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Connecting the Community

Coaching and performance science students gain real-life teaching experience

icons illustrating distance education

On Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. athletic coaching education seniors Charles Teeter and John Craig wait to greet their student athletes for a soccer practice session over Zoom. They revisit soccer drills taught from the past week, demonstrate new ones through PowerPoints and YouTube clips and oversee drills that student-athletes perform with their families so they can practice during the week on their own. This virtual approach has allowed ACE 488 students to maintain their connection with the community during the pandemic.

Through the 2021 spring semester, the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences Adapted Physical Activity practicum invited children and adults with disabilities to join weekly virtual instruction.

The students connected to the community by conducting virtual adapted fitness classes and soccer practices through Zoom. The coaching and performance science students were enrolled in the ACE 488 course, instructed by Samantha Ross, CPASS assistant professor.

These student coached sessions involved PE lessons, movement and soccer practice, supervised by graduate assistants. Students would plan their session schedule early in the week and implement it during the virtual session, taking note for improvements that they would adapt accordingly throughout the program. Teeter and Craig designed and lead synchronous soccer practices to a group of 6- to 12-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder. Other students led fitness activities for young, 15-25-years-old with disabilities.

An illustration showing multiple icons representing distance ed and soccer coaching

Taking on Supervisory Roles

Graduate assistant Chloe Simpson supervised student-coaches Charles Teeter and John Craig as they conducted weekly virtual soccer practices with children with autism, ages 6 through 11.

“On Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Charles and John and I excitedly waited for the athletes to pop up on our screens with cheerful greetings,” Simpson said. “They worked hard in the beginning of the term to build a PowerPoint and routine to support teaching soccer over Zoom. Each week they revised the established PowerPoint routine with new skills and activities. Over the course of the eight practices, athletes learned dribbling, passing, shooting, throw-ins, positioning and sportsmanship.”

The student-coaches’ presentations included diagrams explaining specific actions and included YouTube videos that demonstrated the action in motion. This helped students visualize the exercise during the virtual practice session. They then would practice the skill on their own throughout the week. To ensure retention, coaches make sure to include repetition and deeper explanation throughout their practice.

“We focused on reviewing the previous week’s skill before teaching them a new skill,” Teeter said when describing the session. “One of my favorite moments from this semester was when one of my athletes was able to correctly name all four of the basic positions in soccer without assistance from the PowerPoint’s review slide. Watching his face light up and seeing how happy he was after I told him that he correctly named all four positions was a moment that I will never forget.”

Even with distance, student-coaches built deep connections with their athletes, engaging them through adapted teaching and establishing a helpful learning environment.

“The coaches set a goal for athletes to provide positive praise or encouragement to peers during practice which came naturally to this group of athletes who were excited to celebrate their peers’ and the coaches’ achievements,” Simpson said.

This environment of support and inclusion involved coaching student-athletes’ family members. The unique challenges of teaching a team sport like soccer through virtual programming required unique solutions.

“Since our practices involved Zoom calls, we have had to adjust many of the drills and games that we select each week so that they are still practicing the desired skill but require little to no assistance from a teammate,” Teeter said. “Thankfully, the families of these athletes have no issues assisting us and often participate alongside their athlete.”

Zoom call presentation with coach charles and coach john
An example of a Zoom soccer lesson slide introduces Coach Charles and Coach John to students. 
Soccer moves being explained via a zoom presentation
A Zoom soccer lesson slide explains skills involving dribbling and passing in soccer.

A Unique Connection

A different group of ACE 488 student-coaches provided peer-mentored physical activity to WVU Country Road students. CPASS graduate assistants Caileigh Apicella and Kayla Abrahamson served as supervisors for ACE 488 students Zachary Capwell and Lindsey Wilson. Capwell and Wilson taught virtual 45-minute fitness sessions to young adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities enrolled in career education and training through the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

Apicella says that working through the pandemic involved a learning curve. “Some of the challenges have been not helping the students in a more hands-on way,” she said.

However, coaches rose to the occasion, creating plans for the virtual sessions that successfully introduced and demonstrated new exercises for students to practice. “They really enjoy what Zach and Lindsey are doing for them, teaching them new exercises and movements they can do on their own at home, and/or at WVU when they possibly come to school here,” Apicella said.

“Although everyone involved would have probably preferred in-person meetings, switching to virtual programming offered a challenge and learning opportunity for the graduate supervisors, coaches and athletes,” Abrahamson said.

Abrahamson says that the extra hurdles caused by the pandemic and its virtual requirements ensured that the students learned best practices of the coaching process, using flexibility in their approach to teach physical activity. The partnership with Country Roads allowed students to create lesson plans for various athletes.

“ACE students are provided with the opportunity to teach a group of athletes with diverse needs. They are learning how to adapt and make accommodations for people with disabilities in a physical activity setting. The Country Roads athletes are receiving an opportunity to be active and socialize with others,” she added.

“The peer-mentored physical activity offered a unique opportunity to enhance the WVU student experience, a central goal of the Country Roads program,” Ross said.

The virtual learning environment enabled a connection to grow between the student coaches and athletes. “My favorite part of supervising this practicum experience was witnessing the relationship building between the athletes and coaches,” Abrahamson said. “Each week, the athletes were excited to see their coaches and spend just 45 minutes with them. By the end of the semester, they were hoping they could have more time with the coaches and are already looking forward to new opportunities in the fall to work with student coaches again.”

During the fall 2021 semester, Country Roads students are continuing to develop these relationships through peer-mentored physical activity sessions at the WVU Student Recreation Center with kinesiology and physical education students who are enrolled in PET 276 with Ross.

Student climbing rock wall with assistance from CPASS students
CPASS students and Country Roads athletes participated in rock climbing activities.
Students fumbling for a beep ball while wearing blinders
CPASS students and Country Roads athletes learned beep ball skills. 

Working Virtually

Though coaching physical activities virtually was difficult, it invited ACE 488 students to be creative in their exercise plans and build a model of teaching that worked on the individual level.

“The coaches have done an outstanding job overcoming the challenges of coaching virtual soccer practice and have grown each week,” Simpson said. “They have been responsive to athletes’ individual needs and creative in modifying their lesson to support each athlete’s learning.”

Teeter says that diagrams and YouTube videos demonstrating action and family involvement were essential to the teaching process, noting these elements worked as a support system to help his coaching, allowing athletes to successfully practice skills on their own. He acknowledged faculty member Samantha Ross and graduate assistant Chloe Simpson for their support. “I do not believe that we could have held as successful of a program as we have without the constant help they have provided,” he said.

The virtual class has been positive through the creativity of the student coaches’ planning, support of the ACE 488 supervisors, engagement from families and partnerships with Country Roads community. “I would like to extend my thanks to all participating families and Country Roads students for joining our virtual physical activity program and supporting this opportunity for ACE 488 student-coaches. This was an invaluable experience that prepares student-coaches to provide inclusive adapted physical activity opportunities in their further professions and communities,” Ross said.

“I’m incredibly proud of Coach Charles and Coach John’s commitment to being excellent coaches this term,” Simpson said. “They’ve worked hard to meet deadlines and create lesson plans that benefit all athletes’ learning. The athletes adore them and watching their enthusiasm and excitement has been a joy.”

Jumping jacks and star jumps as part of zoom presentaiton
A Zoom presentation incorporated jumping jacks physical activities. 
A screenshot from a zoom call explaining warmup exercises
A Zoom presentation explains warmup basics.
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