Good sports: How school sport survived lockdown

Issue: Volume 99, Number 8

Posted: 2 June 2020
Reference #: 1HA7ro

Sport is a major part of life for many young New Zealanders, so the disruption to training and competition schedules due to Covid-19 has had a far-reaching effect. Education Gazette asked some of New Zealand’s basketball and netball coaches how they’ve worked differently during lockdown in order to continue preparing student athletes for success.

Shortly after St Peter’s College in Cambridge had selected its premier netball squad, the country went into lockdown; Te Aroha Keenan, head coach and director of sport, and assistant coach Ange Russek had to come up quickly with a plan for the players.

“We sent the girls video clips of what to practise, and touched base weekly online. We gave them tasks; for example, to watch games and comment on them, to pick their three top drills, film themselves and send it back.

“We kept the standard really high and told players to compare themselves with last season; ‘what are you doing better?’”

“It’s okay to rate yourself on your skill and tactical knowledge, and ask yourself, ‘how am I going to improve? What’s that going to look like?’
We asked players to film themselves shooting or doing a turn and send it back to us and we comment and compare. Our role is to give knowledge to student athletes to advance themselves, to help them put it all together.”

Maintaining skills

Te Aroha says it was important for her student athletes to understand the level they needed to maintain during lockdown. She and Ange worked with players one-on-one, developing their individual performance plans.

“Online’s working really well for us. The thing [with online] is you’ve got to keep players interested. They’ve been working really hard on new programmes and we’ve given them new targets they’ve got to achieve. When they’re bored, they’ll just go outside and shoot or work out so we’re probably doing even more now than we were before,” says
Te Aroha.

Te Aroha says a key task she asked her student athletes to do was research and write their own definition of what authentic leadership looks like, giving examples of how they’d applied that in everything they’d done.

“You know, when these students leave school, you want them to go with a more open mind; it’s not all about ‘I’ve got to run this fast or jump this high’; it’s like ‘what have I got out of this sport?’ It’s not all about the win, it’s about the quality of the win, and thinking through things, not just being one-dimensional.”

For student athletes looking to transition into playing professionally,
Te Aroha doesn’t see remote learning as a barrier.

“For us, lockdown’s been a chance to really see who has that discipline and self-motivation to use their time wisely, not only physically but mentally too. As a coach, there’s certain things we want to see in the way you play: how you play with others, how you train in your own time.

“But the most important thing is to keep that communication going,” says Te Aroha.

Communication is key

Crossing codes to basketball, St Peter’s College teacher and coach of the school’s premier girls’ basketball team, Leanne Walker, agrees communication is key.

Leanne says the girls have missed each other and a group chat was a great way for players and coaches to stay connected. 

Zoom meetings allowed players to see each other during team stretch and meditation sessions, as well as team meetings, when players came together for some great kōrero about how their set weekly challenges and tasks were tracking.

Leanne set up a number of online learning platforms for her players, posting video clips and articles on Google Classroom, and including weekly fitness programmes and different apps for students to try out. She encouraged players to use the apps, to practise their skills, and get their shooting stats up. 

Developing game IQ 

Leanne says Covid’s been a great opportunity for developing one of the most critical aspects of basketball: game IQ. Watching the game and analysing people’s reactions are things coaches can always develop further with their players.

“It’s interesting because what I’m seeing [when looking at footage] as a coach, is not necessarily what they’re seeing, and they’ll point stuff out and I’m like, ‘wow! I never even thought of that’.”

New Zealand Basketball Academy director Kenny McFadden agrees game IQ is an essential work-on for players, especially while they’re waiting for stadiums to reopen and games to resume.

He singles out ball handling and shooting as two major areas that, with the help of backyard practice and online drills, can be improved tremendously. 

“Whether you’re coaching in schools and clubs, or you’re a player, it’s important to find different ways to watch and study the game and look at how it’s evolved.” 

This is advice he’s given to student athletes who, due to Covid-19, have missed out on an opportunity to measure their skills in Las Vegas, competing against some of the best age group players in the United States.

Kenny says cancelling the Vegas trip was a huge blow for the students. However, despite their disappointment, many are keeping positive – among them, Isabella Tait-Jones.

“It’s pretty sad, ’cos it’s like the only thing we looked forward to, to go over there and play against the best… it’s the main thing we train for. But a positive is, with Vegas being cancelled, it’s kind of motivated me more. I’ve been focusing more on fitness, like runs, sprints, strengthening and conditioning, and ball handling. The stadium’s not open, so you just have to do your own stuff!” 

Student athletes on missing sport

“It’s been hard, you can’t go hang out with your friends and train, there were no games. (Normally) I do sport like pretty much every day; I just had to train in the back yard and do exercises.”

Griffyn, Year 11, Palmerston North Boys’ High School, basketball.

“Lockdown’s been boring because we usually have games and tournaments. It’s hard not seeing my whole team. Sports is good for me personally as well – I’ve been playing my whole life. I’ve been doing netball every week and (in lockdown) it just suddenly stopped. We had an app, and the coaches sent us videos to help with our workouts. It helped my shooting and healthy eating, it’s just in that some outdoor places where I went [to train], everything was locked up. There’s been a few technical issues too like wi-fi problems, sometimes it cuts off. The only thing that’s been good [about no sport in lockdown] is I’m not really a morning person, so I can sleep in and don’t have to catch the school bus.”

Grace, Year 9, Avondale High School, netball.

“Well, sport is my life so it really sucks not being able to play basketball and football against other teams. I still stayed active [during lockdown] doing running and workouts, but it’s not the same.”

Jerome, Year 12, Dilworth School, basketball and football.

“It was pretty sad, our whole team had just had their first couple of games [before lockdown]. I mainly kept active by going for walks with my family and playing games like tennis out on the street during lockdown.”

Gwen, Year 8, Longburn Adventist College, volleyball.  

“For me, I was kind of happy I was stuck at home because I broke my wrist at basketball training [right before lockdown] and the cast wasn’t going to get taken off until four weeks later. So I didn’t really miss out on any sports thanks to Covid. I was supposed to be playing in the volleyball nationals as well but that got postponed so that was good for me.”

Dane, Year 11, Palmerston North Boys’ High School, basketball and volleyball.

Q&A with Dame Noeline Taurua

Coaching using online platforms has been challenging for many coaches during lockdown. The Education Gazette asked Silver Ferns netball coach Dame Noeline Taurua about her experience of remote coaching and her advice for sports coaches and teachers.  

Where were you when you heard we were going into Level 4 lockdown and what went through your mind? 

I was at my home in the Bay of Plenty and I thought what an opportunity to be working from home with my whānau – usually I travel so much. I was in a big bubble
of 11.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to adjust to working without being able to coach kanohi ki te kanohi and hands-on? 

The biggest obstacle has probably been how to stop working. Working from home and having back-to-back Zoom or Skype meetings has meant I am over listening to my own voice. 

What’s something you learned from coaching the Silver Ferns semi-remotely across the Tasman, in a part-time role, building up to the World Cup, that you were able to apply during the Covid-19 crisis? 

Have a clear strategy, make sure everyone knows their role in the strategy – then you can move forward with success.

How have you been continuing with your coaching strategy during lockdown with our elite athletes, ngā wāhine toa, the Silver Ferns?   

We have had weekly calls with the squad; each of the Silver Ferns have their individualised programmes. I have kept in contact with their ANZ Premiership coaches, so they are aware of our Silver Ferns programme. Our Silver Ferns management team have had input into the ANZ Premiership competition, around what it will look like going forward, so that it works well for athletes and fans alike.

What has worked well for you in your coaching/teaching role that you might like to share with school coaches and teachers? 

For me coaching is all about people, understanding how each individual works and what they bring to the collective group. It’s about setting clear standards and communicating those to the team, so each member understands their role, and what they are required to contribute to the team.

What’s your advice for our up-and-coming student athletes who want to play for you? What are some tips to help them stay motivated with their personal training?  

I look for athletes who show strong commitment to the team, to their fitness goals, and to the programme. 

What are three ways you can share with us about how you took care of your own wellbeing as a coach, and wāhine toa, particularly during lockdown?  

I think the key is not to stay in front of your computer 24/7 – go out for a walk, get fresh air and take some time to enjoy the moments of being home with your whānau.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:28 am, 2 June 2020

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