California coach explains how he coached Alaska team remotely

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

We’ve all heard of remote learning. How about remote coaching?

It may be the latest trend emerging from the pandemic, and Brad Dal Bon can take credit for increasing awareness. The California coach posted a tweet of himself coaching a team from Alaska during a game last weekend, and it has since taken on a life of its own.

He recently caught up with FNF Coaches to share his story.

How did this idea for remote coaching come about?

“A friend of mine is a teacher and coach in Alaska, and he told me he was going to be helping out with a team 2.5 hours away from where he lives. I said, ‘How are you doing that?’ He said he’d help in the summer, do what he can during the week, and then on game days, he was going to go to the games.

“This was in late March, early pandemic. I didn’t know the head coach at the school or anything about the program. But I said to him, ‘Why don’t I coach with you?'”

What was that going to look like in your mind?

“I told my friend to pitch it to (Homer High head coach Justin Zant). Talk to the coach and see if he’s interested in doing it. I don’t know him it all, but here’s how I like to work. If I’m there, I’m there every day. I don’t want to break down video or be a consultant. I’m there every day, at every game. I’ll be there physically as much as possible. If I can make it work, I’ll do it.”

What do you mean by “physically” being there?

“Somebody will get an iPad, and that will be my connection to the players. I said, ‘It will take work on your end.’ They went out and bought iPads and tripods to make it work. There weren’t many summer workouts because their season in Alaska starts earlier. It took a week or two to really start coaching. First, I was observing. Then they got the Bluetooth speakers. Now, I can take a position and lead a drill. Now it’s almost like coaching kids. They’re coming up to the iPad and asking questions, and I’m giving feedback.”

Are you the only coach doing this?

“It’s kind of like my idea in a way; it just worked out. I have enough coaching friends around the country. My friend is also coming in on Zooms from Anchorage so he can be there during the week. I’m on the defensive side. He’s on offense. It’s been good in that regard. Because the coaching staff at Homer is so young and inexperienced, it’s been helpful for them getting different voices on the staff.”

How does it work coaching through an iPad?

“One of the managers carries me around on an iPad in practice. The internet is OK. I’m hooked up to speakers. On game night, I’m set up in the press box. I give the coaches feedback on what I think they should be doing. I talk about what’s working, what’s not. A coach will relay it down to the field. I feel the stuff we talked about was actually happening. It wasn’t like there was a miscommunication.”

So, the communication goes from you to a coach in the press box and then to the sideline?

“This week, we’re going to try something different. I’ll be in the ear of one coach on the sideline. Instead of relaying it, it will go right to the sideline. I watch the game on a Zoom meeting. Being in the press box, the manager has to move it left or right to follow the action. I try to be as friendly as I can.”

Would you do it again next season?

“Hopefully next year is different. If they do workouts in the weight room, I’d be interested in leading those. I haven’t tapped into everything I could do.”

So, this isn’t a reaction to the pandemic?

“I teach in California, and once there was a discussion of distance learning in the fall, that kind of upset me. I want to get back on campus. That was part of the trigger of all this. If you stay locked down, you can teach classes from someplace else. As the summer went on, I thought about booking a one-way ticket to Alaska or Hawaii. I figured I’d physically be there and teach in California. I still might end up there. It might be something I do in a normal situation. I can do this anywhere as long as I have Zoom and an iPad.”

What’s the biggest challenge?

“Having a relationship with the kids is tough. We’re not chit-chatting between drills. They don’t come and hang by the iPad. Building relationships takes a lot longer. I’m finally learning some of their names.”

Does the time change make it more difficult?

“No, because they’re an hour behind. So, I finish classes, and practice is later for me. It gives me some time to get things ready. If we go back to school, I’ll still have an extra hour to go home, get some food, and get ready for practice.”

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk