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Running a Team: Best Practices Now and for the New Normal

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Aside from postponing and canceling much of the most-awaited sporting events this year, the pandemic is also expected to change sports in ways we can’t fully comprehend. According to Leander Schaerlaeckens of Yahoo! Sports, most of what we know and love about sports will have to be re-thought. From the way fans gather in large stadiums and press conferences, down to the method through which leagues and teams celebrate home runs, buzzer beaters and victories, the likelihood of the sporting landscape going back to its pre-pandemic ways is slim. Given these changes, and more, it only makes sense for sports managers to change the way they run teams. That said, here are some of the best practices that they can employ from this day forward.

Making the most out of available technology

One of the ways sports managers can make team management easier and safer these days is by investing in the best technologies available at the moment. In his article ‘30 Tips for Professionals Working from Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, digital nomad James Gonzales mentioned how applications can be of great help in streamlining processes, improving programs, keeping everyone on the same page and notifying team members of important announcements. The ‘Five Attributes of Great Sports League Management Software’ that you should look for are customer service and responsiveness, personalization, communication and collaboration, smart automation and ease of use.

Changing common practices and instituting new ones

Regardless of whatever sport your team is playing, there are bound to be a number of common practices that are no longer advisable in a pandemic-stricken world. Some of these practices can include high-fiving, spitting, side hugs and more. As a sports manager, what you can do is limit these practices and introduce ones that will ensure the safety of each and every one of your team members. You can replace these practices with nods, elbow bumps, waves, feet touches, peace signs and other alternatives that do not require physical contact.

Some of the new practices you should also consider instituting are daily temperature checks, thorough hand washing every halftime and during other pauses during the game, and mask-wearing. Nowadays, infrared thermometers that you can attach to a stand or place in front of a person's forehead are readily available in many drugstores at an affordable price. To encourage your players to wash their hands as often as possible, consider setting up a portable handwashing station or sink at every meeting and practice.

Since the pandemic is expected to persist at least until the end of 2021 (even with vaccines), it would be in your team's best interest to require everyone going to practice sessions and games to fill-up screening questionnaires. You can further limit friction points by digitizing such questionnaires through applications like Google Forms. If you're planning on holding the aforementioned events in indoor spaces, make sure to limit the number of participants in accordance with the total size of the space. For instance, if it's a practice game or training, ask if the parents would be okay with the idea of making indoor venues off-limits to them. This way, you can accommodate more players.

If you will be hosting a game, wherein the moral support of parents is of utmost importance to the players, make sure to rent a big space where each spectator (which should be limited to just the players' guardians) can sit with ample space between each other, or a big outdoor space where air can flow freely. You can, once again, leverage technology in this aspect by utilizing software like SquadFusion, which will make the management of RSVP capacities much easier.

Going virtual whenever possible

Recognition is an integral part of keeping players motivated and engaged. This is the reason why awards ceremonies should still be held whenever necessary. However, instead of organizing a physical one, go virtual instead. Through this strategy, you can still acknowledge and recognize exemplary players, all while limiting everyone's exposure. As for the actual trophies, awards and medals, you can just ship them to their respective recipients.

Issuing a handbook for each member

Of all the major leagues that were left with no choice but to postpone their games indefinitely, the first one to return was Germany’s Bundesliga. In his article on the New York Times, chief soccer correspondent Rory Smith noted how, before resuming play last May, the most notable thing the league did was to issue each of its players a handbook. You can follow in Bundesliga’s footsteps and issue a handbook for your own team as well. When crafting a handbook, try your best to stick with comprehensive, precise and sensible rules that will help players stay safe from the virus during matches. Examples of such rules include (1) avoidance of highly crowded places whenever possible, (2) keeping a bottle of alcohol and hand sanitizer within arms reach at all times and (3) having your own set of things at all times to avoid borrowing from your teammates.

It would also be a good idea to add in some tips that can improve the players’ health, such as taking vitamins, drinking plenty of water and having adequate sleep. After all, prevention will always be better than cure. Aside from these things, your curated handbook can also lay out the guidelines and protocols you wish to implement if ever one of the players (or someone in their family) exhibits symptoms or contracts the virus. While the specifics can be set by you and the other stakeholders involved in the management of your sports club, the advice released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is for the whole family to self-isolate, rest, take plenty of fluids and keep a close eye on how they feel. It would also be a good idea to task those who are under investigation or monitoring to get tested before being welcomed back into the club.

Creating a task force to monitor the pandemic

Another league you can take inspiration from is Major League Soccer (MLS). When the pandemic started creating headlines all throughout the country, the MLS decided to create a task force that would monitor the pandemic. Doing the same for your team can spell a lot of benefits. A small task force will not only help you and your team stay up to date with the latest developments regarding the ongoing crisis but also help your team abide by the regulations and protocols set by your local public health officials. In the unfortunate event that someone in the club tests positive and it becomes necessary for your very own task force to work with local health officials, make sure that your team practices transparency on every level. Meaning to say, relevant individuals within the club or related to the club are well-aware of the task force's plan to coordinate with local authorities.

Encouraging everyone to get vaccinated

Now that a significant number of companies such as Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are in the final steps of finally rolling out vaccines, it would be ideal for your club to have everyone vaccinated. As explained by the World Health Organization, although the vaccines won't prevent people from contracting the disease, they will help increase the body's immunity against the disease and make it more difficult for the virus to spread — thereby decreasing the pandemic's fatality rate. If someone in your club can't be vaccinated for medical and other equally important reasons, the best course of action would still be to encourage as many club members as you can to get vaccinated. This way, your club can enjoy the benefits of herd immunity.

The world of sports has been completely changed by the pandemic. In order for your team to thrive and live through these trying times, it is imperative for you to employ new practices that will forward safety in varying forms. These practices can include making the most out of technology, issuing a handbook for each player, creating a task force for pandemic monitoring and limiting old practices and building new ones.