This article is the second in a series of three, covering PLNU Athletics this fall without competitions. Part one examined how the administration and Athletic Director Ethan Hamilton adjusted. Part two will look at coaches and their adjustments, and part three will focus on student-athletes.
Coaching a college sports team is a unique job, requiring coaches to work odd hours and continuously pay attention to detail on the field and off it. Coaches must constantly think of ways to help their team succeed, and it functions as less of a job and more of a lifestyle.
“I know this sounds cliché, but it really is a 24/7 job,” Lance Hancock, head women’s golf coach, said in an email interview. “As a head coach, there isn’t any time of the day (or any day of the year) when you’re not thinking of your team or the things that can help your team succeed.”
“I have talked with other coaches about how impossible the college soccer schedule is because you are running a [practice] session, watching past games to evaluate yourself, watching your opponent to prep for the next game, playing two games in a week and recruiting on top of all that,” Phil Wolf, head men’s soccer coach, said. “It could easily be 80-100 hours in a week.”
However, with the NCAA canceling fall sports championships and PLNU halting all competitions until the spring, coaches were forced to adapt their schedules and find new rhythms in their lives. They have come up with creative solutions to help their teams connect, but they also have free time to spend with family, read and enjoy the beauty of San Diego.
“I have not missed a fall of soccer since 1984, so it is just weird,” Wolf said. “It has been a bit chaotic, but I have spent a lot of time with my family, navigating online learning [and] luckily I can watch soccer on TV now to continue to develop my craft.”
“It’s been wonderful to have more family time,” Kristi Kiely, head women’s soccer coach, said in an email to The Point. “I’ve reconnected to reading (which I haven’t done as much as since having kids and working full time), collecting sand dollars on the beach with the kiddos, slowing down in order to sit on what God might be showing me and having the space and time to think creatively.”
Although the disruption has not been ideal, Jonathan Scott, head women’s volleyball coach, took advantage of the family time.
“This is probably the best season for this to happen for me personally,” Scott said. “I have been riding bikes a bunch in the morning with my daughter, and my wife recently had our second baby, so the family bonding time is wonderful.”
It is difficult for coaches to plan when so much remains uncertain and schedules constantly change. The coaches all conveyed their sadness for the players affected by the changes, and they miss connecting with players on the field, court or course. Zoom helped them remain connected with some regularity, and Scott and Kiely both emphasize the unique opportunity this gives their teams.
“I think as fall sports coaches, we have always been jealous of winter and spring sports since they have more time to bond and train,” Scott said. “We don’t usually have time to work on drama before the season starts, so this extra time could help us.”
“We’ve been trying to see the opportunity in each scenario…if we get to train this fall, we will actually get to prepare for a spring season,” Kiely said. “It means our team has time to connect, learn and grow together before we are thrown into the fire of a season.”
Nevertheless, the coaches do not discount the current struggles of their job. Recruiting is extremely difficult when they cannot physically watch recruits and observe their intangibles, and they also are uncertain about how many positions will be available on their rosters. (The NCAA is allowing fall student-athletes an extra year of eligibility since they will not play fall sports championships, but some players may simply graduate and not return next year.)
“My preference would just be for the whole team to come back for an extra year, but that is not going to happen, and, in the end, I want what is best for the individual players,” Wolf said.
The coaches are also working to find ways to keep their players’ skills sharp, but this is difficult without personal contact. However, coaches rely on their players to be self-motivated and continue to train, or for team leaders to keep players accountable and on top of their games.
“I give a lot of credit to our team leaders and self-motivated players,” Kiely said. “Team leaders are helping to motivate and encourage the team in their sport-specific activity…when the time comes to play it will have been at least 13 months since we’ve played a game, and it’s really important they continue sport-specific movements and training to avoid injury.”
For the women’s golf team, circumstances are a little different since golf is such an individual sport.
“Most of the time, we sit alone and put in our reps for our own particular game issues,” Hancock said. “Players can continue doing this while sending me videos and scores showing the progress. We miss being together as a team but are capable of fine-tuning skills completely isolated from each other if necessary. As a team, we try and come together [regularly on Zoom] to connect and share successes.”
PLNU coaches continue to navigate the uncertainty of not having a fall season, but as students return to campus, some athletics facilities will open, and, according to Wolf, some teams hope to return to modified training around Sept. 19.
Written By: Andrew Hansen