Coaches embrace technology to replace spring drills

In a perfect world, Lehman High head football coach Bruce Salmon knows the past week could have been spent guiding his program toward the end of spring drills.

Instead, Salmon and his staff are among the thousands of other coaches across the state who are practicing social distancing and discovering ways to instruct players remotely. It’s all part of the new normal coaches are adjusting to due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the cancelation of UIL activities, including spring football.

While there are limitations and challenges, Salmon, along with many other head football coaches in the area, are further embracing technology to support their teams.

“We’re seeing a lot of people be more creative (about coaching) and when you do, it pushes the envelope and you provide a better product,” Salmon said. “Not just from our kids, but also the coaches.”

Use of apps such as Zoom has provided a new way for coaches to present and talk strategy with players, which Johnson High head football coach Steve Hoffman said could partially revolutionize meetings such as film study. Online apps offer ways for coaches to forward workout routines to players, as well as keep track of their progress
during at-home learning, Hays High head coach Les Goad said.

For many coaches, the new tools are a far cry from the days of VHS tapes and printed out sheets of paper that were once used for scouting reports and film study.

“If this was 15 years ago, I don’t know what we’d be doing. I’m not sure how we get done what we’re getting done now,” Dripping Springs head football coach Galen Zimmerman said. “I feel fortunate that it’s 2020 and we have the technology we have.”

But with advances in technology comes limitations with at-home learning, too. One problem coaches have faced is varying internet connections, which can impact how students and coaches can access online tools.

Keeping students motivated and staying positive during the COVID-19 outbreak is a challenge coaches must address as well. It’s been a particular hurdle for Hoffman and the Johnson High program who are readying for
the program’s first year at the varsity level and had spring football planned out prior to the end of in-person classes.

“We had to reshuffle, but we are doing as much as we possibly can,” Hoffman said. “We’re trying to maximize the time we have and mentally get players in the right place as far as learning schemes and watching film.”

No app or online tool, however, can replace hitting the field and managing a team in person. For all four coaches, the lack of on-field learning, whether spring football or during the athletic period, could impact the game in some way.

Goad said while his program wasn’t planning to go through spring drills this year, he hoped to use their athletic period to develop fundamentals and work on new schemes. Salmon said the loss of spring drills could impact how teams build their depth and their rosters, depending on the timeframe of when the season could begin.

“We can’t get reps with them (students). We can provide some individual drill work they might be able to do at home, but it’s a big challenge,” Goad said. “Everyone is in the same boat, trying to figure out how to get their kids to make gains during this circumstance we’re not used to.”

The true impact COVID-19 could have on high school football remains to be seen. All four coaches were cautiously optimistic that the season could possibly start on time. However, all four also understood safety of players and staff were important factors for that decision.

How it impacts students remains to be seen as well. Salmon said those who might be in “survival mode” might be impacted more than those who are in a “wait-and-see mode.” At the same time, Goad said the opportunity for
equalization is presenting itself as all teams are learning vitually.

“We will persevere and we’re going to find a way through all this. This is different, but in the same sense, it’s another challenge,” Salmon said. “What we’re used to is rising to challenges. It might change things, but we’ll adapt and adjust.”

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