Coaching lessons from a pandemic

By Rachael Kriger, M.A.

I could not imagine growing up without sports.

My life revolved around basketball and cross-country running when I was a student at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Hopewell Township, Beaver County. There was something special about putting on the Fatima jersey with my friends.

Sports were a great way to get exercise and form close bonds with my classmates. We learned about teamwork while improving our physical skills and the ability to communicate and compete.

For the past seven years, I have had the privilege of coaching at Fatima School, serving as an assistant coach for the junior varsity and varsity girls basketball teams and now as JV head coach. Earlier this year, I took up coaching soccer, as well.

Little did I know that soon we would learn many new lessons, including adaptability, patience and appreciation.

When the pandemic hit in March, spring soccer was shut down, but our fall season was great. I was excited that we would play. Sports would give the kids a little bit of normalcy.

By following protocols like taking temperatures and socially distancing when possible, our team didn’t have a single positive COVID-19 test during the season. Although we missed out on the playoffs by one point, we had a lot of fun.

The biggest lesson I learned, as a coach, is to be adaptable. All of us—our players, coaches and parents—learned patience. Even though everyone was tired of the restrictions, we tried to be patient with each other with schedule changes and cancellations.

We made a point to avoid talking about the pandemic. That was something the kids were living through every single day during an altered school year. They were focused on sports and just simply playing with their friends.

Coaching during a pandemic has been strange. Saying the prayer before games was a distanced event. Celebrations meant elbow bumps instead of high-fives. We didn’t shake hands afterwards—we just stood and waved.

Right now, our basketball season is on hold due to rising cases. I have to admit, selfishly, that I’m just as upset for myself as I am for the kids. But, as we all know, God sometimes has a different plan for us.

The pandemic has altered a lot of things. In the end, we did get to have a soccer season. Many of the kids now have a deeper appreciation for being able to participate in sports this school year, and that it is a privilege to play.

I hope that a vaccine will be widely distributed soon and that cases will start to decline so that we can overcome this pandemic. With guidance and God’s grace, we can do anything.