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Athletic trainers and coaches stay connected with students during unprecedented time

Athletes access virtual workouts, meetings, career development opportunities

Courtesy of Mike Watters-Rollins College Sports
The Women’s Lacrosse team holds huddles via video chat on Mondays and Thursdays to maintain relationships and connect with alumni for career advice. Pictured: Taylor Kienle (‘22).

In a matter of hours, the Rollins Athletics Department went from dealing with the consequences of cancelling spring break travel plans to calling off the rest of the season. The news was dramatic for students and staff across campus, and athletes were faced with a set of particular challenges.

“It spiraled out of control very quickly. I think that didn’t give many people the opportunity to mentally prep for the situation,” said Brian Friscia, associate head athletic trainer. He added that “Thursday was a day I will never forget. The mood around campus was indescribable. Lots of emotion, crying, anger. Trying to comprehend it in a short period of time made it all the harder.”

Once the dust settled, however, new routines and novel techniques became the name of the game for the Tars.

Attending to Injuries and Training

Everything changed in the blink of an eye for John Williams, head of strength and conditioning, who went to work one day not knowing he would have to design a workout program that involved no workout facilities. 

“Some athletes can’t even go outside. There’s international athletes that unfortunately live in some of the worst parts that are being affected, and thus don’t have any resources,” said Williams. 

He highlighted that it was tough to get specific and adapt to so many athletes’ different situations. 

“I did my best to make a program for everybody that you can adjust for yourself and work around if you need to. It’s a very general program that hopefully reaches everybody well, and they are able to make the most of it,” said Williams. 

Williams is in continuous contact with coaches and athletes to receive feedback and make adjustments to the virtual program. So far, it seems to be working.

“John designed a special lifting and conditioning program for [our players] that can be done at home with no equipment, and so far they have given it rave reviews,” said Mika Robinson, head coach of the volleyball team.

Head Coach of Women’s Lacrosse Dennis Short struck a similar note, highlighting the effort that Williams puts in filming and editing videos and showing how to do drills in the environments that athletes have access to. 

In addition to reinforcing safety and proper technique, Short said that Williams’ videos provide extra hope and motivation for athletes. 

In between workouts and without the ability to work out in groups, Williams said he hopes athletes listen to that little voice in their heads that tells them to keep pushing.

Meanwhile, in a process usually reserved for the end of the school year, athletic trainers had about 72 hours to prepare for the long break ahead. They divided student-athletes into three groups: those requiring simple day-to-day rehabilitation routines, those dealing with short-term acute injuries, and those battling long-term injuries that require medical intervention.

While technology and access to online video instruction has made it easier to cope with a wide range of issues, long-term injuries that need continuous physical therapy or surgery are now in limbo, as no elective surgery is currently taking place. 

Long-term injuries now on hold may also affect long-term plans, particularly for seniors aiming to come back for their fifth year, in case they have remaining NCAA eligibility. 

Creating Community Online

Dennis Short found a solution to isolation in the form of “virtual team huddles.” The Lacrosse Tars meet on WebEx every Monday and Thursday. 

The Monday “huddles” focus more on bonding, building, and maintaining team relationships. Meanwhile, Thursday “huddles” are focused on fostering relationships with alumni and providing advancement opportunities.

Short said, “Our alumni have provided great insight on life after graduating from our team and how they have still maintained their relationships with each other. They have had tremendous insight on career advice and how their student-athlete experience has given them a significant advantage.”

Communication in times like these is crucial. Coach Robinson said, “Between our GroupMe group chat, small group and individual FaceTime chats, and Zoom drop in team chats, we are working hard to stay in contact as well as incorporate our incoming new players.”

The Volleyball Tars are also utilizing their social media channels to find creative ways to stay connected and communicate what is important to their team, fans, and future Tars. 

More recently, they engaged in an online Q & A session where all players took turns answering questions from the general public. Other varsity teams have followed suit.

For athletes, coaches, and trainers alike, sports are their livelihoods. As busy and challenging as their routines can be, they crave it now that there is a huge void in their daily lives. However, adversity brings opportunity.

A Test of Mental Fortitude

On a personal scale, Short finds it intriguing to try new things in an effort to help players through this tough time. Although there is a lot of improvisation involved, he believes this is what transformational coaching is all about. 

“In every situation, your attitude will have a tremendous influence on your success. No matter what, embrace it and look for the opportunity because there always is one,” said Short. 

Wiliams expressed similar positive thoughts: “One great takeaway is how grateful we should be for all the resources that we have—of having athletic trainers on a day-to-day basis, of having access to a weight room with your friends, as well as your teammates and coaches on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Williams also said that what fulfills him and what he misses the most are “the relationships with the athletes and the coaches, the bonds built on a day-to-day basis, and working with one-another to create something special.”

There is no doubt that the situation is frustrating, but the Tars refuse to let it define them. Williams believes that there is a blessing in everything: “That blessing is going to unravel itself as this goes on. You just gotta keep your head up and still put the work in while you can.”

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