DETROIT – As the nation continues to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19), the future of school sports and all extracurricular activities remains unclear.
The uncertainty is having a major affect on the mental health of students, from elementary school to college.
Many activities are on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus, but even those that have resumed in some capacity will be different, with athletes competing in empty stadiums, musicians playing in vacant rooms and actors performing to empty seats.
Playing high school football is something Mason Ziegler has been working toward most of his life, but his first season isn’t going as expected.
“Now knowing if you’re going to be able to play or anything you can do with it, not knowing what you can do about it -- it’s kind of difficult,” Ziegler said.
It’s been a struggle for students at every level. James Houle is a sports psychologist at Ohio State, and he said athletes’ routines and identity are deeply rooted in their sports.
“Their way of being has been uprooted,” Houle said.
That’s also true for musicians, actors and any student who invests their time and energy into extracurriculars they love.
Houle said students should try to stay in the present rather than focusing on what they’re missing.
“When we live our life day-to-day, right here, right now, we tend to be happier, even if it’s a horrible situation,” Houle said.
Then, students should shift their focus, he said. Even if they can’t change the situation, they can still move toward their goals, spend solo time working on their skills or find new interests to fill their time.
“Kind of catching your mind going to all these uncertainty, and come back to, ‘Well, what can I do right now?‘” Houle said. “Finding joy in other new avenues can bring a lot of solace during a time of uncertainty.”
Finally, Houle recommends seeking connections to talk about the struggles. Many teams continue to meet virtually, for example.
“We want them to know that they’re not alone and they have a shared experience,” Houle said.
Ziegler said he’ll be ready for the day he can finally take the field with his teammates.
“Just trying to take this season as it is and work thought it,” Ziegler said. “Hoping next season will be good and the following seasons will be better.”
Even if students can’t practice with their teams or groups, it’s still a good idea to keep a consistent practice schedule.
For many children, the loss of extracurricular is more significant than the issue of going to school. It’s important for parents to acknowledge it and help them find ways to cope.