Athlete Growth

Youth athletes are having to find different ways to stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic, something that can breed different avenues for growth both physically and mentally.

During times of uncertainty, silver linings can be tough to come by. With each passing day, high school student-athletes remain hopeful that a return to normalcy isn’t far off, burning through workout reps to maintain game shape for their sport of choice — all while hoping that the end of their respective seasons hasn’t already taken place.

All UIL-sanctioned activities are currently suspended until at least May 4 and high schools around the state are closed until that same date. Campus facilities and practice fields are off limits and gyms are closed for the time being, and social distancing and county-wide stay-at-home orders have practically quarantined the masses around the clock.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt student-athletes a hand that has left them without much of the structure they’ve known for years — be it attending practices, grinding away alongside teammates in workouts and competing in games, all within the same schedule every week.

As coaches and athletes acclimate to the change brought upon by the coronavirus saga, they’re stressing the positives to keep spirits high within their programs. But just as players hope they’ll be able to return to the playing field before the end of the school year, the time away from normalcy offers unique chances at growth both physically and mentally.

“The biggest thing is that they learn to practice ownership and being responsible for themselves instead of leaving it up to someone else to tell them what to do or where to go,” said Geno Pierce, Performance Course CEO and founder. 

Without the usual in-season regiment of games and practices, accountability has taken on greater prominence as athletes look to stay in game shape without the traditional outlets of gyms and weight rooms available for the time being. Programs have tried to cope with the change by embracing methods like videoconferencing — something that has already gained traction for holding workouts and team meetings — but without a set-in-stone routine, athletes are having to take it upon themselves to stay active during the time away from action.

“There are a lot of ways where physical activity and exercise can be beneficial,” said Josh Adams, performance manager at Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS, “and I think as our kids enter more of an online-based school platform, physical activity is going to be really important as far as keeping them attentive and engaged in those lesson plans because there isn’t someone there in front of them on a day-to-day basis that’s holding them accountable.”

With gyms closed, in-home workouts have taken on added importance for athletes. One thing Adams noted that can help in building longstanding exercise habits while quarantined is athletes taking it upon themselves to restore that sense of structure on their own.

“I think the big thing that athletes are going to start realizing is how important having an established routine and schedule is for those individuals to keep them consistent and from burning out,” Adams said. “Wake up at the same time, eat breakfast at the same time, exercise at the same time.”

It’s also a chance, Pierce noted, for athletes to develop leadership qualities in a way that might not normally come about in school.

“I’ve seen kids running around in the street and being outside exercising. Things like that can create a situation where kids can start being accountable of one another and exhibiting those leadership qualities that get lost in the wild structure we have,” Pierce said. “I think it’s cool seeing kids step up and lead other kids through these Zoom meetings or through workouts.”

Fortunately, technology and social media have given athletes no shortage of outlets for staying active. Adams said that Children's Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS has an Instagram account (@ChildrensHealth_Athlete) that features a plethora of in-home workouts, while Pierce’s Performance Course recently launched the Elite Training Academy, an online integration of its training program — something that has already been picked up by 10 different states and nearly 50 high schools throughout Texas.

Adams said that individuals should target 60 minutes of daily activity to maintain individual performance and fitness levels. 

As student-athletes stay active in hopes that their respective sports resume in due time, getting away from game action also affords some time for recovery — something that’s tougher to come by in today’s preparatory sports climate.

“This is giving youth athletes time away from their sport both mentally and physically for some rejuvenation,” Adams said. “In high school sports, there isn’t a significant offseason period especially with the high school circuit combining with a competitive club circuit. This is providing that window that our athletes often need both physically and mentally to get a break.”

The onus falls on the athletes to make the most of the unique opportunities afforded during the pandemic — something that could help in the long run even beyond the playing field.

“I think from this, the big positive is that you’ll see kids start to mature and take ownership in what they’re doing,” Pierce said.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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