My Experience Coaching Football During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What it was like coaching high school football in 2020

“We did it.”

That was the first thing I said to my athletic director on the field Friday night. We had just completed our final game of the season. It was a disappointing year on the field, as we finished with a 2-6 record. But we had successfully played our entire season. No positive COVID-19 cases. No shutdowns.

With over 60 teams unable to play this weekend alone due to the virus, this was the most important victory we could have asked for in 2020.

How It Happened

I’d love to come on here and say that Allentown High School had some magic elixir to keep COVID away, but we were extremely fortunate in our circumstances.

Our school is an average size for this area, with around 1,200 students. Our football team, however, is quite small, with around 45 total student-athletes. That smaller size relative to other teams certainly helped to keep us safe.

Allentown and Millstone (an adjoining district for high school purposes) has plenty of farmland and well-spaced homes. It is middle to upper-middle class. There aren’t a lot of people living together in close quarters. Again, this puts us ahead of the curve. There is privilege baked into our success.

The regulations in New Jersey for how to run and organize practices and team activities were quite stringent (and obviously reasonable considering the circumstances). No more than five at a time in the locker room. Masks at all times when not participating in aerobic activity. Daily temperature and symptom checks. Limitations on game-day roster sizes.

But those regulations only matter inasmuch as they are enforced. I thought our coaching staff did a tremendous job of preaching the importance of following the rules, and our student-athletes — at least as much as one could reasonable expect of teenagers — bought in. I really have to credit our head coach for keeping us organized through all of the craziness and leading the charge on COVID prevention.

Even with all of this in mind, it would be foolish to say we didn’t get lucky along the way. Six of our eight opponents this season experienced some form of a shutdown, but the timing was always just right to not impact our health or eligibility to play.

Endless Doubts

“Are we sure we’re doing the right thing by being out here?”

I must have thought about that hundreds of times over the course of the season. Some of this is likely due to my naturally anxious temperament, but there were some clear and obvious concerns with playing football — a full-contact sport — during a pandemic. There were plenty of moments where I wasn’t sure if we could, or even should, get through our season.

I have to admit though, it was amazing being out there. Getting outside. Having something to distract from all the madness going on in our world. Football — really coaching in general — has always been an escape for me. That has certainly been needed more than ever in 2020.

It was great for the kids too. Our hybrid schooling schedule and virtual-only option for students has created a ton of additional screen-time for a generation that is already in front of them more than ever before. I know that they have been extremely restless since we were sent home back in March. Surely nobody needs football, but fun, outdoor activities are good! Sometimes it is just that simple.

But is all that reward worth the risk? Even with everything having gone well for us, I’m really not sure about the answer. The attitude surrounding the virus that permeates our culture is one of trying to do as much as possible in spite of it, rather than putting health and safety first. That is a culture I would rather not promote.

Whether it was right or not I’ll probably never know, but everything I do on the field is about creating an experience filled with some great life lessons and memories for these kids. Leaving the field after our final game, a thrilling 54-48 win, it was clear that we had at least achieved that in 2020.