One way to get through adversity is look on the bright side and Shippensburg University strength and conditioning coach Dennis Kerstetter is taking that lesson to heart.
Kerstetter enters his second year as a member of the SU athletics staff. It is easy to say that he never imagined he would find himself and his athletes in a situation like this.
This semester presented a lot of change for Kerstetter. He said not only has the weight room changed but his coaching style has changed as well.
With social distancing guidelines in place, Kerstetter and his staff have received extra space for the weight room. In Heiges Field House, racquetball courts are now functioning lifting areas. With the extra space, it allows teams to perform proper workouts while staying socially distant.
The changes do not stop there. Before entering the weight room, all student athletes are required to complete a daily COVID-19 coronavirus questionnaire. If the questionnaire is not complete, athletes are prohibited from working out.
When it comes to his style of coaching, Kerstetter likes his athletes to have a “free flow” atmosphere in the weight room. But during a pandemic, that simply is not plausible.
According to Kerstetter, all athletes have been placed in assigned areas for their workouts. This way, if a player were to test positive for the coronavirus, the staff could help the university with its contact tracing process and alert those who could have come in contact with the virus. It is not the ideal routine, but it is better than no weight room at all.
“If our teams are struggling or are having a bad day, I remind them of the what-ifs,” Kerstetter said. “I say, hey, we’re open, and we got to remind ourselves that we’re one of the lucky ones. So many other PASSHE and PSAC schools remain closed, but we still get to be out here as a team and work together and there’s nothing better than that.”
By keeping that positive mindset, Kerstetter notices other changes for the greater good. While it is still difficult to be without sports this fall, Kerstetter said it has presented him with a new opportunity that he may never get again in his coaching career.
Typically, Kerstetter worries about fall athletes due to their continuous sporting events. But without any games in the near future, it has allowed him to train every sport in one off-season.
“When it comes to strength and conditioning it’s really all about managing our athletes stress,” Kerstetter said. “So, with no play, spring ball, or offseason games occurring, it takes a lot of pressure off me not having to worry about risk of injury or overworking our players.”
Not only have all the changes of a pandemic world affected Kerstetter and his staff but the student-athletes themselves were required to cope with the new environment.
Kerstetter said in the beginning of all the changes, he noticed some athletes were struggling with the new normal. The normal programming Kerstetter runs was delayed at the beginning of the semester to confirm all compliance checks were completed. For a student-athlete who is used to a specific routine, one small change can be a huge difference.
However, after the small bump in the road, Kerstetter sees the strides his athletes are making as well as their ability to adapt to the unusual situation they find themselves in.
“I could tell it was definitely hard for some of them in the beginning. Having that structure that they’re used to, taken away from them for a bit is extremely difficult,” Kerstetter said. “But once we got back in the weight room and were together again, I could see the positive attitude all of them continue to keep and that’s crucial during a time like this.”
On the other hand, student athletes have taken note of Kerstetter’s dedication toward them. They realize while this time has been difficult for them, they cannot fathom the number of hours and days their coach has put in to give them the best experience possible in lieu of the current restrictions.
“It means a lot that Coach K cares so much about his athletes and that he has done everything in his power to get us back in the weight room this semester,” senior swimmer Hunter Keck said. “He is the first lifting coach in my four years that has stayed longer than a year, and I can tell he is truly dedicated to the athletes of Shippensburg University.”
Senior track and field runner Michael Lingard added, “Day in and day out Coach K never fails to impress. When there doesn’t seem to be a way, he finds one. He goes above and beyond for the student athletes and he’s more than appreciated by all of us.”
With the rest of the fall semester still in question, Kerstetter plans to keep a positive attitude, take everything one day at a time and focus on what he personally can control.
“I see myself as an eternal optimist,” Kerstetter said. “If I home in on the things I can control and continue to urge our athletes to be as smart, safe, and positive as possible, we can keep things rolling and continue to do what we’re doing.”