James Coppinger on life in lockdown away from Doncaster Rovers

James Coppinger has seen it all in his 16 years at Doncaster Rovers - but he has never experienced anything like the current situation.
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It is the time of year when training would be gearing players up for the intense finish to the season and hopeful promotion chase.

Instead, training is being conducted by smartphone apps with players working alone, as close to their homes as possible.

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The shutdown of football and lockdown of society is uncharted territory in the game. The uncertainty of when competition will again resume, coupled with the expectation that it indeed will, has left players and coaches in limbo.

James CoppingerJames Coppinger
James Coppinger

Training now more closely resembles the work done by players in the closed season, though within the restrictions passed down by the government.

“It’s very similar to that,” Coppinger said. “It has the feel of that.

“Obviously you can’t go anywhere but we know we’ve got at least a couple of weeks before we might start training again.

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“It’s very much like pre-season though we do a bit more running and it’s a bit more intense because we know we could be going back over the next few weeks.

“It’s important you stay focused and stay fit because no one really knows when it’s going to start again.

“It looks likely that we will finish the season so it’s important that we go back in good shape.”

The uncertainty for clubs began when it was announced on March 13 that competition would be suspended until April 3 at the earliest.

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Rovers were given a few days off training but after returning for a day were then told to stay away when the potential restart was then pushed back to April 30 - a date that is almost certainly set to be further delayed this week.

It left Rovers’ head of sport science Rob Lee with the need to think fast and devise a training programme for players operating remotely.

“It was up in the air for a bit,” Coppinger said.

“We had five days away then came back in, trained one day and then we came back for the final day and were told to stay away like everybody else.

“Since then Rob has every week sent over on the WhatsApp group what we need to do, the running and stuff.

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“It’s all on a pitch, pitch runs. On Monday, we did four different runs lasting five, six, seven minutes each and finished with a 1k run over four minutes. It was a tough day.

“Then it was a lighter day where you didn’t have to report anything back.

“This week it’ll be Monday, Wednesday, Friday where we step it up.

“All the sessions are done on Strava, the running app, and you can then WhatsApp them over to Rob who makes sure everyone is doing them and is up to speed.

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“Thursday we can do a light 5k run or a 10k bike ride and then Friday we’ll be doing the programmes again.”

Coppinger initially used the facilities at non-league side Guisborough Town, where he is an ambassador. But government guidelines to not travel for exercise forced him to look closer to home.

“There’s a pitch a two minute walk behind me so I’ve been going there,” he said.

“You’re not supposed to drive so I went to Guisborough that one time.

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“It’s ideal where I am and it’s safer for me to do it there.”

Lockdown presents other challenges beyond those of training for players like Coppinger.

The 39-year-old has three children of school age, meaning he has been forced to pull on his teacher’s cap - particularly when wife Lucie is at work as a nurse.

“It’s a strange one really,” he said. “Every day seems to roll into one.

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“When the weather is not brilliant it’s hard to get motivated to get outside as a family. When the weather’s good you can’t get them in but when it’s bad it’s difficult.

“When my wife is here, she does a lot of it. When she’s at work, I chip in.

“My eldest son is coming up to 13 so he does a lot of his stuff online and we leave him to his own devices where Phoebe obviously needs a lot of help.

“My other son has just started senior school so he does a lot of stuff online.

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“It’s good actually. It’s quite rewarding, sitting down and running through it with them. There’s stuff you can help them with and other stuff I haven’t got a clue about.

“I’m enjoying the time with them. It’s like being on holiday with spending 24/7 with them. Although it’s testing at times, it is enjoyable seeing their characters.

“You learn a lot about them as individuals - both good and bad!”

Rovers’ all-time record appearance maker admits the group text chat between the squad has been quiet since lockdown began.

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And while he is dealing with homeschooling, Coppinger expects his younger team mates are also having no trouble filling their time.

“There’s not much on the group chat and I think people have been getting on with their own lives,” he said.

“Everybody is different. Not many of the lads have families in terms of kids so I imagine they’ll be spending a lot of time on their Xboxes or watching box sets.

“For me, with three kids and two dogs, it’s a bit different. We do have spare time but it’s few and far between.”

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