COVID-19 has turned high school activities upside down. Additional planning has been required, and yet uncertainty remains as to whether sports and activities will happen. Activities directors, coaches and athletes have been on a roller- coaster ride since early 2020. It has been chaotic at times, and they have all been hoping for any opportunity to work together as a group.
The list could go on and on about all the things that were missed and changed, but we really need to look at what the pandemic has done for us. That is right, what benefits have been realized from the pandemic when we talk about high school activities?
Every person had the chance to spend time reflecting. Many individuals have thought about how much they love their sport or activity and how important it is to them. Many coaches and advisors reflected on how they have reached students and kept their spirits up. These same coaches and advisors had the opportunity to read more and start planning for future seasons.
Dale Moga, head girls basketball coach and activities director at Houston (Minnesota) High School, did just that.
“I was able to step back and reflect on my coaching philosophy and methods and dig deeper into what I want to accomplish as a coach,” Moga said. “I also focused more on time to implement character- building and leadership activities into practices and speed/ agility training to try and reach more student-athletes and spread the knowledge and the way of leadership.”
Ryan Johnson, athletic director at West Salem (Wisconsin) High School, also reflected about some of the positives of the quarantine.
“I think a positive is that this break re-sparked a love for athletes and coaches in their respective sports and showed them just how meaningful those four years of athletics are,” Johnson said.
Coaches, advisors and activities directors also had time – time to take care of themselves. The people who push and push and miss hundreds of family dinners had time to focus on themselves. This time allowed adults to care for themselves by slowing down, exercising and embracing what was in front of them. In the thick of a season, it is extremely important to take that time to focus on yourself as an activities director, coach or advisor.
“I took time to work out myself instead of coaching the student- athletes,” Moga said. “I personally got into better shape.”
This time was also important for families of student-athletes. All of a sudden, there was time to have an evening meal together. When sports resume, student-athletes should have a sense of how chaotic all of their sports can be. Hopefully, the time element will have them thinking about taking moments to “be” instead of rushing around to do everything.
Truly, that is not the case of all student-athletes, as some needed to have the action and the competition to continue. These students were finding ways to improve themselves on their own. The time factor allowed for the motivated and determined students to still work out. They were innovative and allowed for no excuses.
Student-athletes have learned to just appreciate being together – playing a game they love and playing for the sake of playing. Students are excited for the first competition, excited to compete and work hard. All of a sudden, pure excitement was experienced. The idea of playing one game at a time, unsure when it may end due to COVID-19, was the goal.
Teenage athletes also learned the word “no.” They could not get what they wanted. For the safety of all, sports were cancelled or postponed. They had to learn to deal with disappointment, They became resilient, ready for the next opportunity. This is something that is not usually learned until you are a young adult. Yes, it hurt to not play, but students now appreciate the opportunity to participate more than they ever did.
Activity directors appreciated needing to supervise an event. It was not too big a deal to miss the evening meal. The feeling of pure thankfulness to watch kids play sports, and the essence of being busy was happening again. Even the parents at that first game back from the restart were calm; they were just happy to watch their kids play.
Students had the opportunity to try other sports if certain sports were cancelled or postponed. For example, in Minnesota when volleyball and football were postponed to the spring, students had the opportunity to try swimming, soccer, tennis or cross country.
Chris Pack, activities director from Hayfield, Minnesota, stated that he had students who would be four-sport athletes as a result of the pandemic. The numbers for cross country went from 20 to 32 as many of the volleyball and football players joined the team. These student-athletes had lemons from their sport being postponed and turned it into lemonade by joining cross country.
We all know the importance of washing hands and sneezing in your elbow, but how often did we think about it before the pandemic? There should have always been hand sanitizer on the bench of a basketball game. Wiping down equipment? Wiping the basketballs down before and after a game? Also, if the good sportsmanship act of shaking hands continues after the pandemic, at least hand sanitizer will be there!
As a coach and activities director, everything is just more purposeful and deliberate, such as ensuring things are wiped down and disinfected. The reality of what is learned through this pandemic should at least carry over into the next generation.
The pandemic has taken a lot out of everyone emotionally. There is a sense of “how much longer” with no real answer in sight. There are days an activities director may be at a loss of what to do. It can be depressing walking onto an empty field or into a quiet gym.
Rather than getting caught up in the never-ending pool of negativity, let’s find the good in our programs. As this pandemic continues, remember what you have learned and what has become important. Take time to reflect on small issues and big issues. Appreciate the nuances of being an activities director. COVID-19 has certainly has its share of “bad stuff” – let’s remember to find the good.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.