By March 12, W+H spring teams had completed approximately a week of practice, when the school began spring vacation, to be followed by Governor Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home orders. We challenged our coaches and athletes to continue preparing for competition. At the same time, the Athletic Department developed ways to support our athletes and coaches.
Our coaches responded by preparing workouts that could be done at home with the equipment at hand, appropriate and worthwhile to athletes with differing skill levels. Many of these workouts provide feedback to the athlete. Where necessary, they provided links to videos that compensate for the coach’s absence by demonstrating the skills to be developed. Some coaches have designed a couple of basic workouts (often one for sport-specific skills, and another for fitness activities), supplementing those with as many as a dozen how-to videos. Other coaches are sending their athletes three or more new workouts per week. Our athletes are practicing their skills, staying in shape, and sending our staff pictorial and video evidence of their work.
As a department, we are using the available technology to promote at-home fitness routines, to provide relevant information, and to provide occasional inspiration. We are also preparing to make the spring award season as meaningful as possible for the award-winners in the absence of the banquets where the GMC, NJSIAA and W+H traditionally honor student-athletes. Again, we are having fun with technology, and hope our athletes and parents enjoy it, too.
In the short term, Ram athletes are getting out in the sun, doing meaningful exercise that helps them eat healthier, study better, and sleep more soundly. Just as important, they are having a little bit of fun and earning a sense of accomplishment as they enhance their skills. Some are also working on skills for other sports, in which they compete in different seasons.
What long-term benefits will our athletes gain from this season of at-home, solitary practices in their family basement or backyard? When Wardlaw+Hartridge reopens its doors, and we can hold practices on the back fields, preparing for real games against other schools, will we have learned anything from our Athletic Distance Learning? Although we cannot measure their improvement now, we know our athletes are improving their skills and fitness due to the work they are doing. Some skills can best be learned in a team practice, but others benefit from the focused, solitary drills our athletes are doing now. Skill building and fitness are cumulative – for those who will be playing sports at W+H (or in college) next year, the work done now will pay off later. Just as important as skills and fitness, however, is the lesson about responsibility that our athletes have been taught. This situation makes very clear to all of us that, while coaches can teach, inspire, and provide feedback, the ultimate responsibility for working hard, focusing and managing one’s emotions rests with the athletes themselves. An athlete who wants to be a champion needs to learn from great coaches, but the athlete needs to supply the drive and work ethic to put the coach’s lessons into effect.