The challenge of managing the Boyz in a pandemic
...Team Manager Roy Simpson shares his insights and experiencesSunday, July 25, 2021
BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
DALLAS, United States — Living in a pandemic changes most things.
We have had to adjust to the realities of the times – new normals recalibrating life as we once knew it.
The novel coronavirus has touched every fibre of the human existence, sport included.
Its impact is so deeply and widely felt that sports' biggest show — the Olympics Games — is being held without spectators. Who ever thought that could happen?
Luckily for some sporting events, fans will be allowed to attend. The ongoing Concacaf Gold Cup being staged in the USA is one of them.
Jamaica's Reggae Boyz are among the participating teams and play the USA in a quarter-final match at AT&T Stadium in Arlington today at 8:30 pm.
General manager of teams at the Jamaica Football Federation Roy Simpson says managing the Boyz in a pandemic is an “incredible” experience, which gives new meaning to the proverbial saying “staying on the ball”.
“This COVID-19 thing is incredible. What this pandemic has brought out for me, personally, is that you just must be on the spot as there are so many things you have to learn immediately; there are so many protocols you must adhere to.
“And even now being on tours during the pandemic, and even operating in the Gold Cup now, there are so many things you have to do. You have to do the testing, and you can't miss the tests as everything has to be on point,” Simpson shared with the Jamaica Observer.
The experienced team manager, who is attending his fourth-consecutive Gold Cup tournament, says COVID-19 brings a new set of challenges and additional duties.
“It makes your days longer and gives you more responsibility. Maybe before the pandemic, you would worry about a player getting injured, but now what you think about is a player picking up the virus within a squad and the trickledown effect that can have.
“If you have an outbreak, it comes down to how you manage that in terms of isolation. So, yes it gives you more to do. It brings so much more demands, but it just how you handle it, learn and move on that's important,” Simpson reasoned.
The Boyz's response system was tested when a player returned a positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result. Being able to quickly execute contingencies to prevent any spread within the group is a feather in the cap of the management and medical teams.
“I think we handled it (COVID-19 positive case) well. And again, I must commend Concacaf, because when we started out, we were saying why so many testing and why such a rigid PCR testing schedule, but we realised after how it has assisted us.
“Because we had this continuous testing [regiment], when we picked up that one of our members had COVID, we were due another test and from it nobody else got it, and the continuous testing as we go along, nobody else was exposed to it,” Simpson noted.
He said the message continues to be individual responsibility from each member of the group — from management, technical and backroom staff to players.
“And from that we have reiterated to the players, and everybody else, is to say that we can't be too careful, but we need to be as careful as we need to be. A number of our players and staff are vaccinated and that helped us a little,” affirmed Simpson.
The player who was tested positive has returned three negative PCR test results and has since reintegrated into the group and trained with his teammates for the first time on Thursday.
Simpson said that his greatest fear is a breakout of the virus in the group and its potential devastated effects. In Florida, where the Boyz played three games before coming to Texas, there was not a strong enforcement of COVID-19 protocols at the hotel the team stayed.
This required even more vigilance from the group, which had to share space with other guests at Sheraton North Hotel in Orlando.
“If it gets away from you, it could be very detrimental to everything, so what we did, we realised coming to Florida it was so different because they don't have many restrictions as people were not wearing masks, they were not doing social distancing and they don't sanitise.
“So, what we did among our group is to have our COVID agents, people within our group that took on that role, who made sure that the protocols are followed. So, we did our sanitisation, emphasised mask wearing and so,” Simpson explained.
He recalled one Sunday morning where hundreds of churchgoers milled around just across where the Boyz group was preparing to go for breakfast.
“I remember one morning we got up for breakfast and I saw a big sign that read 'Jesus is here', and when I looked, it was about 300 people attending a church service across the hall from our dining room. And I then jokingly said to my colleagues, that if Jesus is here, then COVID is not here,” Simpson said, breaking out into laughter.
He said the cooperation from players and staff, thus far, is deserving of commendation.
“We have several players who have participated in a number of Gold Cup tournaments, so that makes the management of the whole activities much easier because everybody would have been somewhat familiar with what the operations are. For this tournament, it's not challenging in terms of players and staff cooperation.
“Before we arrived, we had several meetings with staff and players, most of them virtual, and we made a commitment as a group and a family. Before we came here the plan was always to win and the focus of everybody was to just make this happen and whatever hurdle we face, we go over it together and move on,” he noted.
Simpson says that his management style makes for a smooth connect with the all the sub-areas of expertise within the group.
“I don't micromanage things, instead I try to get people to understand their responsibilities because I don't believe that if you give people things to do, you have to turn around and micromanage them.
“I give people the room to be creative and flexible, all I want to know is that if you are doing something — if it will work or may not work — just keep me in the loop. If it works, great, but if it doesn't work, that's great too, all we must do is find a way to make it happen,” he said.
Simpson, a St Catherine native, says managing the senior Boyz is “difficult in many aspects”, but adds that his love for the job makes it “a little easier”.
“Sometimes it can be taxing, but when you look at the bigger nations in football and when you look at their staff complement, you realise you are doing the jobs of about 20 persons.
“Yes, you would want more help and yes you would want more persons around you, and not just to make your work simpler, but to share knowledge.
“After having this experience and knowledge, I think you have a responsibility to share and give back and to help people to come up to a level to even accomplish even more than you,” said the St Jago High School alumni.
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