Long Beach State athletics assistant strength and conditioning coach Jackson Reed was once used to arriving at the Walter Pyramid weight room at 5 a.m. to train Beach athletes.
As the head trainer for six teams, Reed previously spent his weekdays on campus until all teams cycled through by 5:30 p.m. This was halted when the coronavirus pandemic forced college athletics to take a pause.
“Once COVID hit and we got shut down, there was no coming onto campus, no going into the weight room. It was a little bit of a scramble at first to figure out how we were going to structure getting our athletes the ability to train,” Reed said. “And not necessarily in the capacity of where they’re going to train, but how we are going to program for them and adjust the programs.”
Together with Laura Teel, director of sport performance, Reed worked to transition athletes to new workout plans that not only accommodate their individual needs, but the needs of the athletic department as well to keep them in competitive shape.
Utilizing Zoom, the trainers worked with athletes through the end of the spring 2020 semester and throughout the summer to assign workouts and coach their performance.
Teel and Reed together worked alongside coaches to create team-specific training plans that were distributed each week. As contact between trainers and athletes was limited to a digital-only format, athletes had to resort to sending trainers videos asking for feedback on their form.
Teel said that training “looks different for every athlete” right now as each player has different equipment at their disposal.
“Some have gym equipment at home, some are in another state where they’re not as restricted as people are here. Some have one set of dumbbells and a band, and some people have no equipment,” Teel said. “Our goal is always to train our muscles and our goal is to get a specific outcome from a training session, and how that looks like can be a million different variations.”
Both trainers have a background in what Reed calls “functional fitness,” meaning they focus on building an overall healthy lifestyle rather than just one muscle group or goal. This approach, Teel said, has been crucial in keeping athletes on track while away from campus.
“This is an opportunity to work on things that maybe we don’t have the time to during the year. You might have a little bit more to give in your workouts at home right now because you’re not having all these other life stressors that are just general that come with school and training,” Teel said. “So, although it’s not your ideal situation, you still have to look at ‘Wow, this gives me an opportunity to do this.’”
Initially approved on Sept. 15 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, basketball was slated to begin outdoor practice on Oct. 1. Due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in on-campus housing, that start date at the Beach was pushed back until Oct. 14.
Now that athletes are back to practice, Reed said they’re starting from scratch. Voluntary participation over the summer led a few athletes to take some time off, while some athletes didn’t have access to the same resources for conditioning as others.
“It is really exciting, actually. It’s nice to be back and get them moving and to see athletes just kind of back in their element,” Reed said. “We start everybody from basically square one to assess where they’re at and make sure we’re appropriately getting them back, so we’re not falling into any injury risk by trying to get them back too soon.”
Reed said that these first few weeks of practice are for “gauging where the team is as a whole” to figure out how to move forward.
Limited access to equipment, a change in scenery and strict regulations have all changed the way practice looks, but Reed said athletes are already finding their rhythm.
“We don’t have both of the teams on campus at the same time so that we’re able to have a proper flow to follow protocol,” Reed said.
Reed meets with the women’s basketball team in the morning, and Teel meets with the men’s at night. Each team is split into two separate groups, and athletes alternate between working with the trainer and working with the coach on basketball-specific drills.
Jordan Roberts, a senior guard for the men’s basketball team, said that although it has been hard being away from the day-to-day structure of practice, the work Teel has put into providing a sense of direction with her training plans has made a huge difference.
“I’m used to playing basketball, and I’ve been in a structured system for so long that I’m used to going to a place and then having them structure the workout for me,” Roberts said. “I’m used to working out with Laura and just knocking it out like that, so I decided to improvise from there.”
The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the first challenge the two trainers have faced together.
After completing his masters in exercise science in 2017 at CSULB, Reed was hired as a part-time assistant strength and conditioning coach to work alongside Teel, who was then working as the full-time assistant strength and conditioning coach.
Teel assumed her new role immediately in 2018, with Reed taking her former position. Normally a three-person team, the two were tasked with overseeing the training and development of all 19 teams on their own.
Although the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic have been difficult in their own right, Reed said their bumpy beginnings helped the two develop a stronger relationship and improve their adaptability.
“We’re very comfortable working with one another,” Reed said. “We know that if somewhere needs to be picked up a little bit of help, then we can rely on one another to do that and to be able to to work through it and to communicate and kind of take the reins and address whatever needs to be done.”
Teel said she feels that athletes keep her focused and able to move forward, despite the challenges she has faced the past few months.
“I decided [to become a trainer] because when I started training myself 15 years ago, I saw such a change in my life outside the gym, from the confidence I gained and what my body was able to do inside the gym. It drastically changed me,” Teel said. “It’s about seeing the change in the athletes and what it does, not just for their sport now, but where it can take them after their sport and those principles they have that can stay with them for the rest of their lives. I just think there’s so much growth that athletics offers individuals, so it’s really rewarding to be a part of it.”
Reed echoed Teel’s sentiments and said that when he first came on staff as the women’s beach volleyball coach, he was faced with a very different team than the one he sees now.
He said he has a “great relationship with the entire team,” including the coaching staff.
“I definitely feel like I’m doing my job, and I’m kind of changing lives for the better. Not just in athletic ability but teaching different disciplines and characteristics that are important for them,” Reed said. “I definitely feel like that’s one of the biggest shining moments and learning moments for myself that has been a great part of Long Beach State. It keeps me motivated to get in there, even if I’m a little groggy. When you have 15 of these young ladies coming in with passion and fire to be there and excited to meet, it makes my job that much more successful and much more fulfilling.”
For now, both Reed and Teel will continue getting the basketball program back up to speed as the future of a spring season schedule has not been finalized.
“My hope is that as soon as possible, we can get our athletes back on campus and start training with them all together,” Teel said. “In sport you learn to be very adaptable, [but] that’s my hope, so whatever that looks like, we’ll find a way to get it done.”
Jacob Powers, sports editor, contributed to the reporting of this article.