As actions were taken by MLS to try stop the spread of COVID-19, Atlanta United Academy Director Tony Annan had a plan ready to take care of the team’s 145 scholarship players. It was a unique challenge because the players in teams from U12 to U19 reside as far as San Diego and Richmond.
“Shut it down was the first thing,” he said.
Of most importance, none of the players have reported showing symptoms as of Thursday.
The academy is based out of the team’s training ground in Marietta. The teams play games all over the U.S. and sometimes in other countries. After shutting the academy down, which included making sure the players were back with their families in their homes, Annan sent staff home. They started using the remote connections to the players the team had started setting up two weeks before the league’s decision to postpone activities.
Setting up the connections was a result of foresight and communication.
Some of the academy staff, including Annan, are originally from Europe. Annan said in talking to their family and friends overseas during the past few weeks as positive cases of the coronavirus began to multiply, they felt something was going to happen in the U.S.
That feeling became more concrete when Academy Manager Matt Lawrey’s mother, who is a clinical microbiologist at Fauquier Medical Center in Virginia, shared a stark message: This thing isn’t pretend. It’s going to happen. Lawrey went to Annan and suggested the academy put together a plan to remotely work with the players.
The logistics weren’t difficult, as any parent who is home-schooling a student now knows. Each team was set up with a Google classroom. The players tap into the classroom. The coach for each age group is responsible for their teams. Each assistant is responsible for supporting the coach. Each coach is supposed to call each player once a week.
The curriculum was more difficult. After talking with counterparts at Liverpool, Everton and Wolverhampton in England’s Premier League, Annan wanted to compose elements that would keep the players engaged but not overwhelmed.
“You have to be careful not to overload them because they aren’t used to doing so much soccer work on the computer or projects away from the training ground,” he said.
The coaches decided to send weekly analysis projects of games, self-evaluation sessions and technical videos in which the players are supposed to complete physical challenges. The physical projects are designed to be done in small spaces for the players who can’t leave their homes or yards. The focus is on technical ability and maintaining endurance and improving strength.
“There’s tons they can do,” Annan said. “You Just need a small space and a ball to keep active.”
The coaches will also throw in fun challenges, such as trying to put a soccer ball through a basketball hoop.
The accountability to complete the tasks is mostly on the players.
“You find out a lot about your players because you find out who is really into it and who is not,” Annan said.
A few of Atlanta United’s players don’t have access to the internet. The coaches conduct weekly phone calls with each player. For those without internet, the coaches take extra time to explain to the player what is expected.
“Some players’ parents are struggling for work,” Annan said. “As an academy staff. We are offering to help get food. If they need supplies, we try to help with supplies.”
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