Sports

Teen Sports Coaches Find Solace in the Pandemic

From baseball to soccer, these teen coaches have endured through the pandemic and come to see the benefits of their jobs.

“Having a teen coach brings a different insight and energy to the game. … It feels like a very lively and collaborative process,” shared Kai Kai Spencer, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) at Berkeley High School (BHS). Spencer is one of the many BHS student-athletes who apply their sports knowledge to coaching younger players. “I used to play soccer on both the BHS team and on a club team, and after I stopped I continued coaching because I love the soccer world,” she said. Spencer is currently coaching her sixth season, and works with a co-ed group of seven- and eight-year-olds for Spurs Football Club (FC). 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Spencer and her team had to transition into non-contact practice. Coaches underwent safety training to understand the new guidelines, and contact drills were swapped for non-contact versions. “It became a lot of reinforcing,” said Spencer. “We would be yelling ‘six feet apart!’ and ‘mask on!’” she added. In recent weeks, as COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased and vaccination numbers have increased, limitations were reduced. Spencer’s team is now able to use pinnies, the colorful practice shirts used to divide a group for drills. “It’s definitely eased up, but not to the point where we’re doing full-contact scrimmages or games,” said Spencer. “However, it’s much nicer and more relaxed this season than last season.”

Jake Hilton, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and a member of the BHS varsity baseball team experienced something similar. Hilton coaches an under-11 baseball team for the East Bay Cyclones. When the pandemic hit, his team of 35 was split into three groups of 10 to 12 players, and a pair of coaches worked with each group. “If a coach had to miss something, their players would only have one coach [and] we weren’t able to fill in for them,” Hilton explained. Despite baseball being a non-contact sport, Hilton’s teams still faced modifications. He explained, “We could only do drills, and we couldn’t share any equipment.” However, Hilton’s team was recently able to scrimmage following a reduction in Berkeley’s restrictions. Hilton shared, “It was so fun to see them in game, and to see how the drills we practice show up in their game-play and make them better.” Despite the challenges of coaching during a pandemic, Hilton is also grateful to have had the opportunity. “The pandemic has given me the time to coach these kids. … If I had been in normal school, I wouldn’t have been able to spend so much time coaching and growing with these guys,” said Hilton. 

Lucas Elayadi, a senior in BIHS and a player on the BHS varsity soccer team, can relate to this sentiment. “When quarantine hit, I was looking for a job and it became really hard to find one,” said Elayadi. He realized that many young soccer players were facing the cancellation of their seasons, and some could be looking for an interim coach. “I posted a few ads in different places, I started to get some clients, and it just took off from there,” he explained. Elayadi works with individuals and small groups with a range of ages, abilities and goals, but they’re all united through their love of soccer. He shared, “I really enjoy seeing people who are just as passionate about the sport as I am, and then to help them improve themselves.” 

 Elayadi thinks there is a lot of value in having a teenage coach because it can be easier for players to develop trust and friendship with someone closer to their age. “I want them to be comfortable telling me anything, whether it be about drills or school or life. … I’ve never felt like that’s the type of stuff I can talk about with my coaches,” Elayadi said. Hilton also works to maintain an amicable relationship with his team, explaining that the teenage coaches, including himself, “are a little more loose around our players than the adult coaches, and it builds really great relationships.” Hilton feels that because the teenage coaches are so serious about baseball and about giving back to the Cyclones’ baseball program, “it sets a strong example, that ‘this could be you in five years.’” Spencer also felt the power of being a teenage coach, sharing that “It’s so nice to feel like I’m a part of this little kid’s soccer journey. … I remember all the coaches I had, so it’s nice to think they might remember me when they’re eighteen.”

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