Soccer coaches navigate season in COVID-19 landscape

Emilio Alcaraz, Sports writer

By Emilio Alcaraz

Sports Writer

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the campus of California State University, Bakersfield has been closed for students and athletes. Since the facilities are not available coaches and players must adapt accordingly. Faced with these challenges of distance learning and restrictions of the facilities on campus, coaches and athletes are having to find creative ways to stay connected and stay in shape. This includes adapting to technology to communicate, strength & conditioning, and preparing for a full return to athletics.

Men’s soccer head coach Richie Grant, who is in his seventh-year at CSUB, and third-year women’s soccer head coach Sebastian Vecchio have been doing just that. Jordan Martinez is a Senior student-athlete at CSUB playing defender in the women’s soccer team and Tom Shepherd is a Senior student-athlete at CSUB playing forward in the men’s soccer team. Shepherd is an international student from England and is a communications major. Shepherd’s current plans for playing soccer is preparing for game she will have starting in February and then for the fall season of 2021. Shepherd plans to make a career for himself playing professionally.

Question: How does your team stay fit during a typical week of pandemic with limited resources and restrictions?

Coach Grant: “Not so much resources but certainly restrictions. They have workout plans. With NCAA compliance we gave them guidance but at this time we would have completed two weeks of preseason and been three games into the season. There is no substitute for that. Unfortunately, they are missing out on match sharpness. Our squad is divided up into two in this moment: half the squad stayed at their location because that part of the world that they were at allowed them to play or they felt like in a safe place from COVID where they could continue school. We are not allowed back on campus to train. So, that is very hindering to the guys that are here right now. They are coming up with COVID safe best practices that are allowing them to stay fit at this moment. Some of that is guided by the fitness standards that they have to meet. They are allowed to be outside and join gyms if they are open. They are being creative to maintain their peak performance from last year as best they can.”

Coach Vecchio: “Why try to encourage our student-athletes to stay fit. The idea is to stay as fit as possible by running or when gyms reopen they can lift. We are limited contact of eight hours that can only be Zoom calls. We cannot dictate it on a volunteer basis.”

Martinez: “The coaching staff kept us motivated by giving us work outs we could do at home. Three times a week we would do at home workouts with a partner over facetime. It was the perfect way to keep us moving, keep us fit while holding us accountable to our partners. It helped keep our team communication going and improve our one on one relationships with each other as well.”

Shepherd: During the pandemic, I stay fit and motivated by reminding myself of my overall goal which is to be a professional soccer player. By doing this I realized that everything I did in the short term, would make the long term a success. By achieving small victories every day, I kept myself on track and motivated before coming back to school. Question: How does the use of technology aid or hinder the communication with your players?

Coach Vecchio: “It’s a different dynamic with the players because you lose the tone of the conversation as well as reading the body language. If it is a big meeting it is hard to keep the group engaged. It is difficult but we are glad and blessed that we get to do that and that we have the tools.”

Coach Grant: “It certainly hinders the experience because we mostly love to be on the training ground with our players. We learn so much more about them by being engaged with them. As a coach that has been the biggest loss and the most challenging aspect is not having that daily interaction, experience, and competitiveness. There is such an empty space in all of us that we can only operate with the hope that the experience will come back. When it returns we want to be best equipped. When we first used this technology I remembered the first Zoom call and the expression that everyone said was, “It’s great to see you ” because you could see someone and it was a good substitute for a while. We can not continue to do that. We have to get back on the field and back to training. We are optimistic.”

Shepherd: COVID majorly affected my training and communication with team mates. We got sent home as a result of COVID and for me this meant going back to England. This meant I had to do my own training for 5 months. Being in England it was hard to speak to my team mates with the time change and being so far away but we made it work! It has affected my personal goals a lot as I had planned to graduate after this semester and go professional. COVID has put them plans on hold and as a consequence I will try to do this in a year.

Martinez: When COVID hit, our team was in the second month of our Spring season. We were about to start playing games when everything was put on hold. The school shut down so we could no longer practice or get together to work out. We began to have weekly zoom meetings to stay connected and in touch with everyone. We hoped we would be able to return by the end of the year, we wanted to be prepared to come back and play games at any time. As a team we knew it was important to use this time wisely. We still had academic and soccer goals we wanted to achieve for the semester. It was important to try to stay positive and busy during the pandemic, so we used the time to focus on classes, studying, and working on our personal soccer skills. Everyone has something they want to improve; those who wanted to get better at fitness took advantage of the mornings to go running, those who wanted to improve juggling set aside a time everyday to improve their balls skills.

Question: How do you view your student-athletes academic success during the pandemic?

Coach Grant: “We cannot use COVID as an excuse and we are proud of them. Just like in our sport it is always about our next performance. Now they need to back up that good Spring semester we had in the classroom. We feel that COVID will make or break some individuals and some programs. We want to use this momentum to arrive in the Big West prepared and have camaraderie.”