College Teams Adapt to Remote Practices

Like many teams, Temple Alert's practices have been restricted by their university. The team's leaders are pivoting to Zoom while looking ahead to the eventual return of on-field competition.

Screen-sharing during a Temple practice on Zoom.

Last spring, college ultimate abruptly came to a halt amidst the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and Canada. As the entire world scrambled to figure out what was permissible and safe, many college ultimate teams took their practices online. Some teams focused on physical conditioning while others just wanted to keep the team together as long as they could–until it was official that there would be no on-field conclusion to their season.

For the Temple University Men’s team, Alert, last season’s cancellation cut short a promising season. The team was on an upward trajectory reaching from years of struggling to make Regionals all the way to winning the East Penn conference in 2019.

Alert, which is not allowed by Temple University to do anything in person at this point, began hosting weekly practices on Zoom over the summer and is trying to keep the team together with an eye on being competitive the next time players can take the field.

“We knew that we wanted to keep systems in place, and that’s why we got into doing this online stuff. And also we wanted to keep the team together,” said Temple fifth year captain Brandon Lamberty. “Because if we can’t see each other for a full year, we’re never going to have any cohesion when we get back on the field. It’s really just been about having a positive outlook that we’ll see each other again and when we do we’ll be able to take it seriously.”

During a typical Zoom practice, Temple coaches–Brett Wall, Matt Hanna, and Bobby Roos–will teach one specific concept, like triangle marking or cutter continuation. Sometimes, groups of players will be asked to prepare a selection of clips from the teams’ games to highlight that concept. In a recent practice, the team integrated RISE UP instructional videos along with film clips from streamed games to demonstrate the marking technique being taught.

Lamberty makes sure to keep the sessions relatively short and focused.

“It was easy to start and for the first few weeks to keep it consistent, and as the semester has gone on, all of this extra stress has made it harder,” he said. “We realized that we had to limit expectations. If you have to show up to practice when it’s in person and play twice a week, it’s really easy to make it a set thing. But when you’re in Zoom all day and we want you to sit in another Zoom meeting, you have to be realistic. And that’s harder in reality than in theory, because you can say it’s only 45 minutes, but it’s 45 minutes at the end of your day which really weighs on people.”

Online practices are well attended, but Alert has struggled to recruit new team members without in-person events. Nationally, some teams that advertised Zoom meetings in their recruiting efforts earlier this fall have since been allowed limited in-person practices, though Temple remains entirely remote. Right now, the team is relying on returning players while hoping for an opportunity to even have a table at a club fair for potential rookies in the spring. In the meantime, Alert made and posted this recruitment video to the Temple Club Sports page in hopes of garnering some attention.

Some team members are able to throw with people they live with, but the team is not holding even unofficial gatherings in person. Nick LaRue, an alum, put together a strength program designed for players to stay in shape on their own.

Alert has taken this time away from competition to work on their program as a whole. Since June, the team has participated in racial equity talks by partnering with Temple’s women’s division team TUF. “Our institutional diversity office on campus…scheduled a session with our womxn’s team, and they invited our team to it,” Lamberty said, “so we got to do a big racial equity conversation that was guided by people who are more in tune or more aware of how to have those discussions than I would be.”

Aside from that partnership, Lamberty said, “we are now trying to figure out ways to build off of it and make it more consistent even if it is just within the teams and we don’t have that outside help,” so that the programs can be more aligned and to build a bigger social network for their players.

Aside from facilitating more connection between the two teams on campus, Alert is also restructuring its own internal organization to promote involvement from all players. “We want to do more and we have the time to look inward on who is in charge of what and who is leading those things,” said Lamberty. “We added some committees to help so that the VP isn’t doing all of the fundraising and the treasurer isn’t the only person handling money. We’re asking members of the team to help with those things so they feel more involved, and that’s definitely going to last into the future. If we didn’t have time to slow down and think about those things, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten there.”

Certainly, there are no college teams that are enjoying this pandemic layoff, but there are some which are making the best of it and creating lasting change like Temple is exemplifying.

While nobody knows when college teams will be playing meaningful games, those that are using this time to prepare and improve should see their efforts pay off when we return to something resembling pre-pandemic life. Lamberty said that the emphasis on film will stay with the team post-pandemic, and the ability to meet remotely might stick around too, instead of asking teammates to trek to the other side of campus late at night for team meetings.

Whether we see college championships in the spring, or competition is pushed back until 2021-2022, the teams that are using this time to improve hope to find themselves in a better position than they found themselves stuck in back in March.

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).



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