The only thing that seems certain is the uncertainty. While the entire world copes with the rapid spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, daily life and activities have been put on pause. One of the first things to be put on pause—understandably so—was school. By proxy that meant all sporting events and football related activities saw widespread cancellation and/or a long-term inconclusive hiatus.
As the man responsible for a large portion of spring and offseason related activities for the Florida Gators football team, Strength and Conditioning coach Nick Savage had to quickly and as efficiently as possible upturn his entire plan for the Gators.
“Once this all kind of started, my advice to them in our last team meeting was 'if we're going to do this, we're going to do it the right way.' And what I mean by that is practice proper sanitary things, the whole social distancing. I encouraged them to stay at their house and things like that,” explained Savage while speaking on a teleconference call with local beat reporters on Friday afternoon.
The Florida athletic areas save the academic center and training/medical room are completely closed until at least April 15. That means Savage himself is working from home. Now his focus has become keeping his team safe and healthy physically and mentally, even from afar.
“First and foremost as this kind of got going, our No. 1 priority in really all of this is obviously the health and safety of the student-athletes. And then the families. So we have a checklist of items that me and my staff do daily or weekly, whatever it may be in terms of communication.
“I talk to, I send out one team text a day, whether it's motivational or actually goal-oriented where they have to do something. And I call one to two position groups a day, basically, so I hear and see their face. I'll call them or I'll FaceTime them. I want to hear their voice or see their face at least once a week to make sure I'm not missing something through text message. Long-winded answer is obviously we text daily and then I will have multiple calls to a percentage of the athletes every single day and by the end of the week I have hit everyone.”
Once he’s certain their mental health is where it should be, Savage checks bookmarks and thresholds for their physical progress done in social isolation.
As explained by the Florida UAA, "per NCAA rules, any film review or instruction with teams is not permitted at this time, but coaches and strength/conditioning staff are allowed two hours of daily interaction with regard to team activities, as well as unlimited communication with student-athletes to check on their well-being. The interaction does not allow for monitoring physical activities, such as remotely watching or directing workouts, so no virtual coaching."
Since Savage and his staff can’t actually watch these workouts, he’s having them follow a blueprint that was drawn up when the NCAA and University of Florida first sent student athletes home.
*The UAA recommended all athletes return home but the dorms remain open for those that couldn’t. Savage said all but a few have returned home in recent weeks. Those still on campus are required to work out individually or with only their roommates, per the guidelines set for the whole team.
“I call it an umbrella, everything they’re going to be encountered with on a football field I need to make sure we take into account in terms of programming,” explains Savage.
“That’s from flexibility, mobility, strength training, conditioning, skill acquisition, which is their football skill, predominantly their position itself. We can kind of give them a blueprint of what they need to get done each day and obviously each week. Some things are done daily, other things are done once a week, sometimes twice a week. It’s dependent on the week and where they’re at. Everything that they would be expected to do on campus, for the most part physically speaking, I’m expecting them to do to some shape or form at their house, in their backyard, wherever they’re at away from everyone. The stuff we sent them home with was basically a generic workout if you have no equipment. Based on what you have, how big your house was or how big your yard was we could tweak it along the way.”
The tweaking has led to some creativity. Before their office was closed, the strength and conditioning staff videoed themselves doing all of the different workouts they were assigning to the team. Then the posted them on a private YouTube page with hyperlinks so each player could see what they were being asked to do. From there, Savage talks of each guys situation being different: some have full gyms in their house. Some are working with what they find in the yard. But its lead to each one doing what they can to be prepared in whatever way they can be for when football returns. And its provided moments of brevity for Savage as he watches what his players are using for workouts.
“Typically, it’s family members or pets. It’s been the best. We’ve had everything from buckets and hoses and potting plant pots you would put plants in. Family members, pets, we’ve had a whole bunch of things. It’s been refreshing.”
As has become a tradition for the Gators program of late, guys posted pictures and details of their gains and losses from offseason winter workouts. Sustaining that at home is possible, says Savage, but must be intentional.
“You can do enough at home as long as intensity and volume is high enough to at least maintain what you did. Now one thing they got to do really a good job of that goes away pretty quickly is obviously their conditioning level. Things like that. If they sit on the couch the whole time and don’t do any exercises and don’t run, that’s not a really good recipe. Through communication I don’t foresee that being a problem at this point.
“But a lot of it is a credit toward Coach Mullen and how he's built the program, because guys know, they've created routines and habits inside the building that now, at this point it remains the same and still in the same fashion even though they're outside the building. I think guys really bought into that.”
No one yet knows when student athletes will be allowed to return in full to the campus and more so, football related activities. Schools and the SEC will continue to monitor CDC guidance. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has offered several alternatives including a modified schedule for fall camp to compensate for the loss of spring practices. No matter the solution, Florida Gators Strength and Conditioning Coach Nick Savage promises one thing will remain the same.
“How me and my staff operate along with Coach Mullen, once again what is the safety and health of our student-athletes? When we do that in terms of training that’s our No. 1 priority, as well. Development and performance all comes behind the health and safety of student-athletes.”