The new term in athletics: Pods.
Every athlete has a workout pod. You don’t leave your pod.
Voluntary workouts started last week for the Colorado Mesa football team, with nearly 80 players showing up. By splitting them into position groups, each pod, including position coaches, is staying under 10.
“It’s been a new way of coaching,” first-year coach Tremaine Jackson said. “I just started watching some of the football stuff (after focusing on) ‘are you six feet away, do you have your mask on?’ I’m getting more accustomed to it.”
Outside on the practice field, the players aren’t required to wear masks, although those who just got to town or aren’t working out wear them on the sideline.
The NCAA lifted restrictions on summer team workouts after spring practices were canceled by the coronavirus. For the Mavericks’ new coaching staff, it’s the first chance they’ve had to work with their players and start to install their schemes. Most importantly, it’s a chance to test the culture they’re trying to build.
“We’re not going to be able to do this again, so for us, it’s teaching them how to do this when we’re not out there,” Jackson said. “There’s going to become a point in the summer when the coaches disappear and let them do their own deal.
“(Monday) night was our first time doing anything. We’ve Zoomed more meetings, but to actually get them out there … It was different, trying to make sure they’re socially distanced, keeping them in their small groups.”
Before the 90-minute workouts begin, each player answers symptom-check questions and has his temperature taken, plus they have to agree that they’re voluntarily participating. Every player has received a COVID-19 test, Jackson said, and the coaches preach being smart when they’re away from campus. Those who have jobs are wearing masks when they go to work, even if it’s not required by their employer.
“We’ve been ahead of the curve in preaching the family mantra. Once you’ve been tested and you’re in this family, you cannot go to Denver, you cannot leave town, you have stay within the family,” Jackson said. “You want to hang out? Hang out with the family. They went to the lake Friday, and it was just our family, they were in a family together. It’s one of those things our kids have adhered to.”
Several Division I teams have had to suspend workouts after an outbreak on the team. At Kansas State, where Jackson’s godfather, Van Malone, is the assistant head coach, an off-campus party is believed to have led to a spike in cases.
“It wasn’t the way that they brought kids in, it’s what the kids go and do afterwards,” Jackson said.
“We’ve had to preach a culture and we’ve been able to use them as an example. Don’t go to the house party, because you don’t know who’s been tested at the house party or who’s got it. That’s what happened at K-State.”
There’s a carrot at the end of the stick coaches can dangle to entice players to stay within their family — playing in the fall. The NCAA hasn’t announced a plan to allow games to be played in the fall, but keeping coronavirus cases low is critical in opening campuses and getting back on the field.
“They want to play, but mostly, they want to prove to us they can play,” Jackson said. “Whatever we tell them to do, it’s been ‘Yes, sir, I’ll go do it.’ ’’