Albert Lea rolls out new distance coaching program

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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Students at Albert Lea High School have been taking part in the district’s distance learning program for over three weeks now. However, just recently, the Albert Lea athletic department rolled out a new distance coaching program designed to keep spring athletes in touch with their coaches.

Activities Director Paul Durbahn said the distance coaching program is designed to prepare them in two aspects. Not only are the coaches preparing athletes for a possible short and modified season, they are also preparing athletes for any challenges and adversity they might be faced with during this time at home.

“This is something a lot of schools in the state have moved towards now,” Durbahn said. “We feel it’s important to stay connected with our students and make sure they have access to their coaches. We’re following a model that’s being used by a number of Big Nine conference schools and a number of other schools statewide.”

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According to Durbahn, there are a few different aspects of the distance coaching program:


• Regular online meetings with all head coaches as well as individual staffs

Once a week, all the spring head coaches meet with Durbahn in a group meeting online to discuss directions and answer any questions. The head coaches will then have an online meeting with their respective coaching staffs to hand out instructions and make sure everyone is on the same page.

“These check-ins allow us to address any concerns and share ideas,” Durbahn said. “Hopefully we can keep a collaborative environment — coaches can learn from how others are embracing this model of coaching.”


• Optional weekly workouts

Coaches will post optional workouts for the athletes while following the guidelines that the workouts will be safe and simple enough for the athletes to complete at home and still be mindful of social distancing.

Baseball head coach Sean Gaston said he is sending out two workouts a week varying in length from 8 to 12 minutes.

“We put together a little video to show how kids can do it on their own,” Gaston said. “That’s the big thing we’re trying to push, is workouts that they can do with no other individuals involved to keep that social distancing honored and make sure we’re doing our part on that side.”

Last week, Gaston said he had the players go out to the garage and bounce a tennis ball off the walls and work on their reflexes and fielding.


• Character skill/mental health lessons

Each coach will provide a lesson designed to build a character skill or relieve some of the mental stress the athletes might be feeling during this time of uncertainty.

Gaston talked about the importance of implementing those mental lessons on top of the physical workouts.

“I think it’s huge,” Gaston said. “Especially the longer we work through it and the more we start to break down into our programs about how things are done, we see that we can grow so much mentally and in some ways we have more potential for growth there than we do in our physical skills.”


• Weekly check-ins from coaches

Each head coach will split their respective teams into small groups and have an assistant coach reach out to each of them once a week to check in on them.

“They will be checking in to ensure the workouts are going OK, that they’re handling the stay-at-home order OK,” Durbahn said. “They can answer any questions, and hopefully they continue building connections as a team.”

While the program is designed to encourage student athletes to work hard and prepare them for a possible sports season, Durbahn said the coaching staff is mindful this is already a challenging time for students and don’t want to overload their schedules.

“We’re going to be sensitive and understanding of the student’s work load,” Durbahn said. “What we push out will have value. We’re also confident that routine exercise can help our students mentally. We want the students and their families to know that we’re not giving up on them, and the right thing to do in any scenario is prepare physically and mentally.”

Gaston said all the coaches are positive about the possibilities of where this could go and what they can do to make this the best possible solution for the athletes. He said the students are responding positively as well. While most of them would rather be out on the field practicing as a team, they know this is what must be done for the time being.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” Gaston said. “We don’t know if we’ll be told in a week that there is no season or if we’re going to be told that we have five days to get ready to play games. That’s where we are and obviously all we can do is focus on what we can control.”


About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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