout. In this case, mask-wearing while not in the action becomes paramount with so many in a small space.
Golf and tennis are naturally social-distancing sports and should fall on the low-risk side. In track and field, it’ll be super-important to avoid large crowds in close proximity as much as possible. Post-event awards along with large meetups afterwards should be kept to a minimum to avoid any unnecessary chances of virus spread.
- Schedule smart.
There’s certainly competitive advantages to scheduling as many out-of-region games as possible, but it also opens up the chance of becoming exposed. As we anticipate the possibility of more teams becoming sidelined through periods of the spring, the idea of getting as many region games in as possible should be of utmost priority.
Because of that, region games should begin almost right away, which will provide a buffer period if teams have to miss time. We’ve seen during basketball season how much the schedule was thrown into disarray.
Hopefully, the outdoor factor of spring sports will lead to significantly fewer pauses, but playing a full region schedule takes utmost precedence over non-region competition. Minimizing those extra contests and tacking them onto the end instead of the beginning seems like the best game plan heading into the spring. That way, we can play a large chunk if not all of the region schedule, and minimize the risks of travel while completing the process of determining legitimate region standings.
- Plan smart.
Over these last few months of this “new normal,” we’ve found several effective techniques to help mitigate COVID spread and lessen the risk of interscholastic athletics. Our challenge is to find new and inventive ways to keep our student-athletes, coaches, officials, and fans safe.
During wrestling season, kids with antibodies were paired up with kids without to help reduce risk. Ticket sales for many events were carried out in new ways to minimize contact and reduce the amount of spectators present. Bleachers, benches, and other seating areas were routinely disinfected in between basketball games. Teams and players have taken necessary precautions to minimize the amount of shared equipment.
If we can take what we’ve learned so far through the fall and winter seasons, we can apply these techniques and pick up some that we’ve missed to create a spring sports environment that is as safe as possible. This is not the time to let our guard down. We must finish strong and take what we’ve learned to complete the spring season we’ve been hoping for.
- Strong leadership is essential.
In order to earn the result you’re looking for on the field, effective leadership is a must. But in this year like no other, these qualities will have to extend far beyond the game that is played.
In order to reach the end goal this year, a team’s leadership from coaches, assistants, and captains must be at the highest level at all times, on and off the field. It takes an entire group’s effort to buy in every year, but this season it could not be any more true.
It only takes one mistake. One maskless mistake or one party with friends could bring a season to a screeching halt. We should all study what Garret Talarczyk, Brooke Simons, and the state championship Seahawk volleyball team did. This incredible unit sacrificed customs that they were used to for the betterment of the team. Whether it was avoiding high-spread environments or masking up in games, the team followed the messages and preaching from the leaders, and the end result was a dream season.
Quality leadership is paramount every season, but this year, it’s more important than ever.
- Get creative with the postseason.
This one may be more directed at leagues and region ADs, but there will be a strong possibility that we may not even get every essential game in. Crazy times call for crazy measures, and so we must think differently on how to crown region champions.
The region tournament model being applied in some regions for basketball is excellent. It solves the plan of potential unbalanced scheduling and gives every team an opportunity (provided they don’t get hit with the bug at a bad time) for one last chance to state their case as a playoff contender.
Region 7-4A’s setup for basketball was perfect: It rewards the regular-season champ with an automatic playoff berth, while giving the other spot to the tournament winner. It may not be flawless, but there’s no perfect solution in a year like this. We want to make sure as many teams as possible get their opportunity to shine in the biggest moments this year, and a region tournament focus is a fantastic way to do it.
- Practice the “three W’s.”
I know the COVID fatigue has really started to set in now, but with the positive news of vaccines starting to roll out, we are closer and closer to reaching the end of this pandemic nightmare. If we continue to practice these “3 W’s,” of washing hands, watching our distance, and wearing masks, we’ll set ourselves up in a great position come summer and beyond.
And in this upcoming spring sports season, it only takes a single domino to fall to start a chain reaction. We’ve got to continue to do our part every day to slow the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.
Former Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle (he signed with the Cincinnati Reds last week) said it best when he called sports “a reward for a functioning society.”
In order to keep this privilege going right now, we’ve got to work hard to do the best we can every day. We can’t let these spring athletes lose yet another season. If students, coaches, officials, and fans step up to the plate and get the job done, we’ll all be champions this year.