Athletic programs around the world have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, right from the youngest athletes to the most experienced and famous professional athletes. Our program at ASH is no exception and our coaches and student athletes have had to constantly reinvent the wheel over this past year. We wanted to hear from our athletics director, Mr. Bishop, what kind of impact this has had on the overall program, how these challenges have been met and hopes for the future. Here is his reflection on the last year in the world of ASH athletics and how his student athletes and coaches have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finding Different Motivations
“I believe there have been a number of challenges they (students) have had to overcome, but I think the biggest has been our inability to have competitions with other schools. Athletes love to compete against themselves and others... we had to come up with different motivations to challenge our athletes with. In school, say math class, we learn a new skill, practice that skill, test ourselves with some formal assessments before we take the final summative assessment to see how well we learned that new skill. With sports it happens the same way. We learn new skills or continue to refine our skills, play games against schools during the season to practice our skills and then compete in a season ending tournament to see how well we did. The outcome of that tournament doesn't define our success or not, but it helps us measure our growth during the season and gives us things to continue to refine and get better at. Without those games and season ending tournaments we have had to redefine how to measure.
The Silver Linings
Sports certainly is more than playing games, one of the silver linings of this school year has been the refocus on the other aspects that sports encompass, those life lessons we learn while playing. My focus with the coaches was let's make sure the most important factors as to why kids play are front and center in the discussion. Kids play to have fun. When they stop having fun they stop playing. Having fun doesn't mean not working hard or not being committed, but if our athletes stop enjoying what they are doing they will stop playing. Each season we have had record participation and I think that is partially because the coaches have still found ways to engage in our athletes in having fun. Of course competition is fun, but it just had to look different this year.
A story I like to tell folks who are tired of not being able to compete is that we have athletes every year that go through this exact scenario and they become stronger in the end because of it, if they just will persevere. Lots of college freshman athletes go to college not quite prepared to play at the next level, so universities have a system in place called "redshirting". Every college player is allowed to have four years of eligibility, if you wear a redshirt you practice everyday with the team, compete in practice, but don't play any games for an entire year. When you begin your second year of college, your four years of eligibility then begin. Speaking from experience, it is hard to compete in practice every day and not be able to play in any games. Now while this doesn't correlate exactly, it has been the best example I can give our athletes. Overcoming hardships is a part of life and we hope to be stronger because of it. We can be fortunate that we have been able to at least practice, as many of the schools we compete against haven't even been able to do that.
Listening to Students' Voices
I think our student athletes have been able to overcome more than they know and they won't fully be able to understand that until much later. I think we have listened to students’ voices more in making decisions about how practices will run to make sure they are fully engaged in the learning process. I hope this will be a carry over to when we return to a more normal situation. They are more appreciative of what they get to do, rather than what they have to do. I believe a number of student athletes have become more driven in their goals as they realize they need to do more themselves, rather than just wait to have someone tell them what they need to do in order to fulfill those dreams/goals. I also think that the kids have found ways to care for their friends in ways that maybe they wouldn't have in the past because they are going through this challenging period of time and understand that everyone copes with things differently.
Adapting to Challenges
I like to say control the controllables and this year there was a lot we couldn't control. This might have been one of the most challenging aspects for each of the seasons. We always relied on hope that things would get better and we once again would be able to compete. Our fall coaches maybe were the luckiest as they had the most normal season of the three, until they didn't. Watching for government restrictions and hoping that things would be different were certainly challenging. Our winter season started fairly normal with practice inside before that was no longer an option. The winter coaches probably were the most flexible as we moved from inside the sport hall and the pool to outside. There is a reason we play basketball and swim inside during the winter, the weather isn't fantastic outside. Our coaches and athletes embraced the challenge and moved outside.
This spring is the most normal so far this year, as ordinarily we would be outside already, the hardest part this year is the lack of games and the season ending event. Again, the coaches are being creative in continuing to make things fun. We have been part of a number of virtual challenges during the year. Recently our high school track distance runners competed in a virtual cross country meet hosted by a school in Beirut with a number of schools from around the world participating. We had the overall winner for the boys and girl races. Our boys team placed first and the girls were second. This week we will be participating in a virtual track meet with a school in Shanghai, China which should be fun. Many coaches used online tools like the app Homecourt to help with skill development and competitions. Some athletes really got motivated by competing against others around the world.
Doing Our Best
At the end of the day we all do the best that we can. In talking with other athletic directors from around the world, we have been lucky to have what little we did have. Most are jealous of our program. When you walk in another person's shoes for a few minutes you come to realize how fortunate you are, even though you are longing for more we need to be content with what we achieve every single day. Our hope and the planning is underway for a more normal athletic calendar next year, though we will use the learning from the past year to continue to build upon the outstanding program we run to be able to pivot in a different direction if needed.”
We wanted to take this opportunity to give a well-deserved big round of applause to everyone involved in ASH athletics, from our coaches, athletes and supporters, thank you for your perseverance and go Trojans!