Soccer coaches learn to work with sport-specific coronavirus protocols

By: Bill Beckner Jr. Saturday, August 1, 2020 | 5:14 PM Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

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Saturday, August 1, 2020 | 5:14 PM

Soccer isn’t considered a full-fledged contact sport — some teams would beg to differ, based on playing styles — but the game has had to adjust to safety guidelines just like others to help slow the spread of covid-19.

Health and safety guidelines were put in place weeks ago as teams begin to gear up for the fall season with voluntary workouts. Official practices start Aug. 17, and the season is scheduled to start Sept. 14.

Coaches and athletic trainers are doing their best to covid-proof summer workouts.

Players are trying to compete but with more spacing.

“Our message to the kids is that they have to be safe at all times,” Franklin Regional boys soccer coach Rand Hudson said. “They can’t leave (practice) and go to some large gathering. That’s all a part of the competition of keeping this thing away.”

Franklin Regional has had “small group pick-up games,” Hudson said, two days a week. Players must wear masks when they arrive and wash their hands before they warm up. Masks also are worn on the sidelines, and a trainer is present at each workout.

“What’s different is that in the past we’d have college guys (alums) come back and work out, and we’d have 11 (on 11),” Hudson said. “That’s been eliminated because we couldn’t trace those guys.”

New Southmoreland girls soccer coach Josh Pajak, the former Mt. Pleasant coach, said his girls are “excited to be out of the house and active,” and are following protocol.

Like most teams, the Scotties are using pods with only a few players in each, which is somewhat of a limitation compared to previous summers.

Drill work is important, but small groups make it challenging for coaches to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Pajak’s players have practice jerseys that are washed after each workout.

“We have spray bottles with cleaner all over the field,” Pajak said. “If a common implement is used, it is sprayed down after. We are using the yard markings on the field to distance in our conditioning. I’d say we are going a little more old school with training rather than being in the weight room and stuff, which I think can have benefits.

“Teams that embrace these unique situations and make the best of them are the ones that will benefit during the season.”

Rob Miele, the boys coach at Belle Vernon, said he has dialed back workouts some to focus on speed and agility, along with individual skill work.

“When we can move into our next phase we certainly will be ready,” Miele said. “I think we’re ready to ramp up as we get closer to the season.”

Miele said the biggest challenge he faces is being behind in certain aspects of preparation.

“When I compare where we are right now to years past, we are certainly behind in terms of covering different aspects of our game because we simply cannot adapt some things due to social distance,” he said. “We’ve preached from our first day, ‘Control what we can control.’ Everyone is adjusting to the situation as best as they can. Our guys have been great from day one, very positive, and we’ve had great numbers since we started the last week of June.”

Questions abound as far as what will happen when mandatory practices begin Aug. 17.

“For example, how many kids on a bus?” Pajak said. “Are there enough officials? What happens if a positive case occurs within our school or a school we are scheduled to play? I think schools have done a great job with their summer workout plans, but now this enters into a different phase.”

Hudson said the season could be turned upside down if a positive case is found once the season begins.

“You figure there is a shutdown for two weeks, with no fitness, other than what they might do at home,” he said. “They come back and jump right in. Now you risk injury.”

While each school has its own return-to-play standards for summer workouts as part of a measured approach, the PIAA established some general in-game guidelines for each fall sport, should there be a season.

Some are:

• Limiting the pregame meeting to head referee, head coaches and a single captain from each team.

• No pregame introduction lines or team huddles on the field before halves.

• Bench players and coaches need to stay 6 feet apart.

• Use new game balls as often as possible.

“The season will be like no other, but I think if we all embrace the opportunity we have and make smart decisions, we’ll have a chance to make it through,” Miele said. “Certain things we may have to do might be thought of as inconvenience, but the thought of not having a season is an inconvenience I’m not ready to think about.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .
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