How Patriots Coaches Kept Players Engaged During Virtual Offseason
The struggle of attentiveness during a video call doesn't just pertain to a teacher trying to teach their students.
NFL coaches can struggle to keep their players attentive and engaged during virtual calls as well, because there isn't a body sitting right in front of them to keep them dialed in on the conversation. That can cause players to daydream, be distracted, or any number of things.
For New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he knew this would be an issue, which is why he and his coaching staff devised a plan this offseason that would keep their players engaged during video calls, which involved trial and error and a few in-house remedies with the help of minds from the collegiate level.
"A decent amount of the staff meetings was dedicated to that, especially early," Belichick said Friday during a video call with the media. "Coaches, we had a lot of individual meetings. Our team meetings were more limited because, I would say, just the quality of having a meeting with 60 or 90 people, as opposed to having it with four or five. The engagement is a lot higher, the interaction is a lot better, the mute button doesn’t have to be off when you have 100 people on the meeting and so forth. Anyway, we learned a lot about those virtual meetings and we definitely did a lot of things to try to heighten the engagement, set up some competitive things, set up a variety of things, and then the coaches exchanged ideas. One coach would say, ‘Hey, we did this,’ and then maybe another coach would pick up on that idea and do it in a way that fit his room or his position.
"We might have a competition between the two rooms on a certain thing and let them compete against each other and see who’s better at whatever the activity was that was structured. I talked to a number of college coaches. They were, in a lot of cases, ahead of us on this because of spring ball. So, they had their spring practice virtual meetings prior to the start of our offseason program, which I want to say was like mid-April. A lot of those teams were doing the same things that we were doing in terms of virtual meetings as early as the first of March. Some of those people had great suggestions: ‘This really worked well for our team and our guys loved this,’ or ‘We tried this and it didn’t work so well. Here’s the problems with it. It sounds good, but it didn’t go over that well.’ There was a lot of that. Our coaches talked to, like I said, several other college coaches and programs, and then we exchanged ideas. It was very educational for all of us to try to do that."
One example of a competition the team did between rooms came from running backs and kick returners coach Troy Brown, who said during his media availability Friday that they played Family Feud against each other.
As usual, Belichick did his homework and put his team in the best position to get the most out of their situation. Unfortunately, even the best position for the six-time Super Bowl champions didn't help them get on the field, in the facility or just in a physical room together this offseason due to COVID-19. But that is what every team in the NFL has dealt with since March.
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