By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor
The pandemic has challenged the mental health of all of us, between the lack of social interaction, the disappointment of a consistent stream of cancellations, and the uncertainty of what’s to come in the future. A coach needs to make the mental health of his players the highest priority this fall.
Mullen High (Colo.) football coach Jeremy Bennett worries about the impact the pandemic will have on the mental health of players across the country.
“I was a depressed kid at one time in my life,” Bennett said. “High school sports saved me.”
Bennett has kept that in mind throughout the spring and summer as he’s attempted to keep his players pointed in the right direction.
“We’ve gone through a progression starting with Zoom meetings in the spring,” Bennett said. “Then we started OTAs in the summer, everyone was fine. How do we get to the next phase of playing football? What do we do if that doesn’t happen? The struggle after that will get trickier.”
In his quest to help his players through the mental challenges offered by the pandemic, Bennett has done the following:
Monitor each player.
“We have to be vigilant as coaches and keep our eyes open. Look for telltale signs of depression. Be aware that they hide things and deal with them on their own.”
“One thing we talk about is we are not guaranteed everything. I can guarantee we’ll do the best we can to make it as real as it can be. But I can’t guarantee they’ll have a season.”
Live in the moment.
“Whether it’s COVID or an injury or a family member having a tragedy, it’s really about the moment. Getting kids to live in the moment helps them be the best they can be in that moment.”
Don’t dwell on bad news.
“It’s not all bad news. We have to push through and live with that. It was a tough spring, particularly for seniors. Through heck or high water, it brought us closer together.”
Grow from adversity.
“No one will ever be able to take this adversity from us. As educators, it’s important to look at the big picture and find the positives. We’re together as a family and football community. This will be the time when we’ll say we did it together to overcome adversity.”
“I got hired just before the start of this, so we were building the staff. I brought several staff members with me. We’ve been together 20 years. I kept several members of the existing staff for continuity.”
Remain engaged with players.
“We were feeling our way through Zoom calls; it was different. I don’t know that it was bad. That’s how we looked at it. We did a heck of a lot of Zoom meetings.”
Provide a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We had a Zoom meeting to introduce the Class of 2024. They were ecstatic. The guys got a boost from seeing the young guys so enthusiastic about joining the team.”
Bennett met many of his players for the first time on Zoom, since he got hired just before schools closed in March. While his career move made it more difficult to monitor the mental health of his players since he didn’t know them before the pandemic, he felt Zoom calls provided enough of a forum to connect.
“You can get to know someone sitting on screen if they’re engaged,” Bennett said.
He instituted a few rules to make sure the players were opening themselves to forming closer connections.
“Don’t block your face out,” Bennett said. “I have a rule that we want to see you; we want you engaged. We want you to ask questions.”
Bennett felt that structure helped players feel a sense of norm.
“I know that’s how I get rid of stress — by doing the same things every day,” Bennett said.