With the Pac-12 and NCAA placing restrictions on the kinds of interactions coaches can have with student-athletes during the coronavirus pandemic, softball Head Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez ’93 and her fellow coaches have had to adjust quickly.

“The new challenge is getting into what’s going in the [student-athlete’s] personal world,” Inouye-Perez says. “We don’t have the same opportunities to work with student-athletes one-on-one. Now you realize the value of personal engagement. On our Zoom [video calls], we see the team dynamics and how we feed off each other, how we help each other get through a rough day. When you’re surrounded by your sisters, it can flip a day completely.”

On June 22, UCLA Athletics began to implement a four-phase Return to Training plan that set the path forward for teams to get back to performing, practicing and, eventually, competing, in a way that prioritizes safety for student-athletes, coaches and staff. (Given the Pac-12 Conference’s decision to postpone intercollegiate competitions through the end of this year, 2021 is still an open question.) Erin Adkins, associate athletic director of compliance, notes that the university’s health and safety precautions go beyond those of the NCAA. UCLA must also meet the higher standards of Los Angeles and the state.

Following the cancellation of all spring competitions at the outset of the pandemic’s shutdowns, NCAA’s COVID-19 rules allowed eight hours per week for virtual team meetings. However, Adkins says most teams talk about their sport for just two hours each week: “You can’t take what we do in the gym and on the field and put it into eight hours on Zoom.” The remaining time goes toward development and checking in with one another.

Mike Linn ’93, assistant athletic director of athletic performance and administration, says, “Once the spring quarter went virtual, most student-athletes went home. We had to figure out how to best support student-athletes from afar, not knowing when or if they’d come back to campus.”

That support came in the form of 500-plus at-home training kits that Linn and his team sent out to student-athletes. NCAA regulations forbid university programs from requiring student-athletes to train and work out during the pandemic, so all of UCLA’s training programs have been voluntary. These workout regimes were sent to student-athletes via an app called Bridge, which Athletics had rolled out last December.

When it comes to recruiting, the pandemic has changed everything. Student-athletes won’t have the chance to tour campuses and get a feel for a program’s culture. It’s a big shift for coaches, too, Inouye-Perez says: “The reality is, we are getting an opportunity to see things more virtually. It’s a different way to get to see student-athletes.”

Learn more about UCLA’s new athletic director, Martin Jarmond, in A New Energy: Martin Jarmond Takes the Helm.

Despite all the changes, Inouye-Perez is excited about the future of both her softball program and UCLA Athletics as a whole. She says she’s “fired up” by early Zoom conversations with new AD Martin Jarmond. She says of Jarmond, “He’s energetic, positive, optimistic — in what’s a very difficult time. We’ve been down [with the COVID-19 pause], and we will come back up. He’s a great person and a great leader to start guiding us in that direction.”