Just before the Houston Dash were set to ramp up their preseason schedule, COVID-19 brought everything to a standstill, including the National Women’s Soccer League. Now, after nearly two months of a league-wide training moratorium preventing the Dash from working out as a team, the players were finally able to return to Houston Sports Park on Wednesday, May 6, albeit under slightly different circumstances.
During the past few months of quarantine, Dash players have only been able to train by themselves or with their roommate at whatever available space they could find, including parks, fields, or even parking garages, and have been relying on virtual team-building activities to stay connected with their teammates. However, Wednesday finally gave the team a chance to engage in something they have been waiting for since March, returning to the training grounds.
“It feels really good to be back at HSP,” midfielder Christine Nairn said. “It has been what – two months? We have been champing at the bit to get back, so to see everyone from afar is kind of funny, but these are the necessary protocols we need to take right now. At least we are on the field and we are somewhat together, so we are going to take it and we are all happy to be out here.”
After participating in the workout session, Nairn commented on some of the various health precautions in place, noting the measures the Club has gone through to help protect its players during the uncertain times.
“Some of the measures we had to take today began with us arriving in 10-minute increments,” Nairn stated. “We had a time that we had to be here, which gave us enough time to check in, check our temperature and get to the field. We also had to wear [masks] to the field and off the field, so the Dash and Dynamo organization are doing everything they can to get us back on the field as safely and quickly as possible.”
Head coach James Clarkson, who was extremely pleased with the way his squad performed during their first few days of practice before the quarantine and hopes to see the form replicated soon, also acknowledged the importance of following protocol, especially as the first professional sports team in Houston to allow some form of training to resume.
“I think it’s very exciting, but it also means we’ve got to follow the protocol to do everything the right way,” Clarkson explained. “We can’t be cutting corners to take any shortcuts – this is the beginning of the process. Ultimately, this will hopefully lead us back to small group training and eventually team training. It is a process and the players are fully aware of it. It’s important that we do follow the processes and we put their safety first. We know this is going to take a little bit of time, but it is a good start.”
While the restart has been welcomed, Clarkson admitted he and his staff foresee some possible challenges arising in the future, depending on how long they cannot actually coach their players during workout sessions.
“We can’t do any coaching,” Clarkson admitted. “We’re allowed to set some fitness plans that they’ve had anyway that they can do, but we can’t do any on-field coaching with them. Every player has their individual development plan anyway, so what we’ve asked them to do is focus on that because that will help them improve in all aspects of the game with some of the qualities that they’ve got. This will be the challenge if it goes on for a couple of weeks – really keeping them engaged and focused to make it meaningful. Even on the physical side, it’s important we don’t overload them too early so that they’re not burned out when we actually go back. Managing the load and making sure we keep them engaged and excited is the important thing.”
All of that being said, while it was only day one of what could be a long journey back to a sense of normalcy, Clarkson couldn’t help but admit he was happy to finally be making steps back to the pitch again.
“It’s a small step forward, and hopefully this can accelerate to a stage where we can get back to team training,” Clarkson said. “The players were all really excited and they thoroughly enjoyed having an hour out there. They did a little bit of fitness and technical work and that was it for the day. Feedback has been positive and they’re following the process and protocol that was put in place for their protection. All in all, it was a good day.”