Coaching restrictions force athletes to take charge

The new NJSIAA guidelines set in place for winter sports have delayed seasons and restricted coaching, forcing winter athletes to take it upon themselves to prepare for the season. 

Due to the pandemic, the earliest start date for virtual practice was Dec. 14. A virtual practice start date simply means that there can be no contact from a coach with their team until the said date. As of Dec. 14, coaches are allowed to be in virtual communication with their athletes, whether that be delegating training or holding Google Meets, until the official in-person practice start date.

Ice hockey, basketball, bowling and fencing began virtual practices on Dec. 14, while swimming and winter track & field must wait until Jan. 11. Gymnastics, girls volleyball and wrestling virtual start dates are pushed back to Feb. 1. The NJSIAA did not mention dates for boys volleyball. 

“The staggered winter schedule is based on feedback from health officials, anticipated capacity limitations as well as the availability of facilities which are used by many of our winter sports. The hockey schedule remains unchanged due to contractual obligations with rinks and the potential for significant financial repercussions associated with rescheduling ice time,” said Colleen Maguire, the NJSIAA’s COO, in a press release. 

 With seasons being shortened due to COVID-19, athletes must make more of an effort to ensure they are fully prepared for competition as soon as it begins. The responsibility has fallen upon athletes and captains to encourage their teams to keep training ahead of the official season. 

WHS senior basketball player Ezra Budashewitz said, “I have definitely felt an added responsibility now that there is an absence of coaching. The other seniors and I have taken on the responsibility of keeping the rest of the team in check while also trying to organize Covid-friendly practices. Usually, the coach would organize basketball workouts in the fall but that now falls on our shoulders.” 

As much as training is important, the girls basketball team also recognizes the importance of communication during this elongated off-season, especially given the restricted communication between coaches and athletes. WHS senior basketball player Julia Johnson-Milstein said, “The returning varsity players are making it a priority to keep in touch with all players, freshman through varsity.” Johnson-Milstein also noted how important communication is in keeping players motivated during this time. 

In preparation for the season, some teams, independent of their coaches, have opted to form a bubble to avoid getting shut-down. 

WHS senior boys hockey player Matt Moran said, “We have decided to quarantine to give us the best chance of having a full season. Obviously, there are some exceptions such as family and club hockey, but it is up to the players to be smart and accountable.” 

WHS senior girls hockey player Mary Beke also said, “We have decided to quarantine for the season because all of us really want to be able to play in a safe way.”

However, for some teams, the idea of quarantining will be almost impossible. Senior girls track and field athlete Grace Endy said, “Logistically, it would be unrealistic to ask every member of our team, which often has over 100 members, to quarantine. Our varsity team did consider quarantining at the end of the cross country season in the hopes that the district would allow us to compete, but it didn’t end up working out. We might have the discussion [as a team] when there are competitions on the horizon.”

It is clear that athletes have stepped up this year by applying the values instilled in them through sports, from leadership to discipline, in order to make the best of whatever season they have.