Coaches Struggle Amid Loss of In-Person Sports

Sports coaches cope with pushed back seasons, loss of pay, and the challenge of sustaining team unity.

Marie Jones, women's varsity and head crew coach, is working to ensure that team bonding is preserved.

Jerome Paulos

Water polo and swim team coach William Gaebler hopes to reestablish team unity when sports return at BHS.

Jerome Paulos

Shawn Hipol, women's varsity basketball coach, is helping his team get to know each other during his first year at BHS.

Jerome Paulos

At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkeley High School (BHS) students have adapted to conducting most aspects of their lives online. While seeing friends, classmates, and teachers exclusively over Zoom has become the norm, one aspect of school that has not translated effectively to remote learning is the athletics program. Many student athletes have had to completely change their practices and priorities as a result of COVID-19, but how have coaches been affected? 

It has been far from easy for coaches to adapt to the plethora of changes that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. Zoom or socially distanced practices, pushed back seasons, no pay, and the potential health risk of coaching are only some of the challenges coaches are facing.

For some BHS coaches, the absence of a high school sports season has simply meant extending their stays at the private club teams where they work. Others have been able to coach their BHS teams, on Zoom or even through socially-distanced practices, often with decreased hours. Yet others have not coached at all since March. 

BHS coaches are usually paid by the season — fall, winter, or spring — meaning that this year coaches were paid in full for the spring season, even though it was cut short. Since then, however, things have become more complicated. 

With all BHS sports pushed back for 2020-21, the school is currently planning on a December 7 start date for fall sports, and beginning the winter and spring seasons in the subsequent months. Because of this, coaches for fall sports are not being paid, and coaches for winter and spring sports will likely be paid later than usual. While most coaches do not rely on their BHS jobs as a primary source of income, this loss has still been difficult.

The feeling of community on these teams has also taken a hit. “It’s been tough,” said women’s varsity and head crew coach, Marie Jones. “It’s definitely hard to create team bonding virtually. You can’t see people the same way when they’re just a little box on Zoom,” she explained.

William Gaebler, the women’s varsity water polo coach and head coach of the swim team, echoed this sentiment. He emphasized that the absence of any external water polo or swim teams — such as private clubs — in Berkeley makes it even harder for BHS athletes to practice. If there were other teams outside of BHS, athletes would be able to practice together without the BHS team. As a result, Gaebler said that the team unity has been affected and will have to be “reestablished when we come back to BHS in the fall or the spring.” 

Socially-distanced summer training camps — which took place on campus in July — were helpful for some teams. According to Shawn Hipol, the women’s varsity basketball coach, the time helped the team get to know each other and condition together. It is Hipol’s first year at BHS, so the summer camp gave him an opportunity to become acquainted with his new team. “It was good but it wasn’t really basketball, because we weren’t able to be in the gym and we weren’t able to do a lot of basketball activities,” said Hipol.

Coaches also have advice for their athletes, whom they miss. Across all sports, coaches emphasized the importance of making a plan and being disciplined with a workout regimen. 

“If you’re able to keep in contact with your coach and let them know how things are going, that’s great. Like teachers, we just want to make sure you’re safe and healthy, and if you’re having a hard time we’re just another asset you can use to talk to,” said Jones. “Exercise is health. Especially with mental health, if you’re able to move that helps a lot,” she emphasized.

Despite the drastically different conditions for each coach, team, and sport coaches are in agreement that athletes, of all people, can handle the difficulties presented by the pandemic. Athletes are constantly working towards a challenging goal or overcoming a physical obstacle, said Jones, who has faith that not just her teams, but all teams, will be able to succeed in these times.

“Athletes were in a sense built for this kind of challenge, and they can still work through it and be successful,” said Jones.

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