With fall sports just one month away from season openings, some student athletes are hitting the gym for voluntary summer training. With spring seasons cut short mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, several students say they want to get as much time in as possible while they can.
The Athletics Program at Westminster College has kickstarted its summer training, adhering to the health and safety guidance from the NCAA action plan considerations. These guidelines allow athletes to train under strict protocols to prepare for the upcoming fall season.
“Currently, student-athletes who wish to use campus facilities to voluntarily train are required to complete daily symptom and temperature checks by our Certified Athletic Trainers prior to any use,” said Shay Wyatt, director of athletics, in an email to The Forum.
The NCAA released guidelines for student athletes returning to sport practices, outlining a phased-in resocialization process.
Part of this includes physical distancing, hand hygiene, universal masking when distancing isn’t possible and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
“Each [school] will have to balance the need to return with the top priority of protecting student-athlete health and well-being,” said Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer, in a statement. “Until there is a vaccine in place, medical experts recommend adopting specific practices — including testing and social distancing when possible — and having plans in place for stopping spread if and when staff or students test positive for the coronavirus.”
However, implementing certain health guidelines into team sport practices — like physical distancing — can become difficult.
Audrey Green, a senior who plays volleyball for Westminster, said some aspects of the resocialization process are doable — whereas others are easier said than done.
“Obviously, we try to practice social distancing as much as possible,” Green said. “But with a team sport it’s kind of hard in some aspects. In other aspects, it’s doable.”
The screening process, however, starts long before Green steps foot in the gym.
Student athletes must notify trainers how many players will attend practice before heading to campus. Once they arrive, athletes head straight to the training room — masks already worn — to get temperatures checked and to conduct a COVID screening.
Players sign in, documenting who comes to each practice, as they await a text message from the athletic trainer notifying whether they passed the screening process.
On their way into practice, student athletes must show proof of this text to Health, Wellness and Athletic Center employees before being admitted to the two-hour open gym.
From there, student athletes are subject to several other precautionary measures.
“We only bring out the equipment that’s absolutely necessary,” Green said. “Just to keep it simplified and easier to sanitize.”
In a typical season, athletes can use up to 50 volleyballs in a single practice. Now, they stick to around 12.
Drills look different under new phased-in guidelines, omitting exercises that require face-to-face contact. For volleyball players, that means no blocking drills for now.
“We don’t do highfives [anymore],” Green said. “Which sucks, I actually hate that. We don’t do certain drills that are face-to-face, like at the net.”
Players also dedicate time to sanitize high-touch surfaces at the end of the two-hour practice.
“Other than that, it’s pretty normal,” Green said. “Just social distancing. We don’t have to wear masks while we exercise, which is really nice. I don’t know if I could manage a two-hour open gym with a mask on.”
Despite increased precautions, the senior volleyball player said it was worth it to get back out on the court. Establishing team chemistry early in the summer, she said, helps going into the preseason.
“Just keeping the progress that we made kind of fresh, and not just letting it go to waste over the summer,” Green said. “And just seeing teammates, I think that’s a big thing. Staying in contact, seeing them in person, helps a lot with our preseason in the fall.”
Although this established connection is important, Green said she is mindful of the “definite risks” that come along with a team sport. Maintaining personal hygiene, for example, is something teammates are consistently working on to prevent transmitting the coronavirus.
It’s unknown what the fall season will look like as of now, with several decisions still up in the air. According to Athletic Director Shay Wyatt, the department has not decided whether team travel or competition will take place in the fall.
These decisions will be announced in the coming weeks.