Coaches do not like surprises, but COVID-19 forced them to adapt
Coaches do not like surprises, but COVID-19 forced them to adapt

Coaches do not like surprises, but COVID-19 forced them to adapt

Maybe it was time, Rick Krist thought to himself. Christ was tired. He had coached football for 31 years at Petaluma High School. He was a lifelong fellow in order. You do not do anything for 31 years without it feeling like a different skin. After being around mercurial teens for 31 years, maybe it was time to peel it off.

“Maybe it was time to send the torch,” Krist said. “I was thinking of giving up training.”

Then COVID-19 hit in March 2020. The first resident was diagnosed on March 2, 2020 and onwards in mid-March, the schools switched to distance learning. America collapsed in itself. The moment was perfect for Christ to leave. The protocols changed almost by the second. Emotions raged. Words flew like daggers. No one would have been surprised if Christ slipped out from behind.

But the most remarkable thing happened. His players saved him.

“They rejuvenated my love of coaching,” said Christ, 55.

In their enthusiasm, Christ saw why he was at work for 31 years. Teenagers have rubber bones, electrical energy and bulletproof confidence. Although his players had to be separated by six feet, they moved as if wearing shock collars, sprinted, dived and stood still long enough to change direction.

“They made me a better coach,” he said. “I became more focused, efficient, extremely organized.”

The Press Democrat interviewed five high school coaches in Sonoma County. How did they handle COVID-19? What lessons did they learn? What did they find out about themselves? Their responses were as diverse as their reactions to the virus.

Finding some kind of balance during downtime

Windsor High School football coach Paul Cronin ran three times a day, taking advantage of the Zoom breaks.

“I’m a type A personality,” he said.

That would explain hard skin and the 38,000 steps he took on average daily.

Montgomery High School baseball coach Zac Ward went out fishing every day. Frustrated at not being able to assemble his team, Ward took a 12-foot aluminum boat and headed to Lake Ilsanjo, among other places.

“It helped me stay in the moment,” he said.

Ward put on his earplugs and listened to Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. Ward said he was grateful he spoke to someone old enough that he did not have to spell their names.

Santa Rosa High School football coach Roy Keegan initially said, “Honestly, I can not remember.” A minute or two later, Keegan honestly remembered, and it became clear why he was trying to forget: “I had back surgery in September 2020. I had postponed it.”

St. Vincent de Paul High School basketball coach Tom Bonfigli sat in front of his flat screen and became a die-hard fan of the Netflix crime drama “Money Heist.” It is not true that Bonfigli got to know the characters in the program better than his players.

Krist started playing more golf. In fact, Christ played more golf during COVID than he had done in his entire life. Krist went from a 20-handicap to – as only a golfer can describe it – “somewhere in his teens.”

As engaging and satisfying as it may have been for a coach to hit a golf ball and not hit a tree, run 10 miles without needing oxygen or catch a trout large enough to feed a family of four, all of these actions were distractions .

Buses are captains of the ship

They were just moments of pause, nothing more where the conversation was not superimposed by confusion, frustration and especially vulnerability. Coaches, at least the good ones, are organized to the smallest detail. Coaches do not like surprises. That’s why there are game plans.

The following image was presented to Bonfigli.

A coach is the captain of his ship. His destination is mapped, mapped. Suddenly his electronics go out. A dense fog surrounds the ship. The coach does not know east from west, north from south. He moves without direction or security.

“It’s a really good analogy,” Bonfigli said. “Preparation, matchups, who should be on the floor? In a varsity match, I had four junior college starters. On one stretch we had four starters out for four days in a row. ”

Some had COVID-19. Some had the flu. Some were just a really bad cold. To the children who were not sick, they looked to the adults for guidance and answers. Only problem was that the adults paddled as fast as they could, to stay above the water.

“My kids were like zombies,” Cronin said.

The kids, like Cronin, pushed for a better day. But when should the better day come? Buses and children stared into that train tunnel, looking for a light that was not there.

“I was so burnt out and exhausted by the end of it,” said Cronin, who, however, easily surrenders, if at all. “Rules didn’t make sense. I did not know what to do. It was about to kill me. I wanted to crawl down a hole.”

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