With COVID-19 causing a longer than expected break for a lot of young people, it’s helpful to look at the important part coaches play in helping rangatahi have a safe and enjoyable transition back to sport after various lockdowns. Check out some key takeaways from last year’s webinar for ‘Coaches Returning to Play’.
With seasons having been cut short, training and activity severely restricted, there’s a lot of different factors for coaches to consider as sport returns to support the mental, physical and psychological needs of rangatahi.
Sport NZ Coach Development Consultant Andy Rogers spoke to some of our coaching whanau on some advice and ideas for coaches returning to sport. Check out some of the key highlights below.
Acknowledge that it’s a different environment and players will be at different levels
Sharon Kearney, Sport and Injury Prevention Specialist with Netball NZ, believes coaches can create a safe, supportive environment for rangatahi returning to sport by understanding the reality of players returning will be different to previous seasons and expectations need to be adjusted in light of this.
“In the netball world we’ve developed a scale which shows what have you been doing during lockdown. Have you been watching Netflix, doing a bit of baking, or doing a little bit of light training? Or on the other end of the scale where you’ve been doing daily workouts online. Have you been baking and watching Netflix is some clearly would have been doing? It’s really important that as a coach to have a level of understanding of what your players have or haven’t been doing and adapt your training and approach around this.”Sharon Kearney, Sport and Injury Prevention Specialist with Netball NZ
Some key points to consider:
- Communication is key – ensure you use tools or conversations with players to understand what they’ve been doing over the break. This helps to tailor your approach to help ease them back into it, whether it be from a physical, load perspective or social interaction considering some young people may have been pretty isolated throughout.
- Skill acquisition might take a little longer than before: neuromuscular warm-ups are a great way to help connect brain to muscle and get young people back into movement and activity as part of a session.
- Higher risk of injury: Young players may have lost some movement control and capability over the break. Think about easing back into training through connecting them with basic skills using their sticks, balls or equipment before moving into sessions that involve explosive movement or contact.
Understand your vulnerabilities as a coach
It’s not only players who have had a long break from sport and activity, coaches have experienced challenges with having to pause seasons halfway through a competition and continue to try and keep their team connected. Sport Psychologist Dan Stamp talks about the value in coaches understand their own feelings and vulnerabilities with returning to sport.
- Coaches need to take time for self-care too. Tune-in to how you’re feeling about going back and what you’d like to focus on to help with any feelings of anxiety or frustration.
- Turning up in a positive frame of mind and with enthusiasm will translate to your players. Young people will see your body language and absorb your emotions so taking the time to be prepared to positively return to the coaching environment is worth it.
- Emotional intelligence is an important skill to building a supporting environment – As a coach, take the time to chat to your players about their experience over the lockdown break. Understand what they struggled with and what they looked forward to and show that you’re vulnerable too. Sharing the aspects that you struggled with will show that you’re human too and promote a safe space to talk through any fears and anxieties.
Open communication with parents
Understanding where young players are at is key to ensuring a supportive, safe environment when returning to sport and working with parents is an important way to do this, Dan says.
- When preparing to return to training and sport, open up your communication channels to parents to get an insight of how their child has been doing through the lockdown period, both physically and mentally. This will help to identify any areas to focus on such as building up their self-confidence again after periods of limited interaction.
- Focus on having fun. This will ensure they are enjoying being back in this environment and creating a positive connection.
Prioritise player welfare
A slower return has significant positives. Think about taking a slower approach in your return to sport and training. If you expect young players to pick up where they left off, it could lead to them burning out or injuring themselves within a few weeks of returning. Focus on building up the base fitness and skills to manage the load.
Players will likely be rearing to go after the break too which could result in small injuries here and there.
Some key tips to consider:
- Have a philosophy and approach around hiding injuries. If you see your players wanting to continue when they’re injured, have a conversation with them and understand what they need to be supported to get it right.
- Ensure they are maximising recovery, especially if they are busy across a number of activities or priorities. Sleep is the most important recovery method, especially for young kids. Evidence out there suggests that if you sleep more than eight hours a night, five days a week and you eat really well (another important part of recovery) you’re up to 60% less likely to get injured when you’re an adolescent.
Read: A practical guide for monitoring athlete training and competition load
Read: How much is too much when it comes to youth sport? - A guide to understanding specialisation, playing multiple sports, and training load
Sport specific injury prevention resources