Year on the sidelines: Coaches weigh in on pandemic experience

Steve Snyder and Brett Gibson discuss how coaching entails new duties during pandemic 

Coaches Steve Snyder and Brett Gibson have seen their roles take on a different form during this unusual year.

During a normal week, coaches are used to seeing their athletes nearly every day.

Some days start at 6 a.m. in the weight room, and others finish with an evening at the rink. It’s a life of constant contact—one that often develops into strong, important player-coach relationships.

In November, The Journal spoke with numerous athletes about their experiences during this year’s lost season. In keeping with our previous inquiry, we wanted to ask a similar set of questions to an oft-overlooked group of people: coaches. While student-athletes juggle sports and academics, coaches’ daily lives tend to be dedicated almost entirely to their occupations as team leaders.

“Working from home and having limited in-person opportunities since March has certainly changed our day-to-day approach. However, we recognize how fortunate we have been to be able to safely train throughout the Fall,” football Head Coach Steve Snyder said.

READ MORE: How are athletes coping with their pandemic regimens?

Snyder, who finished his inaugural season as head coach last year, also expressed his desire to play an active role in maintaining his players’ emotional welfare.

“Overall, we have prioritized supporting the student-athletes academics and support for their well-being and mental health. [Being] without a competitive season this past fall certainly changed a lot, but [it’s] allowed us to focus on other areas and objectives for our team.”

Those objectives, Snyder mentioned, largely consist of re-evaluating the mechanics of the entire football program.

“Having our season cancelled has really just re-directed our efforts into an internal review of our program, research projects and trying to become a more efficient and better-prepared football team. We continue to support the student-athletes and try to help them establish a routine and schedule with responsibilities as close to a regular year as possible.”

On the subject of the football team’s dynamic, Snyder expressed both pride and trepidation. Although he believes his players have done a formidable job adjusting to safety protocols so far, he said that the long-term consequences of the pandemic and its effect on team solidarity have still yet to be seen.

Brett Gibson, head coach of the men’s hockey team, shared similar thoughts about how his athletes have handled the transition to a socially distant team atmosphere.

“I would be lying if I said that they have not found this year challenging and, to be honest, frustrating. With that said, they understand the severity of the virus and have been very diligent and responsible around the safety protocols that are in place for what we can do.”

Gibson openly spoke about the difficulties both he and the team have gone through in the past year: limited practices, innumerable Zoom meetings, and evidently, the inability to play competitively. However, one challenge in particular has weighed on him personally.

“The biggest challenge I have as a coach is not having the daily interactions with my players. Especially with such a large first-year class we miss the team-building exercises and events where we really get to know a player and their personality.”

Like Snyder, Gibson expressed a fervent desire to be as supportive as possible of his athletes. 

“I am coaching for my players this year – the priority is about what they need from me and want they want to achieve this year. I have said from day one, whatever they want, we will look to accommodate as a coaching staff. When we are not able to practice, I just try to make myself available to them in whatever way they need me – as a mentor, to provide support, or to talk through challenges that they are facing. 

Gibson also spoke about how the current circumstances have been constructive for him, both personally and professionally. He’s been able to spend more time with his family, watch more NHL hockey—for research purposes, he assured—and the frequent Zoom meetings have also allowed the team to have open dialogues about some highly pertinent social issues.

Read More: Queen’s Black student athletes address race in sport

“The opportunity to have an open dialogue early in the year as a group over a zoom call regarding the Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racism movements was an enriching experience for our team. Jaden Lindo and Jaren Burke spoke to us at great length and provided us with valuable information for our group moving forward,” he said.

“The open environment to ask questions and, more importantly, to listen to their experiences only brought us closer as a team. It also showed incoming players that we are an inclusive group, and we welcome tough conversations.”


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