As high school students adapt to an online learning model, many of them also must adjust to a fall semester without soccer and football games and few, if any, practices.
Teens have been in various levels of isolation for six months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and with much of the fall sports season delayed at least until spring — and another surge of COVID-19 cases expected by the end of the year — young athletes are having to find alternative ways to stay in shape and work toward their fitness goals.
“I am very serious about sports,” Chanelle Jaeger, a sophomore at Academy for Technology and the Classics, wrote in an email, “but I also want to stay safe and COVID-19 free so that I don’t infect family members that I care about.”
Jaeger competes in volleyball, basketball and track for the school. “In order to stay active, I have been doing at-home workouts, eating right and playing sand volleyball with my family,” she said.
Striking a balance between staying active and staying safe is difficult, said Greta Swanson, who competes professionally in figure skating. Swanson said because Santa Fe’s ice rink has been closed during the pandemic, she has had to travel to Albuquerque six days a week to practice.
“COVID-19 has definitely affected my skating,” Swanson said, later noting that after a long break from the sport, “It was very hard once I got back on the ice and I had to readjust.”
Swanson trained five days a week with coaches over FaceTime during the summer, but she said a routine like that is unsustainable with an online school schedule. This is especially true given that the sport requires her to travel out of state regularly, mainly to Colorado Springs, Colo.
While the future of competitions is uncertain, athletes like Swanson and Jaeger are doing whatever they can to stay motivated — with the help of dedicated coaches and peers. In Zoom calls, coaches encourage students to stay active; meanwhile, many teammates independently gather in small, socially distanced groups to practice drills or run together.
“Having a conditioning buddy who lives close is what I’ve been doing to stay active,” said Tatiana Winters, a soccer player at Santa Fe High School. “My motivation is my friends and peers. We’re each other’s motivation.”
Winters, who has been involved in sports since she was 4 years old, hopes to take the field at some point soon.
“I wouldn’t say I’m confident about a season happening in February,” she said. “But I’m deeply hoping for it, as school sports was one of my favorite things about in-person school.
Tim Host, a teacher and coach at ATC, recognizes how hard 2020 has been on student-athletes and is doing his best to help teens on the cross-country team stay fit while also balancing school. Over the summer, Host had runners use the mobile app MapMyRun and encouraged them to participate in “pod runs” — socially distanced groups of five athletes running together with masks — to track their mileage.
Host said he “did not feel ready to get going [with the cross-country season] when we were first given the green light,” and that ATC’s administration was supportive of allowing him to research “what’s already working and what is the best for socially distanced practices before just jumping into it and just seeing what happens.”
Hopefully, he said, these strategies adequately prepared kids who will compete in meets — the first is set for Oct. 10 — while also keeping them safe and healthy.
Rob Rittmeyer, technical director for Rio Rapids Northern Soccer Club and a father of two teen athletes, said parents must also act as coaches to help their kids prepare for sports. He said he’s been hiking, running, doing yoga and focusing on soccer drills and technical training with his 14- and 17-year-old.
“The thing that we try to remember is that we control quite a bit and always control our mindset and approach to staying fit and healthy,” he said.
For many student-athletes, the pandemic has required shifting to a more solitary workout routine.
Andrew Hill, a triathlete who attends The MASTERS Program, said he has been training solo with his coach, Ken Axford, since March.
“From the beginning [my coach] really emphasized the importance of training through a shutdown and has helped me work towards normality and consistency, not only in training but in other aspects of my life,” Hill said. He plans to compete in a simulated race with a few buddies to keep training for future triathlons in the spring.
Competing in spring sounds nice in theory, but many locals have concerns about contact sports and spectator events: How will club and school sports ensure safety of those involved?
Rittmeyer said the club soccer season is planning on resuming in 2021 with a ratio of nine athletes to one coach. Practices will include “mandatory mask usage, regular groups” — meaning players cannot change to another group of nine — and, of course, social distancing. Essentially, the plan “limits practices to technical work and conditioning,” Rittmeyer said.
But it’s better than nothing.
“I think we should do less planning in the future and be thankful for today, really being prepared for anything,” Host said.
Still, teens can’t help but cross their fingers for another athletic year.
“Sports keep me sane. So the loss of them is devastating and really demotivating,” Winters said. “I hope [sports teams] can come back as soon as possible.”