Head coaches communicate with teams online after sports grind to a halt

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Head baseball coach Gregg Ritchie said his team handled the season cancellation with leadership and is processing the disappointment together.

When spring sports were canceled, head coaches called the announcement “heartbreaking.”

After the news set in, student-athletes said they’ve kept in touch with their teammates through video calls and group messages, while coaches said they’ve drummed up ways to check in with their teams and adapt to schedules at home. Coaches said they’re using online videoconferencing platforms to communicate and run online workouts, adding that they’re focusing on their athletes’ academic success while they take classes online.

“Everybody’s going to remain strong,” head baseball coach Gregg Ritchie said. “We’re going to do it united. This is a buff and blue family – united. And we’ll get through it together, and this is not just one person. So when you feel like you’re alone, you’re not.”

Ritchie said his team heard that its season was called off during a practice, which gave players an opportunity to process the information together. He said his group showed maturity in handling the news, especially his seven-member senior class led by utility Steve Barmakian.

“We have a guy like a Steve Barmakian stand up, and after he gathers himself a little bit, and expresses to the whole team some really good direction, thoughts and humanity,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie added that three of his four children came back home during the pandemic, altering his relatively quiet work environment. His eldest son took over his basement office, and the family has needed to add another internet line to handle all five of them working from home.

“So of course that means that everybody’s got an office and my wife has taken over some of the lower levels of the house to do work,” Ritchie said. “I made the joke to my guys, ‘here’s my office’ and I went out in the garage with a fold-up table.”

Head women’s soccer coach Michelle Demko said she sends a message in the team’s group chat when she wakes up each morning to keep in touch with her players. She also talks with her players through video chatting services like FaceTime and Zoom for face-to-face interactions, she said.

She said strength and conditioning coaches have taken advantage of the database Teambuildr, which allows coaches to write up practices and track athlete performance, to ensure the squad is getting in proper workouts. She added that the strength and conditioning team is offering live exercise sessions on its Instagram account at 9 a.m. daily.

As a fall sport, only a few women’s soccer spring scrimmages were canceled. But spring sports, including baseball, lacrosse, women’s rowing and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, have lost the majority of their regular seasons and missed Atlantic 10 play.

Demko said leadership in the athletic department from Athletic Director Tanya Vogel and other sports administrators has helped ease the transition online. Athletic department officials check in with coaches weekly on Fridays to keep staff connected from afar, she said.

“We had the determination come out from our athletic department and then we jumped on a head coaches’ call so we were aware of it,” Demko said. “They did a really good job of trying to get the word out before anything broke on social media.”

The academic side of coaching student-athletes has also gone digital to determine what assignments players have to handle from home and keep them on track. Demko said the squad continues to send reminders and well-wishes about exams as they normally would, only over text rather than during practices.

Head men’s basketball coach Jamion Christian said his focus has pivoted from the court to the classroom, and he is looking to his team to finish strong in its classes during the online period.

“I just want them to focus on their academic stuff here in the next few weeks,” Christian said. “They can finish up strong academically. We have enough time to make up when they get back here in June and July to get ready for the year.”

Men’s basketball wrapped up its season the day before the A-10 Tournament was called off and all A-10 spring sports were scrapped.

Christian said he wants to give the squad a break from basketball and be respectful of players’ time, but he plans to check in with them through a videoconferencing service and through the team’s Slack channel.

“These guys have been with us so much through the course of the year, it’s good for them to get away too, get home,” Christian said. “We’re trying to be respectful of their time.”

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