For coaches who are used to being control freaks, the pandemic has been an adjustment. Every day is met with uncertainty, with almost no room for planning.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo is feeling aimless these days. “I get up every day with no sense of purpose,” he said.
Similarily, Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson relates. “I think you wake up every day a little bit lost,” he said.
Coaches are typically viewed as authority figures. They lead with practice plans, create game plans, anticipate the future, and celebrate with their teams. All of which are up in the air.
“We’re all control freaks,” Izzo said. “If you’re successful, that’s almost part of the deal. … If you don’t control (the players) on a daily basis, I think it gets out of control quickly.”
“You don’t ever use the words, ‘I have no clue,’” Izzo said with a laugh. “Because if you have no clue, you’re going to find out. You’re going to do research. You’re going to do something.”
In truth, no one knows how long it will last. The people in Eddie Sutton’s life know how hard it is for him to give up control.
Doug Barnes, an assistant coach on Sutton’s Kentucky staff in the late 1980s, recalls.
”You can get overwhelmed if you start to think of the what-ifs.
Scott Satterfield, Louisville football coach
“It was almost like during basketball season, he wanted to know where you were, what you were doing, yada yada,” Barnes said. “The reason they have so many practices, so many meetings is because basically they’re kind of controlling what these young people do as much as they can.”
“One of the reasons I think they’re control freaks is there are so many uncontrollables. Injuries. Illness. Personality conflicts. Fans’ expectations.”
Due to COVID-19, there are many questions floating around the 2020-21 season. For instance, when will it begin? Will it begin? Can fans be in attendance?
Likewise, football is facing these same issues.
During a teleconference, Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield shared he is struggling as well. “All the uncertainty is the hardest part of the whole thing.”
Furthermore, players are going through the same unknowns, wondering if they’ll get to play this year.
“Am I going to have a job?” Satterfield said. “Am I going to be able to do this? …
“You can get overwhelmed if you start to think of the what-ifs.”
Uncertainty is “very stressful” for people, says Dan Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State. Especially when it comes to control freaks.
“Because we do everything we can to minimize uncertainty,” he said. “It’s actually one of the basic psychological needs we talk about in psychology.”
Wann says that sometimes superstitions can help lessen the stress. In addition, he recommended the Serenity Prayer, which he paraphrased as asking God to “grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed; and wisdom to know the one from the other.”
How are others coping? Izzo said he cleaned his office, his garage, and his attic. “It felt good to do something I haven’t done in 30 years,” he said.
Fran Fraschilla, an analyst for ESPN, called the coronavirus “the ultimate competitor.” In spite of all the stress, Fraschilla suggests that there are still positives that can help coaches cope.
“They spend way more time with families than they ever get a chance to do,” he said. Though it’s a challenging time, coaches have more time to relax and share ideas with colleagues.
Izzo rode a Peloton bike “until I was sick of it.” He also incorporated some walks. “So, I’m healthier,” he said.
The recent executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Craig Robinson highlighted a possible advantage. “I think coaches are starting to understand how much control they can give up,” he said, adding that coaches should concede authority to people like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
“The virus is what’s in charge,” Robinson said. “Not us.”
However, for control freaks, old habits die hard.
“We always want to know why,” Izzo said. “That’s what a control freak is. Why, and I’ll fix it.
“I haven’t figured out why yet. And I definitely haven’t figured out how to fix it yet.”
In spite of the negatives, Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson suggested that relying on Zoom meetings may be an advantage for some schools during the recruiting process.
“If you’re a rural university where it’s tough to get to, some of that helps those kinds of schools …,” he said. “Because everybody is on a more equal footing with Zoom calls and virtual recruiting.”
However, Houston doesn’t prefer it.
“I don’t get to touch my kids.” Sampson added, “I don’t get to hug them or fist-bump them or high-five them. I feel I’m not as close (to the players) as I normally would be.
“Zoom is Zoom. But flesh is flesh. You don’t build great relationships by Zooming.”
A question-and-answer based on a recent conversation with Dr. Rand McClain, the chief medical officer for LCR Health, which is in Santa Monica, Calif.:
Q: WILL THERE BE A 2020-21 COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON?
A: “The short answer is, medically speaking, it is very realistic.” He recommended the familiar guidelines: wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing.
Q: BECAUSE OF THE CONTACT BETWEEN SWEATY PLAYERS WHO ARE BREATHING HARD, IS BASKETBALL A HIGHER-RISK ACTIVITY?
A: “Yes. Hence, the reason for the protocols and the testing. … You’re not going to eliminate (the spread of infection). … Somebody’s kid is going to come down with the virus. … In these contact sports, if anybody has it, the likelihood that they’ll transmit, it is relatively high. Very high, I would say.”
Q: HOW SOON WILL THERE BE A VACCINE?
A: “A lot of people are being misled by what’s being put in the paper with recent trials and so-called success in these trials. What people have to understand is that it’s not that simple.” (He described a testing procedure that includes a group of people receiving an experimental vaccine and another group that doesn’t.) “There’s the obligatory passage of time that has to occur for those who didn’t get the vaccine to go through life and see whether or not they get infected. It’s encouraging to see in early trials we’ve gotten some success. But I think we’re at least a year away — unless we bend the rules of science — from actually using a vaccine.”
Q: CAN YOU ENVISION BASKETBALL PLAYERS WEARING MASKS IN GAMES?
A: “I think it would be ridiculous to play the sport wearing a mask. It’s not a performance enhancing device. In fact, it could hinder performance.”
Q: WILL YOU ATTEND BASKETBALL GAMES IN 2020-21?
A: “My business partner and I share some Lakers’ tickets. As far as I understand, there’s no plans to limit the seating, which means no social distancing. We’ll all be packed into our same seats. And I’m thinking at this point I’m not so certain I’d do that. We tell patients, just pretend everybody you run across is sick. … Practice the safest measures that we know at this point, and you should be fine.”