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UB football strength coach adapts training, teaching methods amid pandemic

Matt Gildersleeve doesn’t look at his job as being complicated right now. The head strength and conditioning coach for the University at Buffalo football team takes a different perspective on working remotely with more than 100 football players in order to keep them in shape.

“It’s all perspective, but it’s almost like I’m getting a new career path,” Gildersleeve said. “During the year, you get used to a rhythm of how everything works, whether it’s in-season, during the off-season, in the summer, and you’re in a hamster wheel, in a way, of what you expect each day.

“But now, it is a whole new host of challenges, and that’s fun. You’re forced to get creative, you’re forced to overcommunicate and you’re forced to use technology as part of your job. It’s a new way of doing the job.”

Even though much has changed because of the Covid-19 outbreak, which forced UB to move to online coursework and cancelled spring football practices, the parameters of Gildersleeve’s job remain the same – to make sure UB’s football players are in shape. He usually does that through weight-training sessions, meetings with players or going through a workout schedule that incorporates strength and cardiovascular training.

Now, Gildersleeve has to adapt, and he has to ask UB’s players to adapt their training methods, whether it means emailing a workout schedule to a player instead of handing it to him, or making household items such as water jugs, duffel bags filled with rocks or bungee cords into strength-training apparatuses.

Gildersleeve even got into the game, so to speak. He posted a video on his Twitter account Thursday morning of his own workout, in which he incorporated the deck of his house and a large boulder.

But after UB moved to online learning due to the pandemic, many of UB’s football players left campus and went home to places like West Seneca, Maryland, South Florida or the West Coast. Gildersleeve and his strength and conditioning staff have written 105 different training programs for UB players, and have tailored them to each individual.

That, combined with the number of NCAA restrictions on the work that coaches can do during the offseason, has changed the logistics of Gildersleeve’s job.

“That’s the biggest challenge, doing your best to adapt to the rules, and making the best out of that,” Gildersleeve said.

Gildersleeve cannot track any sort of work the players do, nor can he mandate the tracking of workouts. He said the NCAA has banned administered Zoom sessions for training, as well as mandated check-ins.

And, Gildersleeve added, the NCAA has changed those rules at least three times in the last month.

“Those rules continue to evolve,” he said. “It’s a day-by-day approach you have to take.”

Gildersleeve can’t be there to make sure players are following routines and adhering to schedules. So it falls onto the players to institute accountability, for themselves and for their teammates.

He counts on UB’s 16 players who are offseason training captains to communicate those expectations to the rest of the team through a system of check-ins and phone calls.

“That’s the most important thing in being successful, is routine and schedule,” Gildersleeve said. “We have to make them understand the fact that they have to write out a schedule, a routine and stick with it. Success is in the routine. It’s trying to get them to stick with that routine. You can’t be there to mandate that they’re early or to make sure they’re on time, but you want to make sure that they build and have the habits.

“The message in that is consistency. Nothing changes. Get a routine, get a schedule and stick to it, just like you would here. This is where things come down to intrinsic motivation. You have to intrinsically get up and attack those things. We hammer that with our guys all the time, and I think that’s why we’re having success.”

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