Positivity In The Face Of A Pandemic: Student-Athletes Respond

Baltimore Elite VBC - 18-White student-athletes and coaches

For many student-athletes, March and April are the biggest months of the year. Often, they’ve spent hours of training in the off-season in addition to the regular season with the goal of qualifying for post-season competition. And, even if their team isn’t competing anymore by this time of year, seniors are preparing to graduate and leave the team behind. Spring for student-athletes is a time for celebrating the year’s accomplishments. 

That is, until a global pandemic throws a wrench in everyone’s plans. 

According to the CDC, “the virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community in some affected geographic areas.” Experts call for social distancing and self-isolation as individuals become infected despite having no known contact with the disease. The situation is very serious. It’s wise to take health precautions, especially to protect those with respiratory issues or compromised immune systems. 

As universities and school systems across the nation close their doors and move to distance learning, sports programs are suspended as well. March Madness is canceled. The NBA and NHL seasons are suspended. MLS and MLB seasons are postponed. It’s an unprecedented time to be an athlete. It’s also heartbreaking for student-athletes that made their sport the seminal aspect of their school careers. 

Dealing with Difficulty

On a personal note, this time has been challenging. I am a student-athlete myself, competing with George Mason University’s Equestrian program. This season was my first (and likely only) time qualifying for post-season competition. None of my teammates had a chance to say goodbye to each other or our beloved coaching staff. This abrupt ending left us all without closure. 

Anna and the George Mason University Equestrian Team

Sharon Clark, Butler University Head Coach and AVCA President, released a heartfelt statement to the volleyball community. She said, “This pandemic is having a huge financial, social, and competitive impact on the volleyball community and will continue to for months – and perhaps years…our volleyball teams and players have lost the privilege of simply practicing and playing the sport they love.”

“I was in disbelief,” said Sarah Markland of Baltimore Elite Volleyball Club, “I am a senior in high school and this is my last season of club ever. My team and I were supposed to go to three more tournaments, and to think that I may never get to play with some of my best friends again is simply heartbreaking.” Markland’s teammate Erin Shaw echoed the sentiment, adding, “I miss being with my team.”

Victoria McNally plays for Brooklyn Elite Volleyball in New York. She says, “I was looking forward to working with my team more this season as we all became very close.” 

Staying Positive and Productive

However, student-athletes are resilient by nature. Though we’ve been thrown a wicked, unexpected curveball, we’re able to roll with the punches. It’s a moment in time for reflection, resilience, and growth. It’s also an opportunity to practice positivity in the face of adversity. 

“Although I’m upset about not being able to practice with my teammates or compete in our remaining tournaments of the season, I am trying to stay positive about the whole situation. I have talked about this with some of my teammates, and in a way it is comforting that athletes all over the country are going through the exact same thing that I am,” said Matthew Byron, who plays on George Mason University’s men’s club volleyball team. 

George Mason University’s men’s club volleyball student-athletes
George Mason University’s men’s club volleyball team

While they can’t practice or compete at this time, clubs and teams have the opportunity to look ahead. After all, the key to a good season often lies in the planning. Byron, who manages his team’s social media, shared that he is working on promotion and recruitment initiatives. Other teams, like my own, are planning virtual “Senior Night” events. “We’re looking forward to resuming all aspects of college life,” said Byron. 

Many players are also using this time to hone their skills while practicing social distancing at home. For example, Sarah Markland shared that she is using her newfound free time to go outside and set against the wall or pepper with family members. Similarly, Victoria McNally is working on increasing her vertical, developing muscle, and doing ball drills to come back strong next season. 

For graduating seniors, this transitional period can feel fluid. The pressures of moving to the next stage in life, whether it’s college or career. This might add to the drive to use this time wisely. Baltimore Elite Volleyball Club’s Erin Shaw is preparing to graduate and move on to play at the collegiate level. “I have to be prepared mentally and physically,” said Shaw, “I am using this time to work on personal skills I need to improve.” 

While the situation is less than desirable, student-athletes agree that public health is more important than their sport. We mourn the season we’ve lost and all the wins that might have been, growing from our losses. Of course, we also celebrate the successes we did have. Now is the time to put aside our personal frustrations and work for the greater good. After all, at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. 

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