Baltimore-area college coaches trying to be creative in communicating with athletes restricted to home by coronavirus pandemic

A year ago, Greg Ey’s day would have been filled with attending classes, eating meals with friends, and working out at practices as a member of the Towson men’s lacrosse program.

But fears about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic forced the NCAA on March 12 to cancel all Division I spring sports, and many colleges and universities sent their students home and closed their campuses. That meant many of the student-athletes have had to train on their own.


Fortunately for Ey and his teammates, they have access to an app purchased by the Tigers that offers daily workout sessions to stay in shape and continue to build on what they accomplished when they were back on campus and under the careful monitoring of their strength and conditioning coaches.

“This resource has been awesome,” said Ey, a junior midfielder who hails from Baltimore and graduated from Boys’ Latin. “I get my schoolwork done in the morning, and then I have some free time. I just hop onto the app, go into the garage, turn on some tunes, and just get after it. It’s been great emotionally, physically to put everything into that workout.”


As many states have ordered their residents to stay home and closed non-essential businesses in an attempt to slow the COVID-19 outbreak, spring sport coaches have had to be more creative in communicating with their athletes. Technological features such as video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet and face-to-face visual calls like FaceTime have become the options du jour for coaches and players separated by miles and time zones.

“This is our new reality,” Navy women’s lacrosse coach Cindy Timchal said.

One objective for many coaches is ensuring their players are continuing to work out, and Towson’s TeamBuildr app is perhaps the most innovative. Aaron Droege, the university’s assistant athletic director for sports performance, and his staff upload daily regimens specifically designed for certain sports’ athletes, who can then access the app and work out.

Droege said videos demonstrating exercises are included, and players with questions can contact the strength and conditioning coaches for more information. Athletes seeking to finish a full session must complete one section and tap “Completed” on their phone before the app will take them to the next section.

“The kids were using it, and we were asking for feedback, and they said, ‘This is awesome,’” Droege said, adding that the university purchased the app in August and debuted it in time for the start of the spring sports. “They can do everything right there in the safety of their homes.”

Droege acknowledged that there were some questions about the app’s viability when it was initially introduced.

“It’s really been a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It was something very new to a lot of us as strength coaches because we’re used to Excel templates that we’ve kind of made for ourselves and are comfortable with. There were some hiccups at first, but I couldn’t imagine making all of those Excel templates and copying them to PDFs and sending them out now. This has been really easy to streamline the workouts for everybody.”

Amy Horst, the Loyola Maryland women’s track and field coach, has organized meetings via Zoom and FaceTime to share with her athletes charts and graphs of data cultivated from earlier tests they had finished. They have used the numbers to outline workouts and build on that data.

“I never thought as a coach that I would become dependent to be able to communicate with my athletes on FaceTime, but we’re using that like crazy,” she said. “It’s very different just to be able to talk to someone and see her face when we know these athletes so well and have spent so much time with them. … It’s more of an individualized approach than we would normally do.”

Chris Kuhlmeyer, the UMBC softball coach, has set up one-on-one virtual calls with each of his players for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. His greater goal is arranging for “virtual lessons” in which he either can watch a player practice and provide feedback or review a video recorded by the player and send back his input.

“We’re just trying to come up with some creative things to continue to just communicate,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can to keep this thing rolling and keep them motivated.”

Many coaches said they are not fretting about their athletes staying shape because many of them are self motivators who enjoy sweating. The larger concern is the lack of personal interaction that coaches used to sense if their players were emotionally or mentally distracted.


Timchal, the Navy coach, has used Zoom to talk to her players, but she can’t assess the type of body language that can tip her off to a player’s mindset.

“You’re always concerned for your team about the mental-health state,” said Timchal, who has divided her roster with her three assistant coaches so they can personally call each athlete and rotate the players so that the coaches hear a different voice each time. … This is something that no one has ever experienced. Younger athletes are probably wondering, ‘What’s going on here?’ So it is difficult, and it’s difficult for everyone.”

Added UMBC baseball coach Liam Bowen: “We spend a lot of time in our coaches meetings asking, ‘Hey, how do you think so-and-so is doing?’ and a lot of that is just read from being around them at practice. So even with all of the tools that we have, I think that piece of it is going to be really hard to replicate. I don’t think you can do that over Google Meet.”

Until the coronavirus pandemic is turned back, the coaches understand they will have to be more inventive in communicating with their athletes. Kuhlmeyer, the UMBC softball coach, said he has never appreciated technology more than now.

“Sometimes I gripe about it, but at least from a technology standpoint, we have these computers in our hands to be handle this kind of time,” he said. “We can communicate with them so much easier, and it’s more on their level, too.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun