10 Strategies for Student-Athletes during COVID-19: How to Grow through Adversity

Recent news that spring sports have been officially cancelled hurts. It stings. First and foremost, I want to send love to high school sport communities—to athletes, coaches, athletic directors, and parents/grandparents. Life is a team sport. Right now, I am feeling and stand with you in this sad, frustrating, and challenging time. This not easy—in particular for our seniors who have committed themselves to their teams, schools, and communities. They’ve helped build their programs and leave them better than they found them.

I, we, appreciate YOU. We are grateful for YOU.

Know that you’ve left a meaningful legacy that we, coaches and underclass teammates, will honor. Thank you for all you’ve done and the great teammates you’ll continue to be—on and off the field. In this “bigger than sports” moment, know that we are here for you. And—not but. And know that we need your leadership now more than ever.

In light our new reality—now what? What do we do?

Over the last few days, I want to be real with you all. I sat a little bit in my own (and my team’s) sorrow and hurt. I was gloomy and the least upbeat. I was (and am still) grieving. That was necessary for me to do. To acknowledge and embrace those feelings as understandable and validate.

Then I sat up.

I reached out to dear friends—trusted, energetic sport leaders who inspire me. They bring the best out in me. Thank you, Ira Childress and Mary Fineis :). I am grateful for you two.

With their teamwork, we have put together a list of 10 strategies for student-athletes during COVID-19. These strategies are meant to serve as a guide for our players—a road map that they can use to best serve themselves, their goals, and those whom they care about in this difficult time. I want to emphasize that these strategies are guiding. Student-athletes: make these work for you in your context based on where you are at. It is important for us all to recognize that this virus impacts us differently, including our personality/personal characteristics and inclinations and our social identities and positioning (i.e., how much social privilege we may, or may not, such as our access to food, secure housing, and other resources).

  1. Move and Engage

Do some physical activity every day. If possible, go outside, following physical distancing requirements. Easy no-equipment types of movement include walking, running, sport-specific drills, stretching, and body weight exercises (e.g., squats, push-ups). Moving our body is important for our physical health and benefits our mind/mental health.

  1. Practice a Learn and Grow Mindset

Learn about your specific sport techniques/tactics, mental skills, and performance strategies by listening topodcasts, watching videos or game film, and reading articles to keep growing as a “student” of your game.

  1. Connect with Coaches/Teammates

Connect with teammates and coaches virtually and visually when possible. Feeling and experiencing connection is a basic human need. Talk together about how you can support one another during this adverse time. Though physically distant, you can still be socially connected and use new ways to strengthen team bonds. If you are able, reach out with teammates to ask how they’re doing.

  1. Connect with Family/Friends/Community

Connect with family, friends, and community virtually and visually when possible. The COVID-19 pandemic is bigger than sports. You can use your experience and skills learned as leaders and supportive teammates in athletics to care for those important to you and your community. Consider how—in big or small ways—you can contribute: call a grandparent, wash your hands, stay at home, and tell a friend that you appreciate them.

  1. Create Structure and Routine

Develop a personal routine that serves you, your goals and responsibilities—including online academic work. Create a separate physical “work” space and remove possible distractions. This environment can help you shift and stay focused. Be sure to integrate regular self-care activities (e.g., walking or talking to a friend) and breaks in your work routine. Just like we do in our sports, rest is vital to our training process to fully recover and get stronger.

  1. Adapt and Manage

While you want to create structure and consistency, allow yourself some flexibility to do different activities, or take shorter or longer breaks, and adapt your routine to best serve you each day. Along with small changes, actively manage your physical and mental energy by attending to other health-related behaviors like nutrition, hydration, and sleep.

  1. Explore and Stretch

Explore an interest or creative activity that you might not otherwise have the ability to do. Find ways to bring new, novel experiences, even if small, into your life to break up boredom. Consider: what’s something you’ve wanted to try but have not had time to do, or something new that you want to create that’s possible in your current situation?

  1. Remember Your “Why”

Remember your “why”: reasons you play your sports and great memories you have. Keeping your “why” in mind can help you stay motivated during setbacks. Though sports have stopped for now you’ll get back to your sport and living your “why”.

  1. Choose Your Thought Channel

We can choose the thoughts we want to focus on. Think about your “thinking” mind like a TV or Netflix stream: different shows might pop up without your control. Know you can choose the channel or show you want to “watch”. We have 50,000 thoughts per day and think more negative (about 40,000) than positive thoughts. It’s our brains way of trying to protect us from danger. The overflow of negative thoughts often does not accurately reflect our reality. To find a better balance in your thinking and “choose your thought channel” use gratitude and mindfulness practices daily. For mindfulness: practice some slow, deep breathing before you go to bed to quiet your mind and focus on inhaling/exhaling. Use Apps such as HeadSpace or Calm for guided instruction. For gratitude: write down 3 things that you are grateful for each day or if you appreciate someone in your life, share that with them.

  1. Check-in and Be Kind to Yourself

While setting goals and progressing toward them can gives us a sense of accomplishment and control, which can be lacking during difficult times, it is also crucial to pause and check in with ourselves. What are you thinking and feeling? What aspects of your day or things you do are helpful and not? Journaling or talking to someone who you trust can be helpful. Remember: You are not alone. Be courageous about asking for help when you need it. Family/friends and others who care about you want to support you during challenging times.

This list was co-created by Athletic Administrator, Ira Childress and Jill Kochanek @both-and Coaching, and in collaboration with Mary Fineis @ Game Changer Coaching. Reach out to Jill (jkochanek12@gmail.com), Ira (Childress.Ira@gmail.com) or Mary (mary@gamechangercoaching.life) with questions.

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