When soccer practices were canceled due to COVID-19, Far Post Soccer Club director Todd Kingsbury was distraught. “I was in the dumps and a bit depressed when this all happened. I thought, what am I going to do?” Kingsbury, who grew up in Waitsfield, has been the executive director of Far Post Soccer Club, a club that offers year-round soccer opportunities for kids ages 6 to 19, since 2001.
Kingsbury's initial reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was to create at-home training plans for his teams. However, he quickly realized that a two-dimensional training plan wouldn’t be enough. “Just sending out a training plan, does that really make it personal? Does that make kids feel connected to their teammates, to their coach and to their club? Not really,” said Kingsbury.
To lift his spirits, a friend told Kingsbury, “This is the perfect time to be creative. You’d be surprised what you can do.” Inspired by this advice, Kingsbury reached into the magic hat of creativity and pulled out Zoom soccer practice.
Zoom practices (or video-chatting-based practices) allowed Kingsbury to fill the personal coaching void in the Far Post training plans. “We were putting together good content, but we were missing something,” said Kingsbury, who follows the coaching mantra “Kids don’t care that you know until they know that you care.”
“In the Zoom sessions, we’ve really been reconnecting with the kids. The kids have been working really hard,” said Kingsbury. In each Zoom session, players are instructed to bring a soccer ball, water and a good attitude. Coaches focus on teaching a variety of fitness and footwork practices that can be done indoors, without a teammate.
“We focus on three things: ball mastery, fast footwork and strength,” said Kingsbury. Ball mastery involves learning to use all different parts of the foot in controlling the ball. Footwork involves explosive agility exercises. Strength involves various bodyweight and core exercises. When Kinsgbury leads a practice, which typically lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, he follows along with the players. “It’s hard! I was drenched in sweat afterward!” he said.
Even though sessions are hard, players keep showing up. One Zoom session can attract up to 50 players. It’s the personal interaction and feedback that keeps drawing them, said Kingsbury. “It’s very important that the coach is paying attention to the players and giving them feedback.”
With Zoom, Kingsbury says he can watch players in real time and say something like, “Sadie, great technique! Keep it up!” Kingsbury noticed that when doing planks, kids will adjust their computers so you can actually see them holding it. “They love the feedback,” he said.
CONTINUE ZOOM PRACTICES
Even when the stay-at-home order is lifted, Kingsbury plans to continue holding Zoom practices. “We’ve seen some really great reactions. And for kids that want more, they’re going to get more,” said Kingsbury.
Additionally, Kingsbury wants to support players and parents that travel long distances to get to the Far Post facilities in Burlington. “We have kids that come from everywhere: Jeffersonville, Montpelier, Waitsfield, even Saranac, New York,” said Kingsbury. “They’re really committed, but that's a lot of driving.”
Parents are already noticing the benefits of their kid’s Zoom training. Kingsbury said, “A parent told me, ‘I don’t know what you said to my son, but thank you! He’s really working hard now!’”
Despite feeling dejected at first, Kingsbury is now elated with the opportunities that technology has brought in this time of crisis, and that it will continue to bring afterward. “We can always use this technology to provide personal connection and to help deepen the training experience for the kids.”