TECHNOLOGY

The pandemic unifier: Video conferencing keeps teams together

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Video conferencing proved to be a platform for coaches and players to stay connected during the spring when schools were closed due to the pandemic. Many teams continue to use video conferencing even after they have returned to the field.

Andrew Jackson High (Jacksonville, Fla.) coach Christopher Foy didn’t need the pandemic to prove that video conferencing helps bring high school players closer together.

His players were already using video conferencing platforms to connect before the pandemic.

“Kids already use this stuff,” Foy said. “They use FaceTime and Skype. The difference is now we’re the ones initiating it. The kids thought, ‘This is kind of cool. The adults are coming to our world.’ That made it better.”

Foy believes the spring Zoom meetings helped unify his team, and he’s seen the rewards of that in the last few months.

“If you stopped and paid attention to the kids when all of this stopped, you would have found inspiration,” Foy said. “Look at how they responded. We went through seven weeks of football practice without a ball, and I had kids who didn’t miss a day. It’s because of the relationships they have with each other, and the Zoom meetings only helped with that.”

Many coaches stress that football is family, and that slogan became a reality when the entire country was faced with the same form of adversity this spring. Through video conferencing, Foy’s staff and players found ways to support each other and provide a listening ear.

“We live in a world now where communication is so fast and automatic,” Foy said. “Facing what we were facing in the spring, we decided our communication had to improve. If you were disconnected from family, your communication had to increase. We were disconnected as a team, so our communication had to increase. That brought us closer.”

Although Florida teams are now cleared to meet in person, some schools — like Andrew Jackson — continue to have video conferencing meetings. Coy said his offensive coordinator and quarterback still have twice-a-week film sessions over Zoom. The offensive line also meets as a position group on Zoom. Coy will also occasionally lead entire team meetings through video conferences.

“I love healthy communication,” Coy said. “We want to limit the stuff we do inside in large numbers. So, we’re constantly using this method. You can split the screen and have a film session with the team for an hour. They can go through their reads while on video. Football is hard work, but the reason the kids love it is because of the relationships they have with each other.”

Expert Opinions

Determining whether video conferencing can actually make a team closer is difficult because there are so many metrics to consider.

  • Would the players be just as excited to see each other after a lengthy absence even if they hadn’t had virtual meetings?
  • How often were the players on screens during the day?
  • Did they get Zoom fatigue?

Jessica Tomasula, a pediatric psychologist based out of Raleigh, N.C., doesn’t believe video conferencing can take the place of in-person communication. 

“We are social creatures that require social support,” said Tomasula. “Working out in your garage to a video is not the same.”

University of Louisville associate professor of psychological and brain sciences Judith Danovitch believes any shared connection between teens — even over a video game — is better than no connection.

“Parents might look down on the amount of screen time, but that’s a really important social opportunity for kids right now, especially older kids and teens,” Danovitch said. “They can play a video game with friends and at least feel like they’re still having a chance to connect.”