Nearly two months ago, social distancing practices began and life changed dramatically for people all across the country. That includes Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook. With absence of competition and practice, he’s had to find new ways to challenge himself.
“Each day has been a little bit different,” Cook told Hail Varsity. “The main thing I’m trying to do each day is figure out how to win the day. Get a great workout in, take a long walk and do something creative — cooking, cleaning, get something accomplished. I feel better when I’ve accomplished something, and then the creative part, just trying to be creative with our team.”
He’s found ways to pass the time, but at his core he’s still a coach, and the separation from his team has been as difficult as anything else.
“There’s also an underlying sense of I wish we were in the gym, I miss being around our players, I miss coaching, I miss teaching, I miss training,” Cook said. “I’m sure the players feel the same way. Thats the part that you try not to think about, but it hits me a couple times a day.”
Cook said his team is still in Lincoln finishing out the semester, but the university training facilities are closed and players are on their own as far as finding ways to work out.
“I don’t know how good of shape our players are staying in; I have no idea,” Cook said. “They’ve been given a program. I do know this — you cannot replicate what we would be doing right now with training and lifting and working out with our strength coach at home. Whenever we can start back, it’s going to be really interesting to see where we’re at physically. I’m confident they’re working hard and doing stuff, but you just can’t replicate it on your own. We shared a great story with them — you go and work out by yourself, OK, you’ll get a nice workout; you go with somebody else it’s going to push you, you’re going to run faster, jumper higher, work harder. They’re kind of working out by themselves right now, so it’s hard.”
The NCAA now allows coaches to meet digitally with players for up to eight hours per week, but at this point Cook doesn’t see value in taking full advantage of that with such an experienced team.
“Right now, we’re not trying to overdo it with them on Zoom,” Cook said. “We’re not trying to do too much with them. They know what we have to do and they know what’s out in front of us. Right now it’s just to focus on school. We Zoom three times a week, usually we go for an hour, maybe less. We get in small groups, we talk about some things, we show them some video, some things to think about and we discuss it and check in and give them updates — we really don’t have many updates — and send them on their way.”
Cook’s main goal at this point is making sure his players finish the semester strong. He understands how difficult online learning can be for some, though the students have reached the home stretch with finals this week.
Currently, Cook has told his players to be ready for a regular summer schedule. Once they complete their finals, they get to head home for the rest of May — equipped with a modified workout to do on their own that Cook gives them every year — before returning to campus in June to get back to work. On Monday, the Big Ten extending its suspension of all organized team activities through June 1. The Big Ten will reevaluate at that point, as will Cook.
“As a leader, I have to keep creating a mindset for our team,” Cook said. “Here’s what’s next, so mentally prepare for that. Take your break in May like we always do, assume we’re going to come back like our normal schedule in June because they’re all going to take summer school. Let’s hope that that’s possible. Now, if we have to move it again we move it again.
“I’ve also prepared them for we may not have a normal season, we may not start on time, we may start later. Who knows, we might be moving to spring. There are all these other possibilities, but I try to keep them just worried about today and, ‘here we go the next two weeks right now, this is where our focus is now is school, and then we go from there.”
Cook has been in regular contact with Nebraska’s performance team to plan for whatever kind of preseason the Huskers will have once players return to campus and teams are allowed to resume activities.
“The strength coaches and everybody will say six weeks would be ideal,” Cook said. “But we know that may not be reality. That would be ideal, but we just have to see how summer goes. Once we’re allowed to be back here working with our strength coach it will certainly count towards the six weeks. What I’m worried about is they say ‘OK, you’ve got three weeks, here we go.’ So everybody’s trying to get in volleyball shape, they’re trying to get in lifting shape, and that’s going to be a nightmare.”
Cook said his plan is to “err very cautiously” on assuming the players haven’t been able to do anything and will start with the basics in their preseason plan.
“The good thing is they’re phenomenal athletes, they’re in great shape, so they’ll build back up fast,” Cook said. “You just don’t want to get all excited and go overboard.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.