People think that athletes from every sport have an offseason where they can rest. At a young age, though, athletes quickly learn that isn’t quite true.
Instead, they know they need to train all year if they want to be the best in their respective sport.
But, how are these athletes supposed to do so in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed over 500,000 lives globally?
Thayer Hall is a rising junior on the UF volleyball team and plays outside hitter. And Holly Carlton is a rising redshirt senior and plays opposite attacker for the team.
Hall said past offseasons haven’t been relaxing for the team because it is still practicing and lifting weights.
During a normal spring, Hall starts her day with weight training, then grabs a snack for breakfast on her way to class. After class, she gets lunch and afterwards she receives treatment from the training staff before practice.
Hall said the team likes to start practice with breakout groups dividing it by position groups and focusing on honing certain skills. After that, they will come together to practice as a team. Following practice, players receive more treatment and then go home for the night.
But, this offseason has been different due to the COVID-19 pandemic Carlton said the team found out that it was going home on March 13.
Since then, she said the team has been using Zoom and other forms of communication to keep in touch with each other.
When the collegiate sports world was put on hold, the NCAA allowed volleyball teams to have eight hours a week to communicate via Zoom. Hall said that isn’t typical because the team usually isn’t allowed to have contact with the coaching staff during the summer.
She added that the strength coach has given the team voluntary workouts.
“We can do them or we don't have to,” Hall said. “But, I think I can speak on behalf of everybody on the team that we're using this time to make the best of it as far as remaining physically and mentally in shape.”
Carlton said these workouts have been challenging because the team has had to improvise to make them happen.
“It's definitely been different working out on our own and without teammates,” Carlton said. “But, it's been a good challenge to build discipline and see what we can make happen without all the luxurious equipment that we normally have.”
She said that, despite not having access to a volleyball court and net, she has found ways to improve the physical aspect of her game.
“I've personally just been trying to get a really good touch on the ball, ball control and ball handling skills,” Carlton said.
In addition, Hall said she is using this time to improve the mental part of her play.
“'I’ve definitely been using all this time to focus on just my mental game,” she said. “Basically, from spring to hopefully when we start the season, we will have been six months out of the gym, and that's a long time.
“I mean, the physical touch is obviously going to be an obstacle, but the mental aspects of just having not had any adversity to fight through on the court. I don't know what that's gonna look like, but that has been a major factor in my quarantine, just working on staying positive, self-talk, motivation, and trying to still stay in a routine as if I were on campus.”
Due to the pandemic, some athletes have more free time. Carlton said she has made good use of it, learning new things and mastering other hobbies like playing guitar.
She said she taught herself to play guitar during her sophomore year.
“It's been really fun,” Carlton said. “I love just having a hobby that’s not competitive. Nobody cares if I'm good or bad, so it's been really fun just to be able to teach myself a few new chords and learn some new songs.”
Hall said the same hasn’t held true for her.
Instead of having more free time during the pandemic, she has had less.
“It's funny because I feel like outsiders think that collegiate athletes are using this time to figure out what normal life feels like, but it's actually the complete opposite,” she said.
For most sports teams, building chemistry with teammates is a critical part of the offseason. Hall said that she’s been able to through Zoom and FaceTime calls.
She said she has developed a greater appreciation for her teammates, even though she used to get tired of them after spending time with them constantly.
Now, teammates FaceTime and text to check in with each other.
“My favorite part of the week is getting to see everybody's faces, even if it is on a computer screen,” Hall said. “I think that all of us just have a much greater appreciation for when we can get back, and that is going to be the driving factor of what separates us from other programs this season.”
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