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TeamBuildr, which Penn Athletics uses to communicate with athletes — in addition to tracking their physical and mental health — has become a crucial tool for many teams.

Credit: Son Nguyen

TeamBuildr has been a staple in the Penn Athletics community for the last year. Introduced by strength and conditioning coach Cory Walts, the program is used not only to track exercises but also to help faculty and students engage and identify their needs as athletes. 

"[TeamBuildr] provides a routine, it provides structure, it provides quality content. Not only do we put in exercise routines, we put in nutritional information, mental health, and mental performance information. We have health questionnaires to have an assessment of how individuals are doing from a physical and mental standpoint on a daily [basis].” 

During the coronavirus pandemic and with continuing restrictions on in-person training, TeamBuildr has been a necessity for maintaining the spirit of Penn Athletics.

“We can have this communication system with the athletes so we can make sure that they’re maintaining not just their physical but [also] mental wellness during this time when they’re not with us,” Walts said. “Even though there’s not a competition currently, we still want to enhance their health and wellness, so it’s a tool to help do that.” 

This sentiment is echoed by field hockey senior Erin Kelly, who has been using the app since its implementation in fall 2019. 

“Before we started TeamBuildr, there was a little bit of hesitation to go all-in with an exercise because we were missing that mental component that TeamBuildr has incorporated, which was to take care of yourself and push yourself but within [the limits of] where your body is that day,” Kelly said. 

Athletes are encouraged by the support that they have received from faculty to engage with TeamBuildr and get the support that they need on and off the field. The app has not only changed the way that teams are able to interact with each other, but also how coaches are able to support their teams. 

"People were able to be honest because they knew that it meant a conversation to better themselves, whether it was with [Walts] or with our coaches, and that they were really engaged with understanding ‘Why are you feeling this [way]?'" Kelly said.

Volleyball coach Meredith Schamun similarly spoke about the role that coaches have taken in transitioning to life with TeamBuildr. 

“Our role has become more of a guiding light for teams. [Coaches are] someone that [athletes] can turn to and talk to not volleyball or any other sport but just about how they’re doing with school, how their families are doing, how they’re getting by day-to-day because we don’t have the sports that we typically have,” Schamun said. “Teambuildr has taken the place of whatever we would do as a team, [and] it gives them an avenue to continue to take care of themselves and [give them] some guidance as they’re trying to navigate these times as athletes.”

Freshman athletes are also finding support from their team members and coaches through TeamBuildr. 

“I think it’s been effective in getting us the information about the types of workouts we should be doing," volleyball freshman Tatum Demann said. "It’s been nice because it’s a very easy-to-use platform, and you can look at videos about the specific workout that’s being asked of you.”

Although she hasn’t spent a lot of time using the app to foster relationships, she has found a community with her volleyball teammates through other online resources such as Zoom.    

 “I think in general it’s been cool to talk to [Schamun] about using the app, and it’s definitely a way for us to connect with them and talk with our fitness coaches,” Demann said. “We’ve been really connecting a lot on a lot through every online platform. Our team Zooms are really fun, and we get to play Kahoot and get to know each other. My coach is so incredibly sweet and has been so active about connecting and making relationships with us.” 

Walts stresses that the point of TeamBuildr is not to force athletes to keep up with their strength training. 

“It’s all voluntary," he said. "Nothing that we’re providing is mandatory. The sport coaches are not allowed to see the information in there, only the strength and conditioning coaches do. There’s no consequence if they don’t participate or fill anything out. It is there for their benefit if they want to use.”

For many Penn teams, TeamBuildr has been a useful tool for strength and conditioning, but its real value may be the mental health coaching and support it can provide.

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