Coaching at the collegiate level has never been just about X's and O's, and the year 2020 has showed that more than ever.
Not only have coaches had to manage the typical day-to-day challenges that come with managing numerous individuals and getting them working toward a common goal, it has been a summer of civil unrest and uncertainty across the country.
The deaths of Georgia Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police sparked outrage across the nation and particularly in the sports world.
Will Muschamp’s football team has been calling for action, as it's led protests and held demonstrations in place of a practice. For him, he said it was about putting aside some of his experiences to empathize with his players.
“Well there's no handbook for it. You know my father used to always tell me God gave you two ears and one mouth you have to listen twice as much as you talk,” he said during fall camp. “And that's what I've tried to do during this time. Learning about the virus number one, so I can at least educate our guys as best I can, and if I don't know I tell him, ‘I don't know, I will get you an answer, but I don't [want to say] I can't help you in this situation.’ So I think that's number one, is being a really good listener and I think listening to our players is really important right now.”
He added listening has always been a key component in order to lead young people, but this year especially as new concerns arise.
“I've always felt like I was a good listener, but I think now is a really important time to understand maybe how they view things as opposed to maybe how I view things,” he said.
“My dad used to always say coaching is teaching and teaching is the ability to inspire learning and I think that that's what we're trying to do right now is learn more about each other and learn what we need to do in situations continue to be tough continue to coach football but also be a good listener you know and I think that's very, very important right now.”
Women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley has adopted a similar mentality and said she has had to take a step back in order to inspire that learning.
“Sometimes I purposely don’t say anything. I don’t want to push my views on my team. I want them to be able to digest what's happening I want them to feel yeah whatever it is that they're feeling,” she said.
Staley has been very vocal on social media, in interviews and has even attended protests in Columbia herself. She said she’s trying to find that delicate balance between facilitating discussions and pushing them in a particular direction.
“I'm here to help them to help them navigate and maybe they're not comfortable sharing how they’re feeling or maybe they just don't wanna disrupt the flow of what we have going on,” she said. “…I'm hesitant to bring these things up because I'm so afraid of them taking on my views and I don't want them to do that because I want them to be individuals and I want them to feel how they feel on a personal level.
As teams across the nation continue to work towards their respective goals, it’s clear that the work in the social justice field is not done.
For Staley and Co., they will hit the floor in late November determined to win the championship they feel they were denied last season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but may have to do it without all of the support they had during last year's run.
Her team learned a hard and unfortunate lesson during the offseason, as not all fans agreed with the players and even Staley speaking out. Staley said they will still press on and she will get whatever resources necessary to help them achieve their goals on the court and off.
“My views are my views and I've lived for 50 years you know? They’ve for less than half of that and they're gonna have to feel some of these things for themselves and navigate how they feel,” she said. “I we just have to give him a space to navigate and feel good about sharing how they're feeling and putting their feelings out verbally. If we need to bring professionals, we will do that. If we need to bring anybody in that could help answer the question of why these things are happening and just to have open dialogue with people who get who can help along their journey.”