The Texas women’s tennis team has not only been preparing for its first tournament next weekend in Fort Worth, but also adapting to Texas Athletics’ new COVID-19 safety procedures.
Texas Athletics released a men’s and women’s tennis student-athlete “Return to Campus” plan Aug. 15 that specifies steps being implemented to ensure the teams’ safety.
“Resocializing student-athletes on campus and resumption of team activities will require a phased approach with strict social and physical distancing, hygiene and disinfecting protocols, education and extensive medical surveillance,” the plan said.
One section of the plan discusses the “5 Health and Safety Pillars” for tennis student-athletes, which include culture, hygiene measures, screening, distancing and face coverings.
Howard Joffe, head women’s tennis coach, said the implementation of a 6-foot rule to maintain social distancing has forced the team to rethink how they gather.
“Biggest thing, if anything, is with respect to team meetings — it needs to generally be done outdoors or over Zoom,” Joffe said.
The traveling experience will be different for the athletes, who will take a bus to Fort Worth next weekend for the TCU Invitational. Instead of traveling in cars, the team will be using a bus “so the players can properly social distance,” Joffe said.
The tournament structure will also be different compared to previous tournaments to ensure player safety.
“A team arrives, they’ll practice, and then they’ll just show up on the court instead of just waiting around in common areas or locker rooms,” Joffe said.
With two tournaments set so far for the fall, the team is looking to not only compete for another Big 12 title, but also for the National Championship.
Joffe continues to use the same coaching style that has led the program to back-to-back Big 12 Championships.
One benefit of UT’s plan for student-athletes is that it allows coaches to work with athletes on a one-on-one basis for regular instruction as well as strength and conditioning exercises.
“Perfecting the introduction to structure has really been quite empowering for each member of the team … I think we’ve gained a lot on each individual person,” Joffe said.
Joffe knows how different this season will be, but he appreciates that the University is giving his players a chance to do what they love: play tennis.
“When you consider this is being done during the midst of a pandemic, it is incredible,” Joffe said.
Joffe said the entire team is going to have to understand and get used to the new procedures, just like everyone else in the sports world.