During this year in which many facets of life have been closed off due to the pandemic, student-athletes at University High School have one that is still open: sports.
Sports have long provided a fun, competitive, and collaborative environment where students can play their sports competitively, make friends, and grow as athletes.
At University High School, spring sports have been opening up during the months of February and March, with practices and matches taking place as usual. However, with the new requirement of sports restrictions due to the pandemic, athletes are wading in uncharted waters.
One such athlete is Allison Bello, a junior on the UHS girls’ soccer team. Bello has always loved playing soccer, so she joined the soccer team at UHS to play competitively and meet new like-minded athletes to build a community with.
“I enjoy this sport because it is fun, and I enjoy competition,” Bello said. “ I also enjoyed getting to hang out with my teammates outside of practices and games.”
Bello said she cherishes this sport and gains a sense of community with her teammates.
“Having sports open is nice because a lot of stuff is closed, so it gives me something to look forward to,” Bello said.
However, despite the anticipation of being able to compete and play her sport, Bello has noticed some of the aspects of playing during the pandemic that has been negative, such as restrictions placed on her practices and games.
“We weren’t allowed to play contact for a long time, so it was hard to practice, and we couldn’t play games initially,” Bello said. “Also, a lot of fields have restrictions, so sometimes parents and friends can’t come to watch. We also can’t have things like team dinners outside of practice and games.”
These restrictions, although necessary, have made practices and competitions for Bello much more unlike they have been in previous years. They have also hindered the team bondings that would have occurred had the restrictions not existed. Nevertheless, Bello said she’s glad to have the opportunity to continue playing the game and looks forward to playing more matches during the rest of the season.
Another athlete who has been going through a similar experience is junior Joyce Shi, a setter on the UHS volleyball team. With a love for volleyball, Shi joined the UHS volleyball team to pursue her passion and to make friends along the way.
“I love all the different teammates that I got to meet and being able to communicate with them about things on and off the court,” Shi said. “The feeling of being able to move all over the court and be a major part of controlling the play as a setter made volleyball worthwhile and enjoyable to me.”
Just as Bello faced some challenges with restrictions in her sport, so did Shi. Although her team’s dynamics were strong and pretty similar to previous years, Shi did find that they could not bond as quickly as they could without the restrictions.
“Before COVID, we could freely do crazy cheers and have fun by being loud on the court, which is much harder with masks on,” Shi explained. “Sometimes it does feel like there’s not as much of a bond with my teammates because I never see their full faces when they’re talking or cheering.”
Having to follow restrictions has led to a less intimate setting in Shi’s practices. However, despite this, Shi was able to find one positive result of wearing a mask during practice, namely “being able to freely mouth-breathe when exhaustion kicks in,” Shi said.
Yade Cinar, a junior on the UHS girls’ lacrosse team, has had a similar outlook to Shi and Bello. She has also noticed the hindering of bonding that has been occurring due to the restrictions. Nevertheless, she and her team have found some other ways to make up for this disconnect — video calling or texting in their group chat.
“Pre-COVID, we were able to have more bonding events which I think are crucial to fostering team chemistry,” Cinar said. “But with the new restrictions, our team has found ways to build team chemistry despite being unable to hold traditional bonding events.”
In addition to these changes in the way teams cultivate group bonding, there have also been other changes Cinar has noticed that are more connected to the game itself. There have been changes to the competitions her team participates in and even changes to the game’s rules itself.
“Due to COVID, we’ve been unable to go to some of the tournaments that we would annually participate in,” Cinar said. “Additionally, some rules have been altered, changing the way the sport is played. For example, teams now have the option to request the traditional draw (that starts to play after every goal) with alternating possession where each team starts with the ball in an alternating pattern.”
Supplemental to all these changes that athletes face is the additional stress placed on athletes by the virus itself. Cinar herself has reported feeling concerned about her safety from the virus.
“A con of sports right now would be the stress I feel when I have to play close to a player who is not wearing a mask. That stress sometimes distracts me from playing to my fullest potential,” Cinar said. “In general, I just miss being able to play without stressing that I might be exposed to the virus during a game.”
The opening of sports during this unprecedented year has had both beneficial and detrimental; effects on athletes. While some athletes fear their exposure to the virus, some miss the close team dynamic that is difficult to build with the restrictions. The restrictions have even brought about changes to the game itself, the way it’s played, and how we define a traditional game.
Nevertheless, Bello, Shi, and Cinar have expressed their gratitude for having the opportunity to play their sports once more and are looking forward to a time when they may enjoy all the different aspects of their sports, rather than only those allowed by the pandemic.