3 ways coaches have to change in a pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every sport, at every level and in every country. As a result every coach needs to adapt. But things change fast and it can be hard to know what are the right changes.

So we’re here to help.

The sporting landscape has changed substantially. We’ve read the research to understand what some of the sporting trends are from around the world since the pandemic hit. We know that as a coach you have very little free time so we’ve read the research to save you time and energy.

We’ve summarised this research, identified the emerging themes from around the world, and highlighted how you need to respond. From the research we read, 3 common themes emerged:

3 Emerging themes

1. What people want from sport is changing

People play sports because it’s fun. And research shows that of the things which determine fun for players, winning only ranks 40th, far behind things like ‘trying your best’, ‘staying active’ and ‘playing well together as a team’.

World renowned sport researchers the Aspen Institute examined what parents’ desired outcomes for their child playing sports are since the pandemic began. For parents competition has been reported as the least important outcome. Far behind the most important outcomes of mental health, physical health and fun.

2. A mental wellbeing crisis is on the horizon

Studies suggest that since the pandemic began young adults are more likely to report feeling hopeless than any other age group. Research in the Journal of Athletic Training shows that facing school closures and sports cancellations, 39.5% of adolescent athletes displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression.

The negative impacts on mental health will extend beyond any lockdowns. Not only is the pandemic hurting mental health but experts fear restrictions are stopping people getting the help they need. Psychiatrists are worried that right now problems are building up to become a “tsunami” of mental illness.

3. Racism in sport is being recognised more

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped draw attention to racism across society, including in sport. Research by Sported – the UK’s largest network of community groups – highlighted that many people in sport will use words like ‘diversity’ but don’t understand what it really means.

“One participant in the study stated that systemic racism in sport is “not a unique thing, it’s a universal experience”.

Further research by the Aspen Institute found that inequalities have increased as a result of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic Black youth spent 13% more time playing games than White youth. But since the pandemic hit Black youth are spending 39% LESS time playing games than White youth. White youth are now spending 174% more time playing games than Asian youth.

These inequalities are not new. And without deliberate action it will get worse.

3 Takeaways

1. Rethink competition

Rethinking competition is about making sure you are delivering what it is your players want and need. You shouldn’t use competition just for the sake of it.

Your sessions need to be fun, highly engaging and bring your players together. It’s important to keep on updating your way of doing things to suit your players. Don’t just do things the way you learned. Reflect and rethink how to do things better.

We’re not saying competition is bad. Just that it might not be the answer to the current challenges your players are facing. Competition is good. But not when the pursuit of success gets ugly.

As a coach, are you using competition as an external validation of yourself and the players? Or, are you using competition as an internal force to drive growth and improvement?
2. Coach for connection

During a global pandemic, coaches all over the world are taking time to deep dive into research modern technical / tactical concepts.

But is that what players need right now?

The looming mental health crisis will affect every team. Now is the time to coach for connection.

Sport brings people together and connecting with others leads to better wellbeing. Whether your coaching in-person or digitally you can still coach for connections. Prioritise the activities that allow your players to build relationships with each other.

Investing time to getting to know players away from sport is more important than ever.

Tools and methods like the MVMT Practice Plan Tools can help you keep track of the connections and concerns about players.

3. Ask questions about racism

Coaches can no longer avoid conversations about race. Coaches from all backgrounds are now expected by most communities to make a stand against racism and send a message that there’s nowhere to hide anymore. To not explicitly speak out is to tacitly endorse a status quo that cannot continue.

Players, coaches and leaders at every level of sport can benefit from discussions in a safe environment about incidents of racism, white privilege, systemic bias and many more race-related topics.

Asking open questions about people’s experiences and views on issues of race and inequality can lead to a deeper understanding and connection that could be a catalyst for change within sport.

Coaches like Billy Beddow have shared how they are getting this process started.


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