Wake up; go to school; go to practice; do homework; grab something to eat; lift; try to squeeze a few minutes in with the family; sleep; repeat. Athletes’ lives revolve around routine, so when the threat and spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) caused a screeching halt to life as we knew it, athletes were left with whiplash and uncertainty. At first, a little alleviation from the grind seemed a tolerable slow down, but when it became apparent that sports weren’t coming back any time soon, hiccups turned into a complete halt. As championships were canceled and entire seasons were left in the dust, anger, sadness and uncertainty set in … in essence, student-athletes were grieving.
To some, “grief” may seem like too strong of a word to talk about a simple game, but not to student-athletes and certainly not to me. Young athletes are grieving the preseason training that now seems wasted; the teammates they spend more time with than family members; the goals and ambitions they never had a chance to reach; as well as the routine that washed away. They are grieving their sense of purpose that was stripped from them overnight.
However, with all great pain comes reexamination.
Mingled with this sense of loss was the knowledge that some things are bigger than sports. Basketball is not worth risking lives, lacrosse doesn’t outweigh endangering others and soccer seems futile compared to hospitalization. So, as the frustration and initially disappointment subsided, hope returned and athletes went back to work. More than any group of people I have ever seen, athletes live in hope, and they maintain that hope even now. Hope for a new season; hope for an opportunity to play again.
Athletes rarely get a break from competition. From AAU, 7-on-7, indoor and summer leagues, the grind can become wearing. I have watched young athletes that seem to run out of gas, resent their sport, and struggle to maintain their passion. They love their sport, but they get fatigued. Like many of us, this pandemic has given athletes a rare chance to take a breath, relieve the grindstone for a bit and in doing so have rediscovered the game in its purest form. .
Young ballers are doing handling drills in their driveways and challenging their siblings in H-O-R-S-E. Football players are finding their new gridirons in neighborhood parks and studying college games they missed during the season on DVR. Soccer players are breaking household items juggling balls in their kitchens. Tennis players are perfecting their back swings on garage doors. Volleyball players are practicing by passing to their dogs. And laxers are fine-tuning those stick moves and cradles.
If this global chaos has taught us anything, maybe it is to revel in the opportunity. These athletes aren’t training at home for stat lines, social media likes, news clippings or thundering arenas. They are training for the biggest gift that sports can give us: The opportunity to play.
So while we wait for competition to return, let these tough times remind us to play for the love of the game.
Play for the peace and calm it can provide.
Play for the sense of accomplishment after reaching a new goal.
Play for the intense agony and unparalleled joy it brings you.
Play for teammates the game has brought together (even when you’re socially distanced).
Play for the challenge of proving nay-sayers wrong.
Play for everything the game can teach you about yourself.
Play like every day you get to play is a gift; play for the love of the game.