On a brisk Wednesday morning in early April, Doug Erlien sat down at his dining table for breakfast. Instead of flipping television channels or reading the newspaper, the coach of the Osseo girls’ basketball team opened his laptop for a chat with Billy Donovan, coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Erlien and hundreds of other coaches, tethered online from around the globe, didn’t know Donovan personally. But for the next hour it sure felt as if they did, as Donovan addressed numerous topics from game X’s and O’s to leadership to coaching philosophy.
Donovan’s talk was one of more than 200 that coachesclinic.com put together in the last month as part of its first foray into virtual coaching clinics, created in response to the shelter-in-place changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s just one way that high school coaches across the state and country have seen the coaching community come together since their sports were canceled because of COVID-19.
Along with watching as many as 12 seminars a day, Erlien said he keeps in constant contact with his players.
Since schools moved to distance learning, he takes part in weekly meetings with all Osseo coaches. The meetings are used mostly for coaches to check in on each other and help each other stay positive.
“The coaching fraternity, as a whole, has never been closer,” Erlien said.
Rockford softball coach Dawn Engebretson said she saw an explosion of resources for both coaches and players open up a week or two after the Minnesota State High School League postponed spring sports in late March.
“For the first couple weeks it was quiet and then suddenly it was like, boom, it was coming at you from all angles and it was awesome,” said Engebretson, president of the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association.
From virtual clinics put on by USA Softball to workout ideas from coaches on social media, Engebretson said the information has come in so fast it has almost been overwhelming.
“Everyone’s sharing things on Facebook and all the different social media platforms that we just grab everything,’’ she said. “For a while there was so much coming at you that it was almost too much.”
Trent Witz, director of basketball operations for Minneapolis North boys’ basketball, said in the past the staff at North has made an annual trip to the Final Four, where they took in basketball clinics. This year, with no NCAA tournament, they attended virtual coaching clinics, saving money and time.
“It’s been nice to have the resources there anytime you want, it’s not like you have to be at a certain place at certain time,” Witz said. “You can do it from the comfort of your own home, and most of them are free.”
Witz has also has used social media to connect with coaches throughout the country.
A connection with Jason Isaacson, who coaches Abraham Lincoln High School’s basketball team in Council Bluffs, Iowa, led to the Polars planning to host a game with Abraham Lincoln next season.
“That would have never happened unless this whole shutdown happened,” Witz said.
Dave Cresap, coach of the Perham boys’ basketball team, said he is used his down time to accumulate knowledge from the coaching clinics and to connect with coaches on social media. That includes people he’s never heard of, from fellow Minnesotans to coaches in New York and even Spain.
“We are going back and forth in e-mail with new ideas,” Cresap said. “To be able to communicate and share ideas has been an outstanding thing.”
The Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association launched a podcast, “Dugout Chatter,” in March that has allowed coaches across the state to stay connected, Eden Prairie coach John Buteyn said. He’s watched several video seminars from Stick & Ball TV on team defense and pitching mechanics.
“The upside to the huge disappointment in having no season is that our baseball coaching community has really taken the additional free time to put together some great professional development opportunities for each other,” Buteyn said.
Ted Cheesebrough, boys’ hockey coach at Henry Sibley, has seen an uptick in interaction among the hockey coaching community.
He said he has personally used this time to connect with more than 10 former alumni, watch USA Hockey coaching seminars, order next year’s equipment and read up on how he can improve his team’s power play.
“You never stop being a high school coach, so for me to have this pause, something that has never come along before, I thought what a great opportunity to try and do some of the things I always say I want to do, but was never afforded the time,” Cheesebrough said.
Paul Hodowanic (paul.hodowanic@ startribune.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.