While things should be considered to be trending in the right direction in regards to high school sports, no coach would confuse the restriction-laden workouts of 2020 with any preceding summer.
Sport-specific equipment has been allowed since this past Monday, but still-in-place rules forbid aspects of standard practices that can't be done without social distancing. And yet, an outside view of this week's workouts looks markedly closer to "normal" than what athletes were allowed to do June 8, when the GHSA's ban on activities was initially lifted.
Adairsville head volleyball coach Kailey Vaughn Martin has seen a positive change in her players this week, when volleyballs and nets were finally allowed at workouts and when groups were large enough to have the entire team present.
“Absolutely, a lot more energy and a lot more appreciation for the little things,” Vaughn Martin said of the difference she's seen this week. “… Even if they’re not within 6 feet of each other, they’re still enjoying being around one another.”
Progress has certainly been made across the board the past few weeks. Players are stronger and in better shape than they were when their extended layoff ended.
Next up is making sure the arrow continues pointing upward as Georgia enters dead week. The period, which runs June 28-July 4, doesn't allow any on-campus workouts to take place.
Due to the limited time coaches have had with athletes the past few months, Tigers head football coach Eric Bishop believes the way players approach this year's dead week might be more important than in any previous offseason.
“The biggest difference is from last week to this week,” Bishop said in terms of his players' growth. “The first two weeks were kind of a roller-coaster ride. … We have one big day left [Thursday] that’s obviously going to be their toughest yet. If [Wednesday] was any indication, hopefully, we’re going to finish this strong.
“The thing we’ll stress to them is we can’t go backwards during this dead week.”
Bishop is expecting, or at least incredibly hopeful, that the GHSA will loosen restrictions further for teams upon returning July 6. With an inability to do seven-on-seven and similar offense-versus-defense drills, Bishop said this week has seen Adairsville maintain its emphasis on individual development.
“While we have been catching on air, it’s just been kind of tapping into that source that we couldn’t already, which is ball skills,” Bishop said of the changes this week. “We’re still being real skill- and drill-oriented, and focusing on the fundamentals during this time. If there was ever a time in the history of football to focus on the fundamentals, it would have been the last three weeks.”
Whereas Bishop almost can't wait for the other side of the dead week to arrive, AHS head boys basketball coach Alex Disbrow knows the mandatory break essentially marks the end of the bulk of his team's summer workouts.
“We’re not going to put too much emphasis on July,” Disbrow said. “Just because most kids are in fall sports at a school like Adairsville. We share a lot of kids, and that’s not a bad thing. It changes what you do.
“We probably won’t do very much competitive stuff. We normally just use the summer for skill work.”
Because of that, Disbrow and his basketball-only athletes have been trying to get as much work as possible in the past two weeks, with this week allowing for individual training in the gym.
“We’ve been meeting in the weight room, and then going through strength and conditioning,” Disbrow said. “After lifting and conditioning, we’ve been going to the gym and going through skill workouts.
“Basically, no competition, just everybody has their own ball, stays 6 feet apart and does skill work. Which is obviously better than nothing, but not what you would be doing normally.”
That last sentence is a perfect synopsis of what summer workouts have been for virtually every coach this year.
Adairsville head softball coach Amanda Nelson had her players working out Wednesday on the turf field at the school's football stadium, as rainfall ruined the chance to practice on the team's actual field.
“We have faced a good bit of rain this week, so that’s not optimal,” Nelson said. “But the girls are excited to be out there playing and just being back together.
“Most of them are playing travel softball, so they’ve been back at it for a couple of weeks. As far as our Adairsville team, they all have a best friend or two on the team, so them all getting back together and playing softball — or some form of what we’re calling softball — is nice right now.”
Throwing and defensive drills were part of practices earlier in the week. With hitting off live pitching still not allowed (because hitters and catchers aren't 6 feet apart), Wednesday saw the Tigers finally take turns hitting off a pitching machine.
“What I’m seeing this week is much further along than what I expected it to be,” Nelson said. “I think that has a lot to do with the fact that they are playing travel ball.”
Other Adairsville teams aren't quite as fortunate.
Vaughn Martin has kept her athletes on the workouts provided by AHS strength and conditioning coordinator Kurt Scoggins. That portion of the session typically last 45-60 minutes, and her players spend the remainder honing the skills they will need to showcase when tryouts are held, which is still to be determined.
In comparison to a standard offseason, the Tigers are way behind. But all things considered, having been severely impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, Adairsville's athletes are making significant strides.
“They’re getting there,” Vaughn Martin said of her players. “It’s been a weird couple of months, for sure. But we’re taking it as it comes, and we’re doing the best with what we’ve got.”