Navigating change in a challenging environment – The Sport Journal



Authors: Todd Layne1, Kelly Simonton2, Jamie Brunsdon1, & Marko Pavolic1

1College of Health Sciences, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, USA
2Division of Kinesiology and Health, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA

Corresponding Author:

Todd Layne, PhD
495 Zach Curlin St.
Memphis, TN, 38152

Todd Layne, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Physical Education Teacher Education at the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN. His research program examines the use of the sport education model as well as coaching effectiveness.

Kelly Simonton, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education Teacher Education at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY. His research focus revolves around achievement motivation in physical education and physical activity, specifically as it relates to student and teacher emotions and their motivational effects.

Jamie Brunsdon, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education Teacher Education at the University of Memphis in Memphis, TN. Dr. Brunsdon’s research interests are largely focused on teacher/faculty socialization and applied ethics.


The purpose of this study was to understand coaches’ response via their day-to-day experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic from the lens of coaching during the COVID-19 national health pandemic. This study utilized qualitative analysis via two zoom-call recorded interviews. A total of nine current head coaches (middle and high school) of teams that participated in the 2021 spring season were involved. Data were analyzed using standard interpretive techniques. Final analysis resulted in general themes that reflected perceptions of the coaches. Themes included (a) new purpose, (b) extra preparation, (c) mixed emotions, (d) creating connections during isolation, and (e) finding relief in helping hands. Coaches are faced with challenges each season. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, coaches experienced difficulties never seen before. Coaches learned to adapt and respond to situations with a goal of togetherness as a team and competing again. These experiences will prepare coaches for future unexpected changes that can occur within a typical sport season.

Key words: coach, emotion, COVID-19 pandemic


The sport coaching profession has expanded with the increase of undergraduate coaching education programs (12). Students are educated in the coaching field with an emphasis on advanced coaching theory and practice. For example, programs will examine a wide array of topics such as coaching team and/or individual sport, how to motivate athletes, best practices for performance training, and understanding how to serve as a sport administrator. Within each of these topics, students are challenged to examine various possibilities to develop their understanding and better prepare them for the coaching field. While some future coaches take the specialized education approach, many individuals often enter the field as a result of becoming a teacher and coaching a sport team as part of their school duties. While some may thrive in both roles, the time commitment to fulfill both roles and to excel can be challenging (15). Often, one role is selected as a primary focus leaving little time to devote to the secondary choice. Regardless, becoming a coach can be enticing to many as it allows the opportunity to stay connected with a familiar sport and the potential to have a positive influence on young people. Others may be influenced by the attraction of coaching at highly competitive levels (i.e., college, professional, etc.).

While the appeal of coaching may be strong, it does come with challenges and potential emotional stress, particularly for those with less education and formal training (3). Research on the emotional experiences and difficulties associated with coaching has been limited (10, 13). This area of research is particularly important for occupations such as coaching because it requires considerable time, commitment, and passion, in addition to teaching (or other job) responsibilities. Research does indicate that teachers, in general, are invested in their coaching duties (22). A primary goal for a coach may be player development with a secondary goal of winning. Both development and winning can produce positive emotion, but the pursuit of both may create psychological stress (10). Research on coaching has examined a variety of emotional categories (i.e., stress, burnout, emotional labor, and exhaustion) (13, 16, 20). During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers experienced increased non-teaching related responsibilities on an already demanding job. This led to an increase in emotional uncertainty, frustration, and exhaustion (25). In line with the already emotionally demanding occupation that coaching is, it would appear that the pandemic significantly shifted coaches’ roles and took time away from developing players and teams (Sanderson & Brown, 2020). This study intended to capture several middle/high school coaches’ experiences from the beginning to the end of their sport season during a national health pandemic.

The COVID-19 virus is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus transmitted through airborne pathogens which caused severe bouts of illness and death across the world in recent years (4). The initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic placed an unprecedented physical and emotional toll on coaches (17-18, 21). In early 2020, the COVID-19 virus forced coaches to re-evaluate their procedures as well as how they planned to continue player growth and development. In addition, the unpredictability of players contracting the virus forced coaches to take ‘one day at a time’ instead of their normal planning procedures. By consequence, this created undesirable conditions as seasons were not guaranteed, player participation would be inconsistent, and changes to procedures could occur at any moment. For example, in order to practice or play in games, some school districts required players to pass a temperature check and answer a series of questions related to their health. This procedure took time and effort to set up, placing increased burdens on coaching staffs. If a player exhibited higher temperatures or was exposed to the virus, then measures had to be taken to ensure no one else would potentially be affected. At the conclusion of practices and games, the equipment used would be cleaned by coaches to reduce the potential of individuals contacting the virus in preparation for the next day.

Another inconvenient situation that coaches had to learn to manage was when players would test positive for COVID-19. If this occurred, players and those impacted would have to miss practice, games, and/or other team engagements for an extended period of time. By consequence, coaches would have to reexamine their lineups and methods of practice to ensure everyone was accounted for and that their team was prepared. All of these extra requirements could potentially place an increased burden on coaches and their already existing responsibilities.

As a consequence, the pandemic prompted a shift in normal coaching routines and expectations. One suggested approach was implementing individualized training programs for players to complete from home (9, 17). As a result, the suggested approach for coaches and athletes allowed for more examination into the emotional aspects of sport as the pandemic produced unfamiliar feelings for all (17, 21). When the environment is changed, it can prompt consideration of changes to one’s coaching philosophy, training techniques, and overall goals for their team.

Another change has been the expansion of sport specialization. This has created a need for coaches to expand their work beyond their normal season (29). When a season is complete, players will transition to preparing for the upcoming season by training with individualized coaches, complete strength-and-conditioning training, or participate on a club team. Similarly, coaches will spend time in preparation for the next season receiving formal coach education hours (11). The motivation to improve as a coach comes with a time commitment beyond their expected contribution. Combining this with the increased demands from an unexpected event (i.e., COVID-19 pandemic) can potentially create an undesirable situation for any coach. Research is needed that could potentially provide information for improved methods for dealing with unforeseen circumstances and navigating challenging times more effectively. Additionally, research may provide evidence on how to navigate changes to help mitigate the existing shortage of quality coaches for middle/high school programs.

With the pandemic impacting the world, one must consider how we respond in this type of climate. For example, researchers have discovered that coaches can experience a variety of emotional symptoms (i.e., frustration, anxiety, apathy, etc.) (1, 16) which can lead to a negative impact on a coaches’ performance and overall well-being. Because of these feelings, it is imperative to understand how coaches respond during a pandemic and how to best prepare for unexpected events. Results from this study could potentially provide preparation measures to ensure that coaches have a healthy response to any unforeseen challenges. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to understand coaches’ response via their day-to-day experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we explored the events that increased their emotional response as well as learn about the different coping strategies they employed to deal with their specific situation.


Participants and Settings

Participants were nine middle and high school sport coaches located in the Southeastern region of the United States. At the time of the study, seven participants identified as Male (Pseudonyms: Aaron, Blake, Chris, Craig, Grant, Sean, & Kaleb) and two identified as female (Amy & Rachel). The approximate age range of the participants, and their average number of years coaching was 33.3 and 7.1, respectively. The participants were recruited based on being a head coach of a spring sport at the middle or high school level. The participants predominantly coached invasion and striking/fielding sports. More specifically, Blake, Chris, and Grant coached soccer, Aaron and Rachel coached lacrosse, and one participant coached golf (Kaleb), baseball (Craig), track and field (Sean), and softball (Amy), respectively. All participants were Head Coaches at the time of data collection. For complete demographic information on participants, see Table 1.

The participants were recruited to participate having coached middle and high school sport prior to and immediately following the time in which the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were the most severe on schools in the Southeastern region. Furthermore, despite coaching a number of different sports at several unique locations with varying urban, suburban, and rural restrictions, the homogeneity of the participants working conditions was high, in that they all lived and coached in areas and schools that ‘generally’ maintained the same level of COVID-19 restrictions (i.e., mandated social distancing and mask wearing, standard hygiene practices). What was unique, however, was how the different schools, sport teams, and coaches responded to the restrictions that were prompted, by, for example, a community outbreak. Thus, while congruency in terms of the level of COVID-19 restrictions placed on the participants were established, how the participants responded to these conditions differed due to each having specific situational experiences. Prior to the study, the participants gave consent agreeing to participate and were provided a pseudonym in which to protect their anonymity.

Data Collection and Procedures

After obtaining university Institutional Review Board approval and informed consent from all participants, data were collected through one qualitative data collection technique. All nine participants were formally interviewed individually on two separate occasions. These pre/post season interviews were semi-structured in nature, allowed for multiple follow-up prompts throughout, and sought to capture the participants initial and follow-up practical and social-emotional experiences related to coaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach was similar to previous research which gathered information on teacher experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic (25). Specifically, topics discussing in both interviews focused on the socio-cultural school climate, the coaching environment, coach perspectives and practices, coach emotions, coping mechanisms, emotional labor, and exhaustion. For example, questions such as, “What do you see as the purpose of your program?”, “How do you feel typically feel while coaching at the beginning of each season as you begin to start and why do you typically feel this way?”, “Now that we’ve all been impacted by COVID-19, what restrictions is your school under (i.e. school, district, state)? What type of support are you receiving?,” and “Have you been asked by your administration or colleagues to concede on/or make special accommodations on any sport related expectations for the season? If so, how has that made you feel? What are your plans to meet these concessions?,” were salient during the first formal interview. In addition, questions such as, “How do you feel the season went for you and your players?”, “Were you able to achieve your goals during this year of COVID?”, “Do you think your coaching was better or did it suffer?”, and “Emotionally, how do you feel now that the season is over?” were prominent in during the second formal interview. For a complete list of questions for both interviews, please refer to Appendix A.

All interviews were conducted by one of the authors using Zoom and were scheduled at a time that was most convenient for the participant. Each interview lasted between 35-55 minutes, respectively, and were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim immediately after completion. Any identifiable data (i.e., school and club names, personal contact information) founded during the transcription proofing stage was destroyed prior to the data analysis phase to further protect the participants anonymity. Each participant was given a pseudonym to help protect their identity.

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed by the research team using standard interpretive techniques (19). This multi-step process included: (a) organizing the data by time point; (b) reading, reviewing and then coding the data by identifying data chunks, circling and/or highlighting them, and giving the data a descriptor; (c) reviewing the codes and descriptors, and grouping them into broad categories based on their similarities and differences; (d) reviewing the developed categories, and reducing these into more focused themes; and (e) identifying and selecting data in which to represent the themes in the manuscript. To help with this process, a codebook was created by research team members using line by line open and axial coding for each participant for both the pre-and-post iterations. Data trustworthiness was established via the depth of data collected via the 18 formal interviews, searching for discrepant cases within the data during the second phases of analysis, conducting follow-up informal interviews at the end of the data analysis phase, and by having the participants complete a member check of an earlier version of the manuscript. Each researcher would share their data with the research team to compare and check for fidelity across coding (5) to allow for any adjustments to be made.


Final analysis resulted in general themes that reflected both pre-season and post-season perceptions of the coaches. Themes included (a) a new purpose, (b) extra preparation, (c) mixed emotions, (d) creating connection during isolation, and (e) finding relief in helping hands. A description of results for each theme follows.

New Purpose

Prior to COVID-19 most coaches would agree that player development and having fun would be identified as important goals for the team, along with winning for those highly competitive environments (26). The priority of these goals is interchangeable dependent upon the coach and their overall philosophy. However, when the pandemic occurred it created a shift in what coaches found to be most important. This shift occurred due to not having the opportunity to play for a season (Spring 2020) and experiencing some changes and modifications to competition the following season (Spring 2021). As a result of missing out on a previous season, coaches indicated that players identified a new purpose which included having secondary goals such as enjoying the moment, having experiences together, and realizing that winning was not the most important thing. Sean summarized his feelings on player development with no competitive season with regards to purpose “…the success of this season won’t be decided in the next 24 hours. Like the success of this season depends on what kind of men and women they grow up to be.”

Coaches also noticed that players experienced a shift from focusing on winning to enjoying the moment when getting the opportunity to play competitively again. One reason for this shift may have been the idea that the season was not guaranteed. Sean mentioned “I told them in our team meeting like when it comes to COVID my goal is to finish the season.” While winning was still important, it took a backseat to being thankful for a season. Chris shared this

“obviously we expect to win, we want to win, we are going to do everything we can. I just I want them to enjoy this time. Just go out there and compete, that’s one thing that I always tell our guys, and you hear it all the time, you know the game can be taken away from you, well last year it was.”

Rachel said that her team realized how much they missed being together after missing a season of competition, “I think not getting to play last year kind of gave them a new perspective on exactly how much they had missed out on and how much it meant to them.” It was also clear to participants that parents wanted to have a season. Craig stated, “the parents were willing to do whatever it took to have a season, because we didn’t get any kind of play, last year, so they were happy to do whatever it took to make sure we had the season.” Overall, the coaches wanted their players to have fun. Blake mentioned “You know not getting a season really was a very emotional thing, and this year, I just want my kids to have fun.” 

Extra Preparation

In a typical season, coaches will spend a vast amount of time planning their practice schedule to ensure that time is maximized, and that player development is highlighted. Following a normal progression of skill development, there is an expectation of where players will be at a given year or developmental stage. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the missed season, coaches were behind on skill development due to the missed opportunities. Coaches noticed that players were developmentally behind, meaning more time would be needed to address areas of concern. Chris stated, “this year preseason was a challenge, as we were trying to cram two years into one.” Amy mentioned that the extra time needed for development led to an increase in anxiety:

“I got to a point where I got mad, and I yelled like ‘how many times do I have to say this for you guys to understand’ and I feel like in a normal year I might have been more patient with that. I’m concerned that if I can’t keep my anxieties and intensity at a level that beginning players can handle, I might scare them off.”

Another reason player development was more challenging was the fact that additional time was needed to ensure player safety. Coaches were forced to change routines and take on additional responsibility to increase the likelihood of players not contracting COVID-19. Kaleb indicated “extra time was needed for practices…for you know, taking temperatures and asking the questions.” This extra time consistently cut into preplanned practice time resulting in lost opportunities for players. To alleviate this lost time, coaches talked about how players were so excited to have an opportunity, that they would stay after practice just to get additional time. Grant said “my players were begging me to get field time. Even when the JV was practicing, the varsity players just wanted to be out there. They just missed it.” Coaches realized that the extra time in preparation was worth it if it resulted in players getting to have a season. Grant shared these thoughts “I felt more for the kids that missed out last year, the seniors. I’m just glad the kids got to go and play soccer and I’m glad that I wasn’t stuck in the house”. While students demonstrated increased motivation for practice, extra coaching and non-coaching duties were identified by all coaches. As a result, time was devoted to ensuring that players had an opportunity to compete, thus extending the limited amount of time that coaches had available.

Mixed Emotions

In a typical season, coaches will begin with excitement about the potential for a new season with new goals and expectations for their athletes. This enthusiasm from coaches strives to assist player development and instill effort from players. These characteristics of a coach were found to be associated with confidence, enthusiasm, and vigor from players (7). However, at the beginning of any new season, coaches often face the challenge of team cohesiveness due to the fluctuation of rosters at the end of each season. Additionally, coaching requirements include preparing a season plan, a competitive schedule, and ensuring all equipment and supplies are available for use. After missing a full season of competition due to COVID-19, all coaches were excited to be with their team and competing again and they endured the new year challenges. Grant stated, “there’s an internal drive and excitement to begin working with your new team and shaping them and molding.” Sean was excited about the idea of just being with his players, “just being able to practice with those kids two hours a day. Getting to coach and laugh and talk and just be around each other, like I thoroughly like this.” This desire from coaches helped prepare them for new tasks associated with being able to compete.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, coaches were given additional responsibilities for testing and ensuring that players were not contagious. These responsibilities did provide some anxiety for coaches, “I think the big thing is just all the uncertainty and it just creates such high levels of anxiety” stated Amy when discussing the new season procedures to keep athletes safe and healthy. While it did provide some frustration, coaches believed the extra work was worth the effort. Chris believed the extra tasks was worth it for the athletes to be able to play,

“I am doing this, but I’m doing it for a reason…it’s for the kids. They need to play, they need to have sports and so I’m just thankful that we’re finally, you know, hopefully getting able to play a game.”

Kaleb knew that if they did not complete the extra requirements, players would not be able to compete, “Although it (COVID) was frustrating at times, I knew that it was worthwhile, because without these things you’re not going to get what you want to do.” Even with the frustrations of dealing with COVID-19, coaches were thrilled to be with their team and doing what they love. In fact, the break from competition created a new sense of appreciation for what they get to do. Blake shared this thought, “You know the (Seniors) not getting a season really was a very emotional thing, and this year, I just want my kids to have fun.”

Creating Connection During Isolation

One challenge presented by COVID-19 was the transition of being socially active as a team to being more independent and isolated. With restrictions being mandated, players had to practice on their own at home and when they returned, they had to practice social distancing. Sean described how he worked to maintain a sense of team connection, “I tried to be intentional about making sure that we are having time together as a team….I kept sending out emails with workouts and encouragement. Just trying to keep kids bought in and connected.” As challenging as it was to maintain being socially distanced, Chris explained why it was so important,

“when we practice, if we put them in groups, let’s say player one is in that group, he tests positive. If we can prove that they were socially distanced, and stayed within that group, only the group will have to quarantine and not the entire team.”

Kaleb believed that keeping players separated during practice had an impact on team cohesion, “kids enjoy getting to know each other out on a team level. (During COVID) They are not as open to being as much kids as what they would have been before COVID.” The loss of social connection during an important developmental stage was identified by coaches as a challenge during the pandemic. The restrictions and challenges of isolation during the pandemic resulted in player excitement being at an all-time high due to being together again as a team. Grant shared this story: “[After a big win] Everybody’s cheering and screaming and that to me was my favorite moment of the season, and I think a big part of that was because we didn’t get to do that last year. That was definitely the high.” The coaches shared that excitement for being connected as well. Blake talked about his feelings for the season, “I had a genuine energy and excitement going in to just about every practice.” In a normal season, team cohesion and commitment are typically prioritized by coaches. However, physical and social restrictions forced these coaches to adopt new strategies to facilitate a sense of cohesion among the team. Coaches not only had to create non-typical ways of building cohesion, but they also identified how essential connection is for enjoying and getting the most out of their sporting experience. Regardless, after missing a season of play, coaches and players would have done anything to be able to return to the playing field.

Finding Relief in Helping Hands

A crucial factor for all coaches was the support provided by administration and other vested groups. Without this support, many coaches believed it would have been difficult to maintain all the responsibilities that come with being a coach and the requirements for COVID-19 protocols. Chris shared this about people who assisted the program, “…our administration, all the coaches, the booster club and our parents really helped a lot…they took everything off of me that they possibly could.” Aaron talked about how he experienced limited impact due to the help around him, “(It would have been difficult without) the parents and the board. We also have a school sponsor that’s a counselor at the school that represents us and assists the team.” 

Another coach, Rachel, believed the COVID-19 season allowed her lesser-known sport (Lacrosse) to gain support from school administration due to the communication that had to occur, “I went from nothing but heartache at the beginning of the season to the athletic director showing up at our game.” Rachel alludes to this experience of heightened administrative presence as a source of support and recognition of her hard work that she did not necessarily feel in previous years. Previous experience also helped Sean make the transition to handling extra expectations

“As a track and field head coach, you are accustomed to handling multiple groups [i.e., different events] practicing in different areas with their coach. You are the administrator of the team in charge of making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, and that work is getting completed.”

These previous duties helped prepare him for the extra responsibilities associated with COVID-19. Overall, the COVID-19 experience for coaches held a positive aspect in their perspective as more individuals and groups wanted to share the workload to assure a full season for their students and children. Coaches suggested that balancing many new duties can be difficult, but when all stakeholders are supportive they felt a reduced sense of stress and anxiety in their already overburdened roles.


The purpose of this study was to understand coaches’ response via their day-to-day experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic from the lens of coaching during a national public health pandemic. The study also intended to understand the events that produced emotional responses as well as the change that occurred for coaches. Based on this study, it was evident that the pandemic produced a new purpose for teams due to a previous season being canceled and the continuous threat of additional lost time. Because of this threat, coaches appeared to adopt a whatever it takes mentality to ensure that players had a chance to compete so that more time was not sacrificed. The additional time needed to complete tasks and the unpredictability of the pandemic produced mixed emotions among coaches. While they were willing to commit additional time to their job, it did produce a variety of emotions that were not experienced in a typical season. The loss of a season produced an eagerness to be with their team while the unpredictability of the pandemic produced a new level of anxiety never associated with their sport. Through it all, many coaches found support from different people that assisted them with different tasks and provided the much-needed emotional support. As a result, teams were able to be together again and enjoy the culture that for many, is the motivation for being part of a team.

Although there are a variety of reasons for entering the coaching profession (i.e., familiarity with sport, help young people, etc.), participants from this study indicated that the pandemic enhanced their desire to compete and to be with their players. A byproduct of the pandemic was a new purpose for their team and what they wanted to accomplish. While coaches place an emphasis on player development, there was an intense motivation that was present to compete and win. From this desire coaches will typically place an emphasis on season preparation and developing strategies for their upcoming season of play. However, the pandemic shifted their focus to ensuring a season was played and doing whatever was needed to be together with their team. Participants indicated that winning was still important, but that it took a backseat to competing and being together. While this shift in purpose may be different for coaches, this approach does match the desires of youth sport participation (28). While winning is important to players, the desire to compete is enhanced by having fun, developing as a player, and being with friends. Losing a season due to the pandemic could potentially lead to increased motivational levels and an internal drive to get better. In a typical season, coaches may have to develop strategies to ensure that this occurs with their players. In addition, the formal training of coaches should continue to place player development and needs (sport and non-sport related) at the forefront to maximize the positive experience sport can have for youth as evidenced through this unique time period.

Based on the desire of coaches and players to be on the field together, participants stressed that they were willing to do whatever it took to have a season of competition. In a typical season, coaches commit to their job knowing that there will be a considerable time commitment for the pay that they receive. The pandemic brought on additional duties, forcing coaches to consider the amount of work that they were willing to complete for any season. Normally, a coach’s workload will increase based on the demands of their job and the expectation of winning. For example, a coach for a recreational soccer team for elementary students would be expected to commit less time to coaching as compared to a highly competitive high school team. Research suggests that the more competitive the league, an increase of demands are placed on the coach (10). Regardless, participants in the study indicated that were willing to do what it took to ensure that their players had an opportunity to compete and finish out their season. The results of this study identified that coaches need specified training in balancing the workload for success and overall well-being. Bentzen et al. (2) offered these suggestions for maintaining a healthy work balance for coaches. First, they suggested that each coach should create a manageable workload for their staff. If a coach is doing more than what should be expected, it should be anticipated that exhaustion will occur. Secondly, autonomous motivation for coaches needs to be encouraged. Finding ways to enhance the internal motivation for coaches will potentially lead to greater outcomes for their particular situation. Exhaustion may also be mitigated by adjusting one’s goals and philosophy for coaching. For example, if coaches can prioritize development and health safety over winning, it may be more likely they can cope and reduce fatigue. Those who cannot shift these philosophies may experience exacerbated feelings of burnout during times when the environment changes, like those resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaching education should consider prioritizing non-technical aspects of coaching such as developing a time balanced work schedule, formal techniques for delegating duties, and instructional techniques that aid student-athletes in taking autonomous roles in daily sport related duties.

While participants were willing to put in the ‘extra work,’ it did produce mixed emotions regarding their experience. Coaches were excited to be with their team and to do the extra tasks needed to have a season. However, this did create frustrations with inconsistencies of players being available and the created interruptions prevented a good flow for season preparation. High quality coaches will display abilities such as being prepared, managing player development, and creating a vision for their team (27). The pandemic challenged these in diverse ways. It was challenging for coaches to be fully prepared due to the inevitability of a player having to miss practice, or a game, due to a positive COVID-19 test preventing close proximity to a positive player. As a result, coaches expressed that they did not feel as prepared in previous seasons. An added challenge was the fact that players did not compete in the previous season meaning a year of development was lost (24). Due to this loss of time, coaches had to change their typical plan of skill practice to better accommodate player abilities. The opportunity for assessment added the need for additional practice time. This led to coaches believing that their team preparation was not as successful as prior seasons. Ultimately, the vision established by coaches was to enjoy the moment and to give your best effort. A shift to more progress-based goals can be beneficial for teams as it can reduce the pressure on players and thus allow them to focus more on enjoyment and reducing the anxiety that can typically be present (6). Coaches should consider individual improvement plans such as encouraging athletes to find times to practice and improve outside of the formal team practice time.

One emotion that did change for coaches was the reduced anxiety from dealing with parents. Participants indicated that they received more assistance and appreciation for having a season. Parents were willing to provide support to help avoid losing an additional season. Elliott et al. (8) found that parents can provide an athlete support in a multitude of ways and play a significant role in the success of athletes. When parents are supportive and avoid applying unwanted pressure, players can produce greater results. In future seasons, it may be beneficial to provide parents with informational sessions that show how they can impact player success. This would allow coaches to better communicate with parents so that a plan can be created for their involvement and support. In addition, we believe training should be provided to new coaches on how to develop strong coach-parent relationships that provide key elements for sharing expectations and supportive tactics.

Participants did indicate that the pandemic produced a great culture within the team when everyone returned. At times it was difficult for coaches to decide on how much to restrict player interactions and time together. During the pandemic, most players had to train on their own. Coaches would create workouts for players to follow from home and any interaction would occur via online communication. This approach has resulted in athletes experiencing less anxiety, perceived more control, and more motivation to return to sport when confinement from COVID-19 ended (23). After a period of time of training alone, players had a desire to be together again. One coach even mentioned that players would request to join a different team (i.e., junior varsity, freshman) practice just so they could have more time on the field practicing. The dilemma of deciding on how much time to spend together was challenging. If players had no restrictions during practice, the result of a positive test would have impacted more players. Even with restrictions, coaches tried to get creative with ways for their teams to be together. As a coach, you have to consider the importance of team comradery and getting to know one another. While it is not mandatory for teams to have close personal relationships to be successful, it can increase the ability to work together towards a common goal (14). Having an environment which can stimulate growth and togetherness can help create the positive energy that coaches desire for a team. While the isolation, as a result of the pandemic, ended up motivating athletes and coaches to get back into their sport, coaches will likely see an assortment of athlete motivation (i.e., burnout, disruptive behavior, lack of motivation to practice) in a typical year that may not be as conducive for comradery and commitment. It is clear that coaches must create environments that embrace comradery and commitment as these characteristics are highly related to success and effort. As a result, using instructional techniques that target these areas has the potential to reduce stress of the job and lead to more satisfaction.

Coaches in this study did in fact believe that their first season back after the pandemic was possible due to the contributions of all parties involved. Players were willing to do whatever it took to play. Parents noticed the disappointment in their child(ren) after missing a season. Administration knew that it was important that every team returned to an environment that was reflective of their normal learning environment. All of these factors combined created a situation that was encouraging for coaches and motivated them to go the extra mile to ensure that their season was completed and that it provided a positive experience for everyone involved. Ultimately, the pandemic created emotions that should be present for any sport season. It provided players and coaches with an opportunity to do something that they enjoy, develop personally, and establish memories that will stay with them forever.


While the findings from this study are beneficial, this study does have some limitations. Although there was a good range of ages and years of coaching among participants, the number of participants (N=9) can be seen as a limitation. However, the amount of data was sufficient in addressing the purpose of the study. Another limitation was that the distribution of sports represented was not even. Future studies should examine a wide variety of sports as well as varying coaching ability, experience, and diverse team population. In addition to this, the pandemic created restrictions in visiting coaches at their job. Thus, supporting data like coach and practice observations were not possible, limiting the researchers from expanding on the existing data. This would have provided researchers the opportunity to observe coach and player interactions which would have led to a better understanding of what both the coach and player were dealing with as it relates to the pandemic. Future studies should include more face-to-face evaluations during a pandemic to better understand coach and player emotions.


 Secondary school coaches are faced with challenges for each new season of competition. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, coaches experienced difficulties never seen before. Through it all, coaches learned how to adapt and respond to these situations with a goal of being together as a team and competing once again. Through these experiences, coaches experienced a renewed love for their sport and team, as well as a desire to see players succeed. In addition, coaches realized that they would commit their time and effort to ensure that players received the best possible experience. Finally, coaches learned that all parties involved are invested and want the best possible situation for the team. These emotions will lead to positive involvement and outcomes for the team. The experiences during the pandemic will prepare coaches for future unexpected changes that can occur within a typical sport season. Although exacerbated in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the personal, social, and emotional sides of coaching that can dictate behavior, success, and well-being need to be presented to current and future coaches.


Sports can provide an abundance of benefits for coaches and middle and high school athletes. Through participation, players have an opportunity for enjoyment, development, and competition. Unfortunately, it can be taken away when a national pandemic, such as Covid-19, occurs. Coaches and players must be prepared for these type of unforeseen events so that when it does happen, proper procedure can be followed to ensure benefits are still received by all parties. With a proper plan in place, athletic programs will be able to utilize available resources and personnel to carry out the responsibilities of responding to the situation.  


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