The pandemic changed many things for high school sports, but getting back to “normal” is something that coaches want more than anything as schools start session again this fall. As they have made this transition back to having traditional sports seasons, many coaches note that the experience of weathering the pandemic has put their skills of aiding student athletes to the test. In the end, the skills coaches have developed from mentoring over the years have served as an asset in coping with the stresses brought on by a pandemic for their high school teams.
For Bob Gentilli, affectionately called “Coach G” by the Sugar River Raiders Boys Soccer team, it’s the little things that he notices that show a positive shift toward normalcy for his players this fall as he hopes to boot COVID-19 aside.
“Our bus rides are fun again — we don’t have to wear masks, but I still have to listen to their music!” jests Coach Gentilli.
Gentilli expresses that for him as a coach, it is nice to start the season with the freedom of not having COVID at the front of his mind. He, like many coaches, had gotten into a cycle of worrying about vaccinated players vs. non-vaccinated players and kids who don’t wear masks. It wasn’t fun to be practicing outdoors in 90 degree weather with masks, but as a coach, he did what was recommended to help everyone stay safe.
As Gentilli contemplates what he and his soccer players have been through he notes, “It is still in the back of our minds and I do remind my players from time to time about being conscientious about being smart and what it would mean if COVID affected our team.”
So this year, it feels more normal to be goal-oriented for his boys soccer players. Gentilli coaches by building a team first and foremost, which means knowing his players.
Gentilli reflects, “As a coach, my goal is and will always be about the relationships I have with my kids and the relationships they form on and off the field. We all can get caught up in the wins and losses and I make that mistake at times, but my best memories of my 32 years of coaching have been the bus rides, the emotions left on the field, and the alumni who see me and say, ‘Hey Coach G — do you remember…’ because that’s what is awesome.”
So his coach’s mantra of “being better today than we were yesterday” really makes the best of staying in the moment with his team and assists in building a successful season from incremental successes. The small things do matter if his players are going to get better, stronger, and wiser on the field as they try to score those goals against challenging teams.
For Gentilli, he has the expertise to know you don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to the challenges coaching soccer has brought his way over the years — NOT EVEN COVID!
Instead, his words of wisdom after a career of coaching are these:
“It’s not how many times we get hit, but rather, how hard we can get hit and keep moving forward. One step, one day, one practice one game at a time — moments are about opportunities, we need to seize them and add them to our journey.”
— Marie Perry is the Communications Director for the School District of Belleville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.