By Braden York
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
As many know, and have experienced, the novel coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on our lives. Athletics around the world came to a halt: Little League was shut down before it started; high school and collegiate sports were cut off at winter championships; spring sports were canceled all together; and professional seasons were cut short, postponed or amended to fit in with regulations made by federal and state governments.
Now, as sports are starting to make a comeback on Niagara University's campus, a number of new regulations and precautions are being enforced for the safety of student athletes, coaches and spectators, with an article on Niagara Universities website saying; “some of our athletics programs resume practice and competition, we are monitoring and adjusting our guidelines accordingly. Self-health checks, physical distancing, hand sanitizing, and wearing a face mask remain the foundation of the guidelines.”
Niagara University is not the only organization to come up with new regulations and precautions pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Mid Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) have also come up with guidance plans in an attempt to keep everyone safe and healthy. On their home page for coronavirus, the NCAA has a statement, “The NCAA continues to closely monitor COVID-19 and is taking proactive measures to mitigate the impact of the virus. When it comes to decision-making, our commitment is this: protect the health and safety of college athletes.”
These guidelines, although separate, and in some cases different, all stem from the federal guidelines set forth by the state of New York, which put sports into three categories, high-, moderate- and low-risk sports. The guidelines from the state also have two forms of criteria to follow: mandatory, or stuff that must be done; and recommended best practices, for those who are looking for a little extra guidance on how to organize or run practices or facilities.
The effects of the pandemic go far beyond the precautions and guidelines. These precautions, guidelines and dreadful quarantine period have had a major impact on athletes both athletically and mentally. Going on to compete athletically in college is an opportunity that less than 8% of high school athletes get. This opportunity was taken from many student athletes by the pandemic. Student athletes who may have needed one more year to improve or refine their skills are missing prime opportunities to showcase these skills. This could leave them discouraged and lacking motivation, which could in turn cause student athletes who do have the opportunity to return to their sport, reluctant to.
Athletes have also had to give up more of their own free time than usual in order to be able to compete. Some student athletes who can compete may have to take some of their own free time and money so that they can get tested. In some cases, they may have to quarantine for a certain amount of time before a game or practice. Athletes who make it far enough in the season may get invited to a bubble setting for the playoffs and may have to spend an extended amount of time away from family and friends so that they can compete.
As for student athletes who did get the chance, Josiah Shaffer, a freshman on the NU swim and dive team, described the pandemic as “discouraging” and went on to say it was (and continues to be) “unsure the whole time.”
The pandemic did not only mess with athletes' heads and mental state, but it also affected some of them athletically. With gyms being closed and it being harder than ever to go out and find places to work out, student athletes became more dependent on their creativity and self-motivation to find new ways to train, stay in shape and overall stay motivated.
Running is a sport that can be done no matter the conditions. Senior on the men's cross country team, Spencer Swoboda said, “I was able to do most of the training normally,” which, in turn, could help mentals.
Even though it was “a little bit stressful, being in control of my stress has gone a long way with helping me adjust to the changes around me,” Swoboda added.
The pandemic has had different effects on people, but the general consensus is that if it had not happened, both athletically and mentally, they would be in a better spot. Swoboda took a different stand on it: “The benefit of the current situation is that I have different options as to what I do after undergrad. It has allowed me to slow down and really think about what I want to do in the future.”
Even though the pandemic has been hard on athletes, in some ways it has been harder on parents and coaches. Many of the regulations that are set forth state a strict no-spectators policy. This makes it hard, because parents of athletes are stuck watching their child on television or in some cases not at all. This could cause parents and family members to miss out on being able to watch athletic milestones, and getting the chance to celebrate them. They might even miss watching their child's last game or chance to compete athletically. In worst-case scenarios, families may have to quarantine together if their child's team has a coronavirus outbreak, even though they aren't allowed to watch them compete.
Coaches, understandably, get to watch, and coach for both practices and competitions, if there are any. Coaches, unfortunately, have the tough job of trying to keep student athletes motivated during a time where it is tough to find motivation. Motivated student athletes who reach milestones and, or get recognized for athletic ability are stuck calling, texting or not even being able to celebrate at all with their team, family or friends. They also have the tough job of having to tell their student athletes that their season is canceled, or they are no longer allowed to practice, if it comes down to it.
This pandemic, and year as a whole, will go down in the history books. Much has happened and it has helped student athletes learn more about themselves, their work ethic and drive for success. Niagara University’s athletics program has had teams practicing as safely as possible, giving student athletes peace of mind that they are safe as they continue to pursue both their academic and athletic aspirations on campus.
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