While the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily disrupted the team sports schedule at GDS, it has also amplified many benefits from sport and fitness activities. During these challenging times when happiness levels have seriously declined, sports and exercise have provided many people with significant psychological and physical benefits. Sports activities have helped to keep optimism alive for many during a time when hope is scarce.
The GDS athletic program has made significant efforts that have enabled students to reap the immense benefits of sports—benefits which are even more important during times where many are isolated, indoors at home and sedentary. More than half of the student body signed up for voluntary sports training programs on campus, according to David Gillespie, the GDS athletic director.
Gillespie said that the GDS sports department is “trying to be creative” and staying flexible. For example, on the sports court (the new space for basketball and other sports activities near the new LMS playground) there were small tennis nets set up for the tennis program, and ergs were set up on the high school field for the crew team. Through these and many other creative adjustments required by the pandemic, the athletic program has persevered.
Participating in sports or any type of exercise is scientifically proven to lower stress and make you happier, especially during a time of frustration and sadness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released new guidelines that increased the recommended amount of time you should engage in physical activity. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release that “being physically active is critical for health and well-being—it can help add years to life and life to years.”
Freshman Laura Kaufman explained the importance of soccer for her during COVID. She said, “If anything, I have become more passionate [about soccer] because I have realized how much I appreciate and need it.” Laura said that soccer practices and games are an opportunity for her to “escape everyday things” and have been a stress reliever. For Laura, soccer is not only something that she schedules her day around and looks forward to, but it is also an activity where she can pour her energy bottled up from online school.
The social benefits of sports during COVID also can’t be overstated. In a time where we have been deprived of our usual means of social interaction, sports can be a source of human connection. Sports can also help to motivate athletes by holding them accountable to their teammates or training partners. In fact, David Gillespie said that the main purpose of the sport training programs was to establish connections among teammates.
He said that “once a week for an hour is not going to make you improve your athletic talent incredibly, but what it does allow is for you to connect with your peers and get some physical exercise.” A sports team is a community and the players feed off each other’s energy, push each other and hold each other accountable for reaching goals. In order to succeed as a team everybody needs to be on the same page and prepared, which allows athletes to motivate themselves to think about how they are helping their team.
GDS counselor Gaby Grebski said that exercise has similar psychological effects as mild antidepressant medication. Grebski also emphasized the role of sports in helping kids stay connected. Whether it be through a team group chat or weekly Zoom check-in, being an active member of a team helps prevent students from feeling lonely or lost. It is easier for students to stay engaged when they understand the work they put in will help their team and that they’re part of something bigger.
The pandemic has also highlighted the crucial role that mental resilience plays in sports (and life). The pandemic has forced student-athletes to really focus, and maintain a high level of mental toughness and discipline, and self-accountability, a vital aspect for athletics. The pandemic has served as a learning experience for many student-athletes who need to learn to motivate themselves in order to reach their fitness and team goals.
David Gillespie stressed the importance of setting these personal goals and “continuing to push yourself even in times when things are not normal.” There is no instant gratification these days so the ability to keep in mind the long-term goal (for example a runner aiming to achieve a particular time for a mile run) and to build on the hard work previously done is crucial.
Counselor Grebski said that sports are sometimes seen as metaphors for life, and that has been demonstrated certainly during the pandemic. The times in which we improve and learn the most during life are those of adversity. The pandemic has forced athletes to reassess what sports mean to them and what they really value. As we all struggle together to get through this challenging time, the key role of sports and fitness for our overall well-being is very evident.