At the start of the pandemic there was a rush for people to emotionally and verbally support those whose lives had been flipped upside down in the matter of a few short days when they began to work from home, namely teachers and college instructors. On Twitter and Facebook there were constant posts in support of college kids who’ve been thrust into the middle of a wildly changing academic semester and a swell of support for the educators who were also forced to drastically change their worlds around.
As more people in the academic world began to see that there was no sign of a return to normalcy, the concerns about students became more pressing. We’re in a dangerous phase of the pandemic in regards to mental health, where the virus and its effects on everyday life are no longer “new” and yet the needs of young people are no less urgent.
Athletics have long been known for their therapeutic qualities, a way for kids to find solace in healthy activities, learn life lessons and have a sense of belonging in the team environment. Many coaches who were educators themselves found that they were struggling with the new pandemic riddled world around them AND how to best support their student athletes. It’s been said thousands of times just how impactful coaches can be and in this world-altering pandemic this has remained true. As many universities were rolling into spring practices, and high school athletes were being encouraged to hit the weight room, everything came to a grinding halt.
When you scour the internet there’s plenty that talks about the effects of COVID on people’s mental well-beings. There’s statistics and speculation about the long term effects. The psyche of athletes who rely on athletics as a safe place, as a release, as a healthy outlet has all been discussed.
So why is this pertinent now? Well, simply because the fight is not over.
I asked Dr. Greg Dale, Director of the Sports Psychology and Leadership program at Duke, to highlight some of the most important takeaways about this subject.
First is to acknowledge that every person deals with things differently. This holds true for the reaction a person might have to the changes COVID-19 is forcing upon their life. Within their program it’s important for coaches to acknowledge and validate that their fellow coaches and their players might each respond differently, and that that is okay. Dr. Dale also reinforced the idea that everyone needs to make an effort to be slower to judgement and quicker to compassion.
Coaches, while you navigate the ups and downs that COVID has presented both in your personal and professional lives for the past eight months, it is imperative to continue to remind yourselves that it’s okay to not be okay. The key though, as Dr. Dale points out, is to recognize it and have a conversation with yourself about it. Identify the problems to yourself. Then you must move yourself towards a space of “controlling what you can control.”
Coaches across levels, states, divisions are all absorbing the effects of the pandemic differently, and we continue to not know much, but what we do know is that we don’t know when it’s going to end and we don’t exactly know the continued effects of it on football, on athletics as a whole. It is reasonable for coaches to say “this sucks” but then the focus must shift to how can we proceed in a positive manner.
Dr. Dale emphasizes the need for continued creativity in team activities to avoid the monotony of a “Groundhog Day” feeling that can come from weeks of doing the team activities during this turbulent time. (Coach, let them play dodgeball). Most importantly Dr. Dale says, is to keep in mind the mission and purpose of your team and continue to support each other.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop.