For first-year coaches getting their first contact with their student-athletes this summer, it’s a race against the clock.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association’s decision to cancel spring sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to nearly all in-person interaction between coaches and athletes across the state for months.

For coaches inheriting programs, who already start behind the eight ball, much of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic were compounded.

“It made it hard to create a family atmosphere that I wanted to build,” Cherryvale first-year head football coach Travis Young said. “We started to build in-person relationships virtually. That was the biggest challenge. We did a variety of things to try to overcome that.” 

For new football and other fall sports coaches, the spring often provides a time to get acclimated. Now, those coaches have just the summer to install their vision.

“Being a first-year coach, I’m making sure I’m organized and making a good first impression,” Parsons first-year head football coach Jeff Schibi said. “The kids see that. I’m trying to keep everybody informed of what’s going on. It’s been a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m up for.” 

Cherryvale, which held its first summer workouts on Monday, is one of the many schools hoping to capitalize on an enthusiastic return to athletics. Young estimated that upwards of 50 boys attended Monday morning’s weights session.

“It was really exciting to me,” Young said. “You could see the energy and the excitement. They were continually asking questions and they’re really excited for football. I got there at 5 a.m. and there were kids there at 5:15 a.m. ready for workouts.” 

Another obstacle first-year coaches will have to battle is KSHSAA’s acclimation procedures for summer workouts — schools must have five workouts limited to three hours over the first week then five workouts limited to five hours over the second week.

Football teams in particular cannot hold 7-on-7 or 5-on-5 competitions until the third week of workouts.

“You could definitely tell the kids that had worked out on their own and the kids that hadn’t,” Schibi said. “We had to add more trash cans to the weight room and aux gym, for sure. We really didn’t even go that hard. I called the first week a transition week. We understood what the kids have gone through the last two-and-a-half months.” 

Schibi, who was hired to replace Kurt Friess at Parsons just two weeks ago, has been operating at a blistering pace.

“My family hasn’t seen too much of me the last 10 days,” Schibi said. “I don’t know how Friess was able to manage being a head coach and a principal. I’ve been making sure everything is organized for the kids. If you show up and you’re unorganized, the kids pick up on that extremely fast.” 

Over the pandemic, coaches did their best to maintain contact with student-athletes virtually.

“We met once a week with each position,” Young said. “I was continually get to talk to the kids and getting to know them. We also had leadership meetings with the seniors and had those once a week. I had a Zoom meeting with the whole team and with each kid individually.” 

Schibi, who’s served as the Parsons offensive coordinator the previous two seasons, leaned on his previous experience during the shutdown.

“They have a good understanding of what my expectations will be with them,” Schibi said. “I set up a Google Classroom throughout the pandemic where I posted workouts. We had Zoom meetings. We were staying in contact as coaches.” 

Coaches and players are also adopting to new sanitation procedures in workout areas as schools continue to try and limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s some negative and some positive to it,” Young said. “Everything is new with the procedures because of the pandemic. With the new way we’re running things and the new culture, it’s all related. They’re all in a new situation with the cleaning and the distancing. So a lot of this will go hand-in-hand, so that’s how I’ve tried to bridge it.” 

With August fast approaching, instilling programs for first-year coaches in the wake of COVID-19 has presented unprecedented hurdles.

But it’s also given newfound opportunity for the same coaches taking the reins to have a fresh start.

“I was still able to set our goals and build our culture,” Young said. “Each week, myself and the coaching staff would put out motivational things each week to start building. Most importantly, it starts in the weight room. I’m finally getting to know the kids in person.” 

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