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Drake Athletics Turns Tough Decisions into Creative Opportunities

Drake Athletics COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing life in nearly all ways, disrupting our “regular” schedules, pushing meetings to virtual platforms and creating opportunities for unique responses to a challenging situation. Drake Athletics is leaning into these disruptions while supporting student athletes, handling difficult decisions and some disappointments, and simultaneously looking ahead to meet whatever may come. On Friday, May 1 Michael Adamire, the voice of Drake University men’s basketball team and director of Drake sports media, moderated a conversation with Brian Hardin, the Drake Athletics director; Todd Stepsis, Drake’s head football coach; and Jennie Barancyzk, the women’s basketball coach at Drake.

Spring Athletics

Brian discussed the initial decisions made to cancel spring sports seasons, most notably the women’s basketball season. He touched on how difficult the decision-making process was in the beginning knowing some of the decisions were disappointing for student athletes. For his staff, Brian set five areas to excel in:

  1. Setting a Routine — maintaining regular, healthy daily habits is important both in times of social distancing and in transitioning back to a more “regular” work life
  2. Overcommunicating — coaches and student athletes cannot communicate enough
  3. Establishing Expectations — amid a lot of uncertainty it’s important for there to be clear expectations for both coaches and athletes, understanding the work that must get done is critical
  4. Reevaluating — while the situation is not ideal, an opportunity exists to look at current workflows and strategies and adjust or change direction where appropriate
  5. Being Human — understand everyone is going through an unknown situation, and it’s important to appreciate and acknowledge everyone will handle it in different ways

Drake Football

As the head coach of a large team of staff and players, Todd discussed the importance of communication and creativity. Todd’s staff is working to maintain contact and further develop the team with a renewed focus on their physical, mental and emotional health. To remain in shape physically for next fall’s season, the athletes are expected to maintain strength training, oftentimes getting creative in using household items to lift in the absence of weights. Additionally, Todd has tapped into the alumni base to host webinars for the team, bringing in former athletes who now play in the NFL or players who went on to join the armed forces. These alumni spoke about how they developed toughness necessary to succeed in challenging career fields, how they developed as leaders and as followers and what they're doing now to remain sharp and in shape.

Drake Women’s Basketball

Jennie discussed the abrupt end of the team’s season and how they’re preparing for next year. The Drake women’s basketball team was on its way to a fourth NCAA tournament appearance in four years, an extremely notable achievement, when the tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic. Jennie spoke about the importance of communication in the days following the decision as student athletes processed the end of the season while simultaneously transitioning to online classes and moving off campus. Several of the women on Jennie’s team are preparing to play professionally. This process was moved to virtual calls with agents and team representatives, quite a few of whom are abroad making it difficult to navigate with current travel restrictions. In addition to supporting student athletes who are graduating, Jennie’s staff is looking to next year’s team, working on individual skills and building team camaraderie while also wrapping up recruiting season — including high school seniors and transfer students — via video calls.

Future Sports at Drake

The entire panel talked through what the future of Drake athletics looks like and how they can prepare. Todd and Jennie credit the student athletes with staying focused and being creative. Athletes are relying on resources available to them at home, driveway basketball and lifting bags of soil, while also leaning on technology to stay in touch with each other and compete using various activity tracking apps or devices. The coaches are also doing their best to mentally develop athletes by hosting guest speakers, sending articles or videos to watch and discuss during team calls and also encouraging healthy and positive mindsets. Brian spoke specifically about motivation, remaining focused on the students and bettering all of the athletic programs. He says there’s a level of expectation and duty from him and the coaching staff at Drake to care for the students well, which is their current collective focus.

Finally, the panel discussed what they have learned in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that will impact their lives going forward. All three said they have a deeper appreciation for relationships, their family and children, as well as the Drake coaching staff and their student athletes. As the department continues to grapple with necessary changes, they continue to find ways to improve, stay consistent in their values and lean into difficulties knowing better things are coming. Watch the entire webinar below:


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You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is the economic and community development organization that serves Greater Des Moines (DSM), Iowa. Together with 23 Affiliate Chambers of Commerce, more than 6,500 Regional Business Members and more than 400 Investors, The Partnership drives economic growth with one voice, one mission and as one region. Through innovation, strategic planning and global collaboration, The Partnership grows opportunity, helps create jobs and promotes DSM as the best place to build a business, a career and a future. Learn more at DSMpartnership.com.