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‘Zoom has been a lifeline’: How online video calls have kept UH athletics connected

A screenshot from one of UH athletics' three scheduled "Coaches Caravan" Zoom sessions that have allowed coaches and players from different sports to talk to fans. The final online meeting will be on May 21.

A screenshot from one of UH athletics’ three scheduled “Coaches Caravan” Zoom sessions that have allowed coaches and players from different sports to talk to fans. The final online meeting will be on May 21.

When the Houston men’s basketball team defeated the Memphis Tigers in the regular season finale in early March, no one, from the managers all the way up to head coach Kelvin Sampson, thought it would be the final game of the 2019-20 season.

The Cougars were preparing for the American Athletic Conference postseason tournament and had bigger aspirations with the NCAA Tournament around the corner.

During the same period, the Houston football team was over a week into their spring practices as the team was getting its first look of the roster for the 2020 season.

The swimming and diving team had a few athletes preparing to compete in the NCAA championship meets and the track and field team was not too far away from its national competitions, while the softball and baseball players were just beginning to get into the meat of their respective seasons.

The coronavirus pandemic caught the world by surprise, and UH athletes were no different.

Soon after the athletic events were canceled, UH switched to remote learning for the rest of the spring semester, and online meeting outlets, such as Zoom, Skype and FaceTime, became integral parts for all students, especially for the student-athletes.

“Zoom has been a huge lifeline,” said assistant men’s basketball coach Kellen Sampson during the first Coaches Caravan, which was done through a Zoom conference call last week. “If I had known, I would have doubled down on some Zoom stock.”

Coaches from all the different sports at the University have used this technology to stay in touch with their athletes.

“Every one of our coaches has done a great job touching base with our kids every other day (if not) daily,” athletic director Chris Pezman said during the first Coaches Caravan. “That was one of the first things we asked our coaches to do because you go from a very regimented life to all of a sudden you’re home and what do you do.”

While the entire situation has forced everyone to have to make adjustments, what tops the list is arguably the coaches themselves having to learn how to use video calls.

“I didn’t know what Zoom was a month go. Never heard of it,”  the older Sampson told The Cougar in April. “Every day someone is telling me I have something to Zoom. Zoom this, Zoom that.”

The online meetings have been utilized in many different ways by the University.

The most important of them all has been to let the coaches check in on their students and make sure they’re OK along with their families and loved ones.

Other uses have been to keep up with students’ academics, and even letting the strength and conditioning staff from the different programs show them some do-at-home workouts.

Both the basketball and football teams have also held conference calls with guest speakers to keep players engaged and have a chance to learn from the minds of the best at their respective sport.

“This a great time to learn,” Kelvin Sampson said during the second Coaches Caravan on Tuesday. “This isn’t a vacation. It’s time to work. Just because we aren’t in the office doesn’t mean you can’t do things to get better.”

Football head coach Dana Holgorsen has even used video technology to recruit players for the upcoming season. 

“Recruiting is a whole other animal.” Holgorsen said. “I think the student-athletes like it a little bit. The 18-year-olds are all about this FaceTime, Zooming thing. They are really good at it.”

While so far, the online meetings have not had to be about the specifics in football, the head coach is prepared to use Zoom to go into playbook virtually if needed.

“We have capabilities to do Zoom meetings strictly about football,” Holgorsen said.

The use of Zoom by the University is just a small window into the ever evolving world of technology. While the future of games and athletic competitions remain unknown, the teams at UH continue to be connected despite physically being separated.

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