For the IU men’s soccer program, it’s business as usual, and IU head coach Todd Yeagley won’t have it any other way. Whether the team is on the field together in Bloomington, or on a full-team video chat hundreds of miles apart, Yeagley sees the current climate as an opportunity, not a detriment.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing its stranglehold on all facets of the world, coaches across college soccer have turned to unorthodox coaching methods to keep players in shape while still building toward an uncertain 2020 season.
“I’m not as worried about what our guys are doing with the guidance that we can provide because they’re disciplined, they’re motivated, and they want to win,” Yeagley said in a teleconference on Friday afternoon.
What was once a structured, rigorous practice schedule headed by one of the most decorated soccer coaches in Division I history has since become unfeasible. In its place are now weekly Kahoot! quizzes, personal at-home workouts and daily video chats.
But IU’s coaching staff knows there’s only so much they can do virtually, which shifts an extreme amount of accountability squarely on the shoulders of each player.
Yeagley said he isn’t concerned about his team staying on track.
”I don’t feel physically that they are not going to be prepared,” he said. “It’s really that challenge of, now how do you do that with the physical demand of competing against someone? I don’t think we need a heck of a lot of time to get that back.”
Even as the Hoosiers look to replace three key starters from last season’s Big Ten title team in defenders Jack Maher and Simon Waever and midfielder Aidan Morris, it’s that high-level accountability that has kept the program among the nation’s best.
To maintain its elite status, IU has had to preserve its powerhouse presence throughout the recruiting landscape.
This season, as Yeagley welcomes the No. 1-ranked recruiting class for the second-straight year according to Top Drawer Soccer, the expectations of discipline and a winning culture remain the same.
"No one's given anything, and they know that,” he said. “But we feel some of these players can give us some minutes.”
Incoming junior transfers Callum Stretch, a former Denver University defender, and Nyk Sessock, a former University of Pittsburgh defender, should provide an immediate boost to IU’s back line defense. They both bring two years of collegiate experience and accolades.
However, with six freshmen signed to IU’s 2020 recruiting class, the time away from campus due to the coronavirus could be costly. Top-ranked recruits Kyle Folds and Emerson Nieto were expected to compete for playing time in the midfield, but the loss of crucial training in the summer could hinder their readiness for the fall season.
“Last year, we had to get those freshmen on to the team, we just had to,” Yeagley said. “It’s now on who can fill some gaps, and a lot of it will be not necessarily having them ready, but it’s a bonus if they are.”
There’s no telling how much development and instruction will be needed for IU’s newest recruits once teams are allowed back on campus. Some could remain largely unaffected, others might find their development significantly hampered.
As coaches continue to find ways to lead their programs from afar and mitigate any potential issues, spurts of doubt and worry might enter the subconscious of many.
But for Yeagley, the uncertainty begins and ends with a single, concise question.
“How much discipline does your group have to be ready?” he said.
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