Distance coaching main

The Mankato East baseball team won’t get to play games this year due to COVID-19. However, virtual practice will continue, as coach Micah Degner still plans on providing content.

High school athletes and coaches were dealt a tough blow last week when the spring sports season was canceled due to COVID-19.

Athletes lost a season they will never get back, and for some seniors like Mankato West’s Kayla Grunst, it ended their careers.

“I never knew the last practice was going to happen when it did. It was really hard,” Grunst said. “We’re just trying to be there for each other.”

Despite athletes like Grunst losing a season of competition, that doesn’t mean coaches will stop coaching. The Minnesota State High School League will allow distance coaching to continue through May 29, in a similar capacity to the way it was before the season was canceled. Everything will be optional and virtual, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be impactful.

“It’s so easy to not be active right now,” West girls track and field coach Scott Carlson said. “It’s your mental and physical health ... physical exercise complements the mental health side of it. It’s super important right now.”

Carlson has continued to offer workouts to athletes just as he did before, and participation seems to be pretty good. He’s limited because he can’t provide any type of virtual feedback, but the content is still being provided for those who want it.

Mankato East baseball coach Micah Degner will also continue to offer coaching. Degner said that baseball coaches across the country have come together to exchange distance coaching tips, along with drills that can be done alone.

One of his players that has received distance coaching thus far is junior Jared Grams. For Grams, baseball has remained a major part of his life since the shutdown, as he goes to the batting cage and plays catch almost everyday. This will continue for Grams, as he still has hopes of playing American Legion baseball this summer.

“I really have realized how much I care for it and look forward to it,” Grams said.

Not only is Degner continuing to provide on-field help to his players, he’s also given them the option of off-field instruction. Once a week, East baseball players have a chance to receive instruction from the sport and performance psychology department at Minnesota State.

“It’s been beneficial during this time to work on that mental performance piece. Especially when you can’t work on the skills stuff,” Degner said.

Added Grams: “I really like (the sessions) ... keeping my head straight through all this.”

With the schools unable to compete against each other, East and West have combined to provide “themes of the week” for both players and coaches. This will also continue despite the lost season, as another way to engage athletes.

Some of the themes include grit, service leadership, sense of belonging and building culture. Coaches prepare presentations on these themes, and present them to both athletes and other coaches through different articles or other forms of media.

“All things that build good people, good teammates, good culture,” Carlson said of the themes.

Despite practices continuing, there are still plenty of unknowns. What about summer sports? Will school be back to normal in the fall? What will that mean for fall sports?

Those questions will need to be answered eventually, but for now, coaches hope to continue to provide as much structure as possible, while getting athletes to keep their mind off things they can’t control.

“You have an event, and then a response, and that equals your outcome,” Degner said summarizing the team’s session at MSU this week. “We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it.”

Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.

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