How the Pandemic Affected Athletes
Due to the ongoing pandemic, many high school and college athletes did not get to play their regular sports season in 2020. This has caused athletes to lose scholarship opportunities, miss out on being recruited to play for the NCAA Division 1 — the highest level of collegiate sports, where most scholarships are full rides, games are televised and athletes reach celebrity status — and suffer from emotional distress.
“I had teammates and friends say they started hanging out with their ‘set’ again, or some started making bad decisions, all because they do not have football. Others say they are dealing with anxiety and depression, and you do not see that on the surface level,” said Michael Vargas, a semi-pro player who plays for The Stars USA Football team, which plays internationally.
“It was very frustrating for us coaches especially not knowing every day if we could practice indoors or practice at all,” said Brian Rivera, a men’s volleyball coach at El Dorado high school. “Also last year the season was canceled completely, and a lot of seniors were very upset. However us coaches, although frustrated, understand the situation.”
Due to the widespread of the COVID-19 virus, the NCAA Division I Council implemented a recruiting dead period early on in 2020, meaning that college coaches could not meet in person with potential high school and junior college recruits. In February, the council extended the period through May 31, according to an NCAA press release.
This has made recruiting even harder for high school athletes graduating in the summer. Emmanuel Perez, 15, is a high school soccer player in his Sophomore season.
“At first I thought this was going to be over in a couple of weeks, not go on for a full year. I was a little bummed out and went through a series of emotions including grief, being mad, sad,” said Emmanuel.
“I know many people that had their careers ended by COVID,” said Omar Veloz, a catcher for the California State Fullerton baseball team. “They were forced to get jobs and hang up their cleats because they weren’t allowed to play.”
According to Kyle Yost, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Maryland, children and teens “use sports as a way to help reduce stress and control anxiety and depression.”
Due to constant emotional change, high school athletes use sports to “reduce stress and control anxiety and depression,” Yost said during an interview with the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“Not being able to play really hurt my confidence because taking time off affected my rhythm on the field when getting back into soccer again. We are still having a season, it is only five games, I believe, but it’s still something,” said Emmanuel.
Daivon Lowman, a Fullerton College running back, although disappointed about the canceled season, is optimistic about the future despite the circumstances.
“They’re giving us an extra year of eligibility and we got more time to prepare. We are having a season this summer,” said Lowman, who, prior to the pandemic, was being scouted by schools including Pennsylvania State, a Big Ten university involved in the Big Ten Conference, the oldest Division I athletic conference in the U.S.
“Some positives about extra time away from the game is that we got extra time to work out and prepare. Covid ended up affecting my college route for the better,” said Veloz, “I was at junior college last year when our season shut down and I had no idea where I would be playing the following year. Luckily California State Fullerton came up so I took the opportunity.”
It is likely sports will change drastically as seasons start to play out. Yost noted how other countries and even professional leagues are continuing their seasons playing in empty stadiums. Some of those, like the MLB and the MLS, plan to allow a 20% capacity in their stadiums. How that will ensue for high school and college seasons is yet to be known.
“Hopefully I can still get a scholarship. I want to work hard, get good grades and get into a top school that also has a good soccer program,” said Emmanuel.