Masked Coaching

Masked Coaching

Volleyball coaches demonstrate the good practices for the sport, and that should include awareness and respect for the community efforts necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: hand washing, physical distancing and mask wearing. Of those, mask wearing is requires the least active maintenance, though it raises the most objections — including the the contention that obscuring the face and voice interferes with the coach’s ability to communicate.

A few years ago, while walking some trainees through some exercises, I was approached by an older Black gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. He spoke with a soft raspy voice, and it appeared that he may have paralysis in all limbs (I didn’t inquire). We struck a friendly and respectful discussion about different coaching styles. From the dialog, I could tell he was passionate about coaching, and he paid me compliments on how my trainees were focused on improving their movements. As I was about to ask about his students, one of them arrived – a young, strong mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. I excused myself to let them practice, but not before I said hello to his student. The student referred to his coach with great reverence, as an inspiration to work his craft.

Much of the discourse about communication with volleyball coaches presume a kind of forced unidirectional model. That the coach has to yell, and demand attention from the athletes they are charged to train. This stereotypical model presupposes that the relationship between coach and (young) athlete is adversarial — how would you measure coaching success in this scenario? What this encounter told me was that with respect, communication is a two way street. The coach and athlete were a team, each one giving and taking, building and supporting. He didn’t – couldn’t – yell, but I had no doubt that if all he could move was his eyelids, his student would have found a way to hear him.

A mask is the false barrier, when the true obstacle is accessing respect.

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