Preparing for the “new normal.”
By Ken Kashubara
The pandemic has shut down schools, gyms, tracks, and even parks. This environment makes it difficult for athletes to properly train and for coaches to teach. No one knows when the crisis our world is facing will end. What we should know is that the future is now; and that it is time to prepare for a new normal. Part of that normal will be less physical interaction and more virtual.
The transition will be difficult. Yet, the transition must be made nonetheless. A coach that follows these guidelines, and has patience, will be stronger, and better prepared for the future.
1. Create a work space.
Coaches should clear a room in their home and use it as their office. (SafeSport virtual training guidelines suggest that this room is not a bedroom.) Use the exact same setup for every training session. Decide where the device camera will be placed. Ensure that the space is well-lit so students can clearly see every demonstrative movement. Coaches should wear the same type of clothing that they would during a physically interactive practice. Students will be getting a look inside their coach’s home, making it even more important to keep the work space professional.
2. Keep it simple.
Do not try to get fancy with exercise selection and design. If the athletes have experience with a coach’s specific training plans, stick closely to exercises that the students know how to do. When a coach is introducing new exercises, the coach must be sure of his/her ability to vocally describe the movement. Describe step-by-step, joint by joint. The coach should also be sure that he can demonstrate any new exercise. Many of the students will be completing the sessions on small screens. It may be difficult for them to see the movements. Furthermore, if it is a virtual one-on-one session, the coach cannot point to another student as a demonstration. Neither can the coach pause the session to show the student a video, unless the coach has another screen near enough to the camera station to show the students.
A coach could technically use a laptop for a session, and show students videos from his phone; but then again, students will be looking through small screens at smaller screens. Such a strategy will make learning more difficult than it has to be.
Coaches who struggle with physical demonstrations should use group CPU applications, much like college professors are using. On these platforms, a coach can create detailed lesson plans with videos and graphs. Such measures will take much, much longer to prepare than normal.
3. Be creative.
Most students will be completing these training sessions inside their homes. They don’t have a lot of space. They don’t have a lot of equipment. They will have to form run in place. They might not have dumbbells. One can use water bottles, soup cans or even milk cartons as dumbbells. One can use pillows for medicine balls. If a student only has one bungee cord for a strength workout, then the coach should learn as many exercises as possible to do with the bungee cord. Learn as many bodyweight exercises as possible. (Old school military workouts are a great place to start.)
Now more than ever, a coach’s knowledge is paramount. Take the time to learn as much as possible–exercises, repetition and volume range designs, and rest strategies.
Prepare all training sessions before the class or practice. Write out the lesson plans on paper, or have a secondary device available with the workouts typed in the notes. For a coach new to virtual training, it may take a few weeks to work out all the kinks, but they will get the hang of it. It will take time, patience and practice.
1. Dramatic, instantaneous change.
The change from coaching a team of over 50 athletes outside at a track to online virtual coaching one-on-one is about as big a change as it gets. This is not to mention all the other massive changes going on in people’s lives right now. Coaches have to prepare. Coaches have to learn new ways. The situation is chaotic, but not impossible.
2. Technical difficulties
Screens will freeze. They will delay, and pause. A coach may see an athlete freeze for five seconds, and then see him/her complete twelve repetitions in a second. This makes exercise form correction more difficult. Until our technology improves, frozen screens will have to be accepted. Coaches have to take a breath and ask the athlete to complete the exercise again if necessary.
The screen will freeze on the student’s end as well. Coaches should be prepared to describe exercises or repetitions multiple times. Be prepared to demonstrate exercises twice, or even a third time. Take a breath and be patient.
Many coaches use hand signals. With small screens and camera angles, these become more difficult when teaching virtually. When a coach wants an athlete to complete four sets, for example, he should not hold the four fingers in front of his face. Place the fingers in front of a shirt, and wear clothing that contrasts with the skin. Also, hold the hand signal in the direction of the camera as so it can be seen clearly. Coaches can use their own small corner screen as a mirror to ensure that the hand signal can be seen.
Sound can be an issue as well. If a coach or student is outside, the wind can easily drown out instructions and communications. Coaches should be prepared to repeat themselves. Do not play music on either end. It is difficult enough to hear each other as it is.
Coaches should make sure that they cannot be interrupted when coaching. Not all students can do the same. They may have roommates, or parents, or siblings making all kinds of noise.
3. Software logistics
Coaches and athletes must decide which type of technology to be used for training sessions. Some students may have to initiate the call from their laptop because their laptop and phone have the same number, and a call from the coach may come through on the phone and not the laptop. Different phone companies and phone types may use non-compatible virtual applications.
Laptop and CPU platforms are better for group sessions. CPU online applications exist that are compatible across most platforms. On these apps, a meeting must be set up with a specific meeting ID and password. The coach must have emails of all students, and invite the group to the meeting.
If the coach charges money for sessions, the coach must also determine the method of payment. The coach can be paid through money transfer apps and/or online banking. If the coach is charging for group sessions, he has to determine the billing process and how to guarantee that all email meeting invitees have paid for the class.
At this moment, many gyms, coaches and trainers are setting up paid virtual teaching platforms on their personal and commercial websites. The process of creating these types of designs is slow. And expensive. These platforms also assume a large number of future paid students. It is the advice of this article to avoid these types of platforms. Coaches should be virtually nimble, jumping between different apps, in order to serve the greatest amount of individuals with the greatest speed.
This article chose to place cons before pros in order to end with the positives. With all of the cons listed above, positivity and patience are the two greatest traits a coach must have during these unique circumstances. After a few weeks a coach and his students will have all of the technical difficulties behind them, or at least strategies in place to deal with the negatives.
1. Anyone, anywhere, anytime
Even though people are practicing social distancing, the world is shrinking more than ever. Virtual applications are worldwide. A coach in America could get up early or stay up late to teach students from anywhere on Earth.
Start local and then expand. Reach out to current students and explain their training options. Then reach out to former students, and then find new opportunities in new places. Pretty much everyone in the world is completing virtual training. Now a coach can teach anyone, from anywhere in the world, at any time.
2. Cost efficient
Almost all online virtual meeting applications have free options. When training virtually a coach does not have to buy a bunch of equipment. A coach may normally teach from his home, which cuts down on overhead expenses. In reality, virtual training sessions do not have to cost the coach a dime.
3. The benefits of exercise.
Finally, the core, the basis of all sport, is fitness. Good health and all the benefits that come with exercise. Lower blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Stimulate brain function. Weight control. The creation of stress-relieving endorphins. Exercise can help people sleep better. Improve mood. Now more than ever, people need to exercise.
Often, when discussing competition strategies, coaches tell their athletes, “Don’t panic!” During these unique circumstances, coaches need to take their own advice. Be safe but do not panic. Practice patience and preparedness.
Keep breathing and stay strong!
Ken Kashubara is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a USATF Level 2 Certified Coach in Combined Events. He has been performing virtual fitness training sessions since 2017. He does so out of his gym, Sport Heaven, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. For further questions he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org