The pause on high school sports that started Nov. 21 brought many questions for coaches and athletes.
When will the winter season start? How long will the season be? Are we even going to have a season?
Those questions have started to be resolved as Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that high school sports and other youth sports can begin practicing on Jan. 4.
As for competitions, there wasn’t a specific date mentioned as more guidance will be provided to the Minnesota State High School League and activities directors at a later date.
There were mixed emotions as many athletes wanted to start practicing on Monday, but all of them are happy to have a date to start.
“We have a road map,” said Cathedral hockey coach Derrick Brown. “We can start practicing Jan. 4 and we didn’t have that during the pause, so it’s nice to know a start date for these players and for us as coaches.”
Cathedral activities director Emmett Keenan said he wasn’t surprised by the decision to start practices Jan. 4 because of the interrupted time for the holidays over the next couple weeks.
This Jan. 4 start date gives athletes and coaches time to enjoy the holidays and come back to practice excited and ready to go for 2021.
Athletes have been doing Zoom calls over the last few weeks for team meetings. They’ve also spent six to seven hours a day on Zoom calls for school as distance learning continues.
There’s been a balance of not doing too much team Zoom calls, but also having enough to build the team chemistry and check in on the athletes during these hard times.
“The Zoom calls have been used as a way to socialize with teammates and coaches before we get on the court,” said Apollo boys basketball coach Jason Allen. “It’s very different though [being on Zoom].”
Activities directors, coaches and athletes are hoping to practice for a couple weeks and begin competitions in the middle of January, but they’ll have to see what the guidance says from the MSHSL and Walz.
If competitions are able to resume Jan. 18, there will be about 11-13 weeks of regular season play along with the possibility of section and state tournaments at the end of March.
Even though the winter season was delayed, there’s a strong chance many of these sports will have a good amount of competitions during the first three months of 2021. Activities directors and coaches are keeping their mindset positive because they have an opportunity to play the sport they love.
“There are a lot of good things on the horizon,” Brown said. “We have so many opportunities ahead and getting this Jan. 4 date gets us excited for the future.”
As for Keenan, he said there’s work to be done to make sure the winter season is good to go starting on Jan. 4. Activities directors will need to make a practice plan for all the teams and make sure the guidance is implemented at each practice.
Even though practices will start in 2021, the focus hasn’t changed on keeping athletes and coaches safe from COVID-19. Similar to the fall season, there will be plenty of guidance and protocols put in place to make sure everyone is safe.
After developing the practice schedules, activities directors will meet and start to reshape the schedule for the regular season. The schedules were done for the winter by middle of November, but that’s shifted due to the pause in the early part of the season.
Keenan isn’t worried about getting practice and game schedules done as these activities directors have faced this situation before throughout the fall season.
“These [activities directors] are a special group,” Keenan said. “When I say that I mean, we all have the same challenges. We all know we have the same challenges and when it comes time for us to roll up our sleeves and get together and create schedules and do things so that all of our kids can have a full season… we’ll all work together to get that done efficiently, quickly and to the best interest of the kids.”
Activities directors will have plenty of work to do in preparation for this winter season and the coaches will have similar work as they prepare their athletes for the regular season.
Allen and Brown agreed this season will be different in the sense of coaching philosophy and styles. The main reason behind this change is due to the fact that these athletes haven’t been able to be on the ice or in a court for the last four to six weeks.
Gyms and arenas have closed up with the pause and therefore conditioning and getting into the groove of practicing will take time.
The only problem is that these teams don’t have a lot of time before that first game.
“Since our season is condensed, we have to work hard every day and take advantage of our time together,” Allen said. “This season is going to go by very fast and we just need to stayed focused each day.”
These coaches understand that with fewer games on the schedule, a couple lossescould be crucial towards the end of the season. A few losses to conference or section opponents could drop a team from second to fifth in a matter of seconds.
The mentality of working hard and striving to be the best each day is going to be important during this condensed season of winter play.
Overall, the activities directors and coaches are excited to have a start date and they will be dedicated to giving these athletes the best experience possible for the next three months.
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