By Erin Coppernoll, Head Women’s Soccer Coach, UW Oshkosh

Anyone can lead when things are great, and when your team is winning.  Leadership is tested when adversity hits or when your team isn’t winning.  In the game of life for all of us right now, adversity is looking us straight in the face. COVID 19 has put a wrench in our plans and has turned our worlds upside down.  We are challenged with uncertainties and new ways of normalcy.  Everyone across the world is being challenged immensely.

In the wake of adversity, great leaders help their team thru the uncertain times and show resilience and hope.  In these challenging times, there will be distractions, emptiness, setbacks, loss and depressing thoughts. Leaders must be the example to keep the faith and always believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Help your team to find the good in the dark.  Help them to find a way during this time to grow personally. Find a new hobby, pick up an old one, read a book, savor the moments with your family and loved ones, walk the dog more, and check things off the never-ending to-do lists.  Find some hope and peace in the things we can do now and help your teammates celebrate those things.  Ask them to set some personal goals at this time.

Communicate effectively with your team during these times.  Set out to connect with people on your team in ways that are new or different.  Call them on the phone and/or facetime them.  It is important to actually see and hear people during this time of social distancing.  Listen to your team and empathize with them.  Try to understand their situation and really listen to them.  Engage them in mini challenges via group chats.  Show a different side of your team during this time to take their mind off the stress of the uncertainties.

If you have a large team, break them up into smaller groups and have them communicate in small groups. Share photos of their lives or their new normal with their groups. Now that we have more time at home, share good family recipes.  Constant communication via alternative routes lets them know they are not forgotten.  Send quotes via email, send funny memes via text messages, and personally connect with them on the phone during this time.  Connect with them and really listen to them.  Re-recruit your team.

Be calm and composed and find the positives in the negatives.  It is certainly easy to panic when we don’t know the future.  But find small positives in each day. Write them down so you can remember and revisit them in the future.   They may be small but find the positives.  Each positive can grow into something larger than life.  Rise up and help others in these moments.  Look for the people that help others and let that lead the way.

Lastly, be focused on the team or group.  It is easy to be selfish in these times as we have to self-isolate but continue to see the big picture and have the team’s best interest at stake.  Speak the truth and don’t hold out false hopes.  Pure honesty and truth will serve you well in the long run.  They will see and feel this in good times and will remember how you made them feel.

Within our soccer program at UW Oshkosh, we were just about to start our spring non-traditional season when the safer at home policy began.  Our competitive season is in the fall but we are allowed a short 5-week season in spring.  Following NCAA rules, we have adapted the following things for our team spring season.  We designed some suggested workouts for the team and put them together for them to use in their own workouts from home.  However, our main concerns at this time is their mental mindsets and their academic progress at this time.

Our captains implemented a Quarantine Challenges via group chat.  Now, most of these challenges are more fun and unique such as “Open up your refrigerator and pull an item out of it.”  While many of you would think it would be something simple like a gallon of milk or some food item, we had many videos in the chat that included a vacuum cleaner, deodorant, a brother, a cheese head, and a dog.  Many of these challenges are more so for the team to laugh and enjoy rather than actual “challenges.”  Mental health is very critical at this time.   The challenge for today was to post a picture of you eight years ago.

To check in with them, we have broken into 3 small groups and have scheduled out a small group virtual call that we will have weekly.  The smaller groups help with communication online.  We did have one large virtual meeting but the ladies felt it was difficult to talk with all the people on one call.  I think they want to talk and be heard.  So, we broke into three small groups and will be meeting weekly.  We will be checking in with them collectively but also offer some videos from the past fall season.  We are hoping to show them glimpses of great moments of them on the soccer field and are also showing them clips of how they can clean their play up a bit to have more success.  We can’t play but we can help them learn the game by showing them their play.

And finally, we have asked each week for 9 individuals to call a coach and have them check in with us. Each coach is assigned 3 individuals and the player needs to initiate the call. These individuals are different each week but it allows us to talk with them individually and discuss their academics and any other issues at home.  I am having my part-time assistants help with this part as it will help them to really get to know the athletes a bit better in this time.  It can be a regular phone call or possibly a facetime call.

We are overcommunicating with the team to make sure they are doing alright.  There are big changes for all of us and college students are no different.  We are finding out how much their social lives mean to them and many of them have expressed how much they have missed each other and the contact they did have with one another.  Connecting with people is very critical in this time of social distancing.