While universities’ abrupt closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have brought about feelings of instability and sadness to many college students across America, student-athletes face the unique challenge of staying in shape with no gyms, trainers or practices.
The Tufts strength and conditioning coaches, who help athletes maintain performance and prevent future injuries, must accommodate athletes that do not have access to exercise equipment at home, according to Dan Kopsco, director of sports performance.
“The off-season is largely about helping shore up deficits in an athletes’ performance,” Kopsco wrote in an email to the Daily. “Then, helping them improve for their role in their sport by getting more flexible, adding muscle mass, getting stronger, and running faster.”
While the goals of the strength and conditioning department remain the same, the means for athletes to achieve these goals have shifted due to the global pandemic.
“Since everything is shut down and each student-athlete has different access to equipment, we have sent out different workout plans to the athletes who request them,” Kopsco wrote. “Any athlete who requests a workout is getting a body-weight-only plan (i.e. no equipment available) and if some athletes have specific goals or specific equipment and they often request something tailored for them.”
Kopcso pointed out the advantages of staying active during the pandemic and discussed the benefits that exercise can have on mental health, mood, productivity and schoolwork.
Kopsco shared that athletes returning to play have to follow guidelines for practices and volume, and those returning to optional offseason training will have other rules governing the intensity of their training to ensure that they are safely increasing their work capacity.
In some cases, such as for fall sports, recent stay-at-home orders and recommendations for social distancing have not directly impacted the season. While almost all of the winter sports were able to finish out their seasons before students departed campus, every spring athlete at Tufts lost the opportunity to compete in the 2020 season. However, some winter teams were unable to finish out their postseasons. This includes the men’s basketball team that had come off a successful season with a NESCAC championship and an excellent performance in the NCAA regionals.
For spring athletes, training has radically changed since being home, as sophomore Peter DeMaria, an infielder on the baseball team, said.
“I am training like I’m in season in terms of working out, still trying to grow and hit even with no access to a cage,” DeMaria said.
Many players on the Tufts baseball team play for a summer league, and while no official decision has been made on whether the season will happen, DeMaria is preparing under the assumption that they will play. Luckily, the players are able to stay in touch, and DeMaria remains thankful for the ability to do so.
“We talk to each other every day in a big group chat, and we try to have weekly meetings,” DeMaria said. “It’s pretty cool that, because of the technology, we are able to sort of be together every day because that’s how we are on campus.”
According to DeMaria, an offseason would usually entail positional lifts, with pitchers lifting on their own while others get together at the cage to make sure their swings feel right. He shared hopes that this winter will look the same, with team workouts and group gatherings.
“Players have to get creative with workouts because we don’t have the luxury of the gym we normally have at [the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center], so it’s based on what we have access to,” DeMaria said. “I can’t wait to compete with the guys again. It’s a really special thing to be around the players all day, and the camaraderie we’ve built is amazing. It will take the team as a whole to get together and build chemistry for the incoming guys and gear up for next season.”
Unlike baseball, the women’s track and field team was almost through its indoor season when the university announced that in-person classes were canceled.
Sophomore Iman McPherson shared her experience being home and said that the team is staying in touch through Slack and honoring the seniors to keep morale up.
“The track coach posted a picture of different seniors and everyone wrote what they appreciated about them, and the sprinters have had practice Zooms, so we’ve been able to keep in touch,” McPherson said.
The women’s track and field team does not normally use direct guidance from the strength and conditioning coaches. They have continued to use Volt, a fitness training app, to do workouts, update each other on their progress and take responsibility for their own training. To accommodate those that don’t have access to exercise equipment, McPherson said that the app contains different body-weight workouts specified to lifting experience and which events the team participates in.
“I’m pretty new to track, so I was really excited for the outdoor season … I felt like I had been on a roll in the winter season, so I was ready to carry that into the spring,” McPherson said. “But everyone will ratchet it up in the fall and keep going from there. I look forward to being together with the team again.”
Unfortunately, much about upcoming NCAA Div. III sports is currently unknown due to the uncharted territory the global pandemic has created. As professional sports are considering the reality of having games with no fans, it is likely that the return will look different than life prior to the pandemic.
Whether fall 2020 sports will be affected by COVID-19 is unclear, but like most institutions, the NCAA is making contingency plans for any possibility. Until decisions are made, student-athletes at Tufts will continue to stay in touch and keep motivation high as they are eager to get out and compete again.