IMG Academy's journey towards a 2020 soccer season (2023)

September 4, 2020

  • IMG Academy's journey towards a 2020 soccer season (1)

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A week before the IMG Academy season opener, Bobby Acosta walked slowly across the football field, reflecting on how far he and his team had come in recent months.

Alone with his thoughts, Acosta, IMG's new soccer coach, was moved to tears as he stepped onto the field reflecting on how far his team had come to step onto the field and play soccer on Friday.

Acosta knew there would be challenges when he accepted the coaching job on January 30. The Bradenton, Florida boarding school brings in some of the best soccer recruits from across the country to build its national team and travels across the country on a highly competitive schedule. But he could never imagine what would happen to him one day.coronavirus pandemicblow.

"I took the job, we started to really embrace our new vision, our new philosophy," Acosta said. "The kids shopped quickly and then we went on spring break on March 13 and that was the last we'd seen the kids for months."

Acosta had college-level experience coaching at Syracuse, Bucknell and Cornell, but none of those stints really prepared him for the next few months. Heading into soccer season, the school completely overhauled its safety protocols to keep 140 soccer players from all corners of the country safe once on campus. And as a program, IMG has not reported any positive cases and has only had two injuries and a few reports of stomach issues not related to COVID-19.

With a new coach, the players knew little about what the offense or defense would be like, let alone what would happen to the season. The administration and training team developed a four-week virtual learning program that included a virtual classroom and virtual driving range. All the players believed that.

The four-week program included positional meetings, all conducted via videoconference. The team practiced online as Acosta read game scripts while his players tried to learn in front of a screen.

“The kids performed at their house in the backyard. Some kids didn't have equipment, so they used a shoebox as a ball,” Acosta said. “It started at four weeks and then went to eight weeks. I think it took us 12 weeks to be ready for the return of the children."

(Video) Global Soccer Development hosts IMG Academy Pre-Season in Germany

Staff and coaches prepared to have to communicate virtually throughout the spring and summer, but the real test came when athletes had to return to campus.

IMG is home to several sports teams, not just soccer, so it had to find a way to bring everyone back safely and ensure that safety when they returned to campus.

The coaches reviewed the protocols and simulated how a return would work so the academy could make adjustments before the players return in July.

Many parents across the country were wondering if sending their children to the state of Florida was still a good decision. They couldn't see how the IMG plans would work in person, so it was up to the trainers to develop that process.

"I called the parents maybe two days before the kids arrived and I said, 'Are you sure, Coach? Is everything safe?'" Acosta said. "I said, 'Mom and Dad, I'd bring my own kids. here because it's safe .', and a week later my children came down. I said if I can bring my own children here it's safe.

offensive linemanGregor CrippenEntering his third season at IMG, he was quarantined for two weeks before arriving on campus on July 7. And when he was there, the difference was noticeable.

For the past two years, he and his family have been allowed into the dormitories to drop him off and help him get settled. That year, his family was only allowed inside buildings and dormitories, not inside. They took their things to the door, said their goodbyes, and waited for security.

So did Crippen's roommate, Tyler Booker, the offensive lineman. He and his family took the same precautions, and according to his father William, the family made sure to wear masks every step of the way until Tyler arrived at IMG. William even kept Tyler in his hotel room before he left and went to the grocery store alone just to make sure Tyler wasn't exposed to anyone before his arrival in July.

(Video) IMG Academy 2019-2020 Girls Soccer Banquet

"When I dropped him off, I put him down on the sidewalk and they had strollers for them because they didn't want the parents going into the building," William said. "They had everything under lock and key, they really wanted these kids to be safe and make sure no one got sick."

IMG is affiliated with Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and the school has a health services building on campus with full access to Johns Hopkins nurses. All student-athletes who arrived on campus in July were tested for symptoms of COVID-19 and will be tested nightly. (If someone has symptoms, they are brought to Johns Hopkins Health Services and tested.) After the initial evaluation, the players went to the dormitories and were assigned a roommate, two athletes to a room.

In the past, players could choose their roommate. But as part of the new protocols, the school is keeping players in groups assigned to their positions. Offensive linemen stayed in a group with other offensive linemen, quarterbacks with running backs, and so on.

These pods aren't just for residential use, either. When the players go to team meetings, they are separated by groups. When they eat, they go with their pod. The team is separated by two floors in dormitories, and players cannot move to the opposite floor where their pod lives.

"All the quarterbacks are with the quarterbacks, in case there's something like a stomach flu or someone has symptoms, they're just going to separate the quarterbacks from everyone else," the running back said.J. J. McCarthycalled. "We're doing our best because we're all 15-18 year olds, so it's hard not to be a close relative, but we're trying to do our best."

"When I dropped it off, I put it down on the sidewalk and they had strollers for them because they didn't want the parents coming into the building. They had everything locked up, they really wanted to keep these kids safe and make sure no one got sick."William Booker, Tyler Bookers Vater

To help his players follow these protocols and make sure everyone took them seriously, Acosta himself stayed in the dorms to show his players just how serious he was. If they wanted a season to happen, they had to go through the steps to make it happen.

For the first few weeks back on campus, parents were not allowed in and students were not allowed out. While it can't create an actual bubble, as some employees live off campus and go home every night, it's as close to a bubble as possible to ensure athletes aren't exposed to the outside.

"My wife and I used Wal-Mart to ship [Greg's] stuff because they needed more water, snacks and snacks," said Greg Crippen's father, Tom. "If you don't want to go to the school store, we usually send them things because the cafeteria closes after 6 or 7, so she must have something after that."


Parents can now pick up their children off campus, but must remain outside the buildings when picking them up.

Those first few weeks of adjusting to the new way of life — practicing with masks on, social distancing in practices and dormitories, and the fear of waiting for everyone to be safe — took a heavy toll on the athletes. It was much more than they were used to and they had no parents to trust.

But as they stayed in their pods and got through it together, players felt a greater sense of community and brotherhood. They work together as a team off the field to make sure they can play on the field and that has brought them closer together.

“Our day is starting to feel a little bit more normal because the whole team is on campus, so right now there isn't a lot of fear of people having the virus,” Booker said. "Those two weeks are over now, so I don't want to say things are more relaxed, but we're getting used to it."

Now the players walk away without a coach reminding them. When helmets are removed in practice, they put on face masks or neck seals to make sure their face is covered. It's almost become part of their uniform now, as they've come to keep their masks handy.

All of that work, the qualifying, the pods, the security measures, is to make sure they make it to the season. Originally from Illinois and in his first season at IMG, McCarthy wanted to make sure the stress of leaving his family, visiting IMG and going through such strict security procedures was not wasted.

There were doubts about whether or not they would play this season, mainly due to decisions outside the State. Then there were questions about how they would work on their schedule. They have road games in Texas, Tennessee and the season opener on Friday at Venice High School in Venice, Florida, just under an hour's drive from the IMG campus.

(Video) THE END...

The team will travel to Venice on three buses and will try to do the same for Tennessee when they play Ravenwood in Brentwood. However, they will need to fly to Texas for their Oct. 10 game against Duncanville, which will pose some additional challenges in ensuring the team's safety.

However, reaching this season opener doesn't mean they're out of the woods or can relax. The players know that we still have a difficult road ahead of us to get through the season smoothly. And everyone expects the sacrifices to be worth it.

“What I tell our kids is that every week is championship week. This can stop us at any time of the year, so take the first game, embrace it and let's really sell it because you don't know if it's coming next week," Acosta said. "If we wake up tomorrow, we're blessed to have this day and we're going to win that day. A few months ago, people were telling us there was no way to have more than 100 kids on a team and make it through a season, and we did it."


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