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Coaching During a Pandemic

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Written by Lauren Roth

Almost eight months ago Roanoke College students, faculty, and staff received the news that students would be returning home for two weeks. Hundreds of athletes had their seasons, preseasons, and postseasons abruptly interrupted without knowing what the future held. These last few months, student-athletes tackled a lot to be able to return to campus and play again, but the people who were there to carry them through it all and be a guiding light were their coaches.  Ryan Pflugrad, Roanoke men’s soccer head coach, and Clay Nunley, Roanoke’s men basketball head coach, provided their insight on what they have faced as coaches and members of the Roanoke College community through the pandemic. 

As many of us faced at the beginning of the pandemic, Coach Pflugrad and Coach Nunley had a multitude of uncertainties thrown at them. Questions on if athletes would return to campus, what would occur with their seasons and practices, and how serious was this all loomed over their heads, as it probably did with many other coaches and players. Once things began to be clear on students no longer returning to campus this spring, our coaches had to redefine what it meant to be a coach for them. 

Nunley and Pflugrad had to get creative on how to keep the team engaged, and they did this primarily through Zoom. A unique experience both teams had in these Zoom meetings were guest speakers. The men’s soccer team had Jay Piccola, Amy Athey, and many other speakers join the team over Zoom, while the men’s basketball team also had Jay Piccola and Mike Young speak to them. They discussed their successes athletically, in the business world, and simply how the pandemic was affecting their work. In addition to the team meetings, both teams had challenges on their skills and workouts to encourage them to remain active through the pandemic and quarantine.

The quarantine and extended time at home allowed both Coach Nunley and Coach Pflugrad moments to relax, be present, and reflect on their programs. A major key point that both coaches noted for themselves and their team is to focus on what is controllable, “Control the controllable and tackle the rest when it comes.” Both coaches did what they could with resources given, such as Zoom calls, virtual tours with recruits, and online workout packets for their players. They focused on doing what they could to engage with their players and continue to build their respective programs. Additionally, both coaches were able to spend time with their families during quarantine. Coach Pflugrad took the time to find a positive in each event thrown at him, he spent time with his family, and just worked to improve in all he could. Coach Nunley also spent ample time with his family, he had the privilege to see his son find a new passion, fishing! He also got to see his daughter learn how to ride a bike, allowing for family bikes all summer. 

Both Coach Pflugrad and Coach Nunley are immensely proud of their athletes, the students at Roanoke, and students all across the country who have worked through such a difficult time. Coach Nunley says his heart especially goes out to all collegiate athletes for having to go through this, “You train for years to get where you are, you make sacrifices for it because you love it. My heart goes out for them for losing it.” Both coaches want students to remember that you are seen, you are capable, and you can get through this difficult time.