Cougar athletes seize summer workout window

By Eric Erickson
Sports analysis

After the strangest school year students have ever experienced, including the cancellation of all spring sports, voluntary summer workouts for high school teams have actually brought back a bit of routine—albeit with intentional social distance.

Governor Tim Walz dialed back the restrictions on youth sports in June. Effective June 24, the Minnesota Department of Health expanded guidelines, allowing for youth teams to train in “pods” of up to 25 participants.

The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) has a window for coaches to conduct voluntary summer workouts for players in their programs. The MSHSL follows directives from the state as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Given that, school sports for the fall remain an uncertainty.

But with the governor’s green light for summer, the High School League lengthened its coaching window through Aug. 7, encouraging safe activity for motivated student athletes while it’s possible.

Como Park High School coaches across several sports seasons have seized this opportunity, setting up voluntary workout sessions. For many Cougars, being outside together with friends from school in a positive environment has been a blessing, providing a sense of normalcy during challenging times.

Boys’ soccer coach Jonah Fields and assistant coach Sunday Htoo have partnered to run trainings four days per week, with a variety of morning and evening sessions on the Como turf.

“The governor’s announcement that pod size could increase to 25 with competition permitted, opened up typical activities like small-sided play as well as possession and tactical games,” Fields said. “Being able to play actual soccer sure makes ‘summer workouts’ a lot more fun.”

For those wondering about social distancing—it’s happening. Just as soccer leagues around the world have resumed with precautions in place, youth and school teams are adjusting to rules requiring them to keep their distance when the ball isn’t in play.

“The kids have been terrific,” Fields said. “At times, they do need a reminder to socially distance. Otherwise, they work hard and appear to enjoy the opportunity to safely connect with school teammates.”

Other sports, like cross country running, lend themselves to natural social distancing. Team members spread out for dynamic stretching and routes and mileage are appropriately planned. In addition, runners in small groups head out around the lake and neighborhood, mindful of each other’s space and the rest of the community out exercising.

For an indoor sport like basketball, the same pod size rules apply. But new varsity girls coach Olanda England is happy to have her team outdoors as much as possible. Fitness runs around the lake are part of their conditioning, as well.

Coach England (who led the Como junior varsity girls for the past three seasons) says fun is the main focus this summer. For the hard working crew she has, that fun includes skills training, agility, conditioning and strength training.

“We have optional workouts Monday-Thursday with 10 to 15 girls coming each day,” England said. “The energy is great and really positive, so the biggest challenge is reminding the girls about social distancing when these young ladies see each other every day.”

As for football, Coach Kirby Scull is previewing what may be a hybrid model of education. He provides strength training for some at school and sends instructive videos to those who are more comfortable working out at home.

Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul.

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