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Coaching through COVID-19

Coach Cal recently offered insight into presidents, the team, and the schedule in the midst of a pandemic.

Aaron Gershon - Sea of Blue

John Calipari recently shared with the Lexington Rotary Club* and offered a glimpse into the tough times everyone seems to be having these days.

The conversation with the club came one day after Election Day, so Coach Cal offered a bit of coaching advice for whichever candidate might be declared the winner. He stressed the need to remember and think about all we have in common, in doing so we find something to build on.

“It’s about let’s fix things,” Calipari said. “Nothing should separate us. No politics. No politician. No personality - We don’t have to agree. Just don’t be disagreeable.”

Good coaching advice for the president, congress, and leaders everywhere. It is also good coaching advice for most of us in life.

But beyond politics, people across the bluegrass are thinking about basketball, and the coach pulled back the curtain and gave us a sneak peek into the start of the season. What most are wondering is where the Kentucky Wildcats are today, just weeks before the season begins?

The coach said they are working hard, but he voiced the area of what might be the greatest concern for him right now at the start of the season - defense.

“We’re not very good defensively . . . ,” Calipari said. “We scrimmaged this week for the first time with officials, and defensively — if we’re going to be one of those teams — my teams have always been really good defensively.”

But there other things that threaten to distract as the season gets underway. As ready as Big Blue Nation is for the start of the basketball a season, the struggle is to continue to figure out how to work around the coronavirus which has impacted the globe. One of the ways the coach is working through it is with some good old fashioned flexibility.

There have already been tentative schedules created which started November 10th, then changed to November 20th, and now set and ready for November 25th. But every team on the schedule is having to deal with COVID-19, testing protocols, and quarantine restrictions. So as ready as it may seem, Cal is being realistic and is ready to change and replace opponents if he needs to do so.

Calipari summarized it this way - “So I have backups to the backups because we’ve got to get a season in.”

Of course there is also the whole limited attendance restrictions in place right now for Rupp Arena. Now firmly resting at 15 percent, Calipari understands that taking away the excitement of the crowds at Rupp takes away an advantage that up until this season, might have been easy to take for granted. Calipari also made it clear that he is not in charge of choosing which 3,000 fans will get to attend.

“Who’s picking those 3,000?” Calipari said. “It ain’t going to be me. Oh, they’ll put it on me. It ain’t going to be me.”

In other words, don’t blame Cal if you can’t get in. If you listen to the conversation you begin to realize that the distractions for the team are similar to the ones we all deal with every day. Politics, news cycles, coronavirus, social distancing, testing, COVID-19 rules, mandates, and learning to play defense against these things to make the offense click are all important.

Perhaps the best coaching lesson offered by Coach Cal was a reminder of how important it is to be flexible. We all must stay focused and attentive to our tasks but must be willing to be flexible in order to get there. This season that flexibility may be the key to stability.

(As you get ready for the season – mark your calendars for Nov. 20, the SEC Network will televise Big Blue Madness at 9 pm EST. This is a televised event only and tips off the 2020-21 seasons for the UK men’s and women’s basketball teams. Also as a side not, the event happens in Memorial Coliseum. It is the first Big Blue Madness in Memorial Coliseum since 2004.)

* Lexington Rotary Club, November 4th, Kentucky Coach John Calipari via video conference event.