Last week, I checked out the Behind the Beacon podcast where Umass Boston women’s soccer coach, Amy Zombeck was being interviewed. In that interview, I learned some information that I wasn’t already aware of, and that is that some schools within the Little East Conference are actually letting their teams practice as a team rather than remotely.
Obviously, practicing as a team is ideal, and that is the ultimate goal for all the teams during this time. However, will teams that are practicing with each other get a competitive advantage over the teams that have to practice remotely? Ultimately, I argue that yes, teams who do practice together will have an advantage over teams that can’t.
Let’s take soccer, for instance. Teams that practice together will have an opportunity to see who has the best stamina, who is best with the ball at their feet, and who is the fastest. When you are apart from each other, the only things the coach can judge you on is the quality of the zoom video, how well you say you're doing, or how well you played in previous years. This especially puts incoming freshmen at a disadvantage, as it is hard to prove that a freshman deserves to be playing over an upperclassman over a zoom call.
Now, in theory it is not against the rules for a team to have an “organized” practice off campus, at say, a vacant park, or an open field, as long as they don’t infringe on any trespassing laws. That could solve a lot of problems for colleges like UMass Boston, where teams can’t practice on campus. However, coaches here at UMass Boston take the health of the players very seriously, and it is unlikely that any coaches will do such a thing.
Honestly, having remote practices is a lot like having remote classes. It is hard to get the same learning experience away from your classroom because there is no hands on learning. Same goes for sports: when you are trying to practice through a zoom call some players could go half speed without the coach knowing. This could give the coach the impression that you are deserving of starting spot on the team when you really don’t.
The last and probably most important part about having practices as a team rather than having practices separately is ultimately building the camaraderie of the team. Some of these players could live miles and miles away from each other, so it is hard to create good interactions with one another through a video chat. Being in person is ultimately the best way to build team chemistry and for incoming freshmen, or transfer students who have yet to really meet their teammates, it can be hard to build strong relationships and carry them into next season when they will be together as a team again.
So it is safe to say that for the teams that are getting the opportunity to continue practicing as a team during this pandemic, they will have an advantage once they get an opportunity to play. Those teams will have a better grasp on the improvement of the players on the team and they will understand how skilled their new and incoming players are. UMass Boston has a great sports program, and I have no doubts that they will be back to being one of the best schools in the Little East Conference once sports make a return. But, it may take them a little longer to reacclimate themselves back where they were before the pandemic.