Shifted expectations: student-athletes, coaches adapting to reality without fall sports

As students return to Tufts for the hybrid fall semester, fall athletes must deal with the reality of training and staying motivated with no season or indication of when normalcy will return. 

Some athletes have been able to return to play, depending on where they spent the summer and the logistics of their respective sports. Ann Sheridan, a junior on the sailing team, had the chance to sail a little earlier than her teammates thanks to her hometown of Charleston, S.C. opening up early.

“I had the opportunity to sail and my spin studio was closed so it was a lot more outside, working out alone activities over the summer and the varsity athletic trainer sent us monthly workout plans specific to the sailing team,” she said.

Under normal circumstances, the sailing team would have focused on getting time in different kinds of boats over the summer, but instead, they got into a combination of running, cycling and cross-training.

In terms of transitioning back into the fall, the sailors are expecting changes with no regattas for the foreseeable future. “It’s looking different than usual. We would normally have lift twice a week and then practice four days a week for about five hours,” Sheridan said. “Instead, we are doing one lift, maybe outside or in smaller groups and we’re doing single-handed sailing instead of double-handed sailing. Normally there are two people per boat but pretty close together, so we are forced to sail those boats alone for now,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan was named a New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association second-teamer for women’s crews during the 2019–2020 season, an award she appreciated as a confirmation of her hard work last fall.

“It’s a really big motivator, and I’m so grateful to be honored in that way … I feel like I have to live up to it now and continuously prove that I was deserving of it,” she said. 

Looking toward the future of the team, Sheridan hopes to welcome the first-years in the best way possible, although the team hasn’t been able to meet them yet due to quarantine guidelines.

“I’m looking forward to the team continuously improving and showcasing our talent and hard work at regattas … I’m excited to see my team again in any capacity because we are pretty close and we have fun together,” she said. 

Junior Will Kandianis, a defensive lineman on the football team, got creative for non-gym workouts by incorporating buckets of rocks into lifts and ensuring a positive and fun attitude at home.

“I did whatever I could with the buckets of rocks, and then pushups, pullups, running, situps, a lot of bodyweight activities. Our strength trainer sent us two workouts, one if you had weights at your home and one if you didn’t, which was super helpful,” Kandianis said.

Typically the football team trains in three phases, beginning over winter break through training camp right before the season, so there is normally a lot of buildup and hard work put in for what is ultimately a nine-game season. Due to the brevity of their playing time, the loss of the season due to COVID-19 was even more disappointing.

“We train for 35 weeks out of 52 in the year and it stinks that we do all this work and there is no way to enjoy the fruits of our labor this year. [It’s] definitely really disappointing but [we’re] trying to stay positive,” Kandianis said.

Kandianis’ main message to younger players on the team has been for them to wear their masks and practice social distancing. “Even though we don’t have football and coaches telling us to do the right thing, I want to remind the freshmen and sophomores to have their masks on and not gather in large groups. We have to stick to the guidelines and rules so that we can play as soon as possible,” he said.

Tufts’ fall sports coaches are also facing the unique challenge of setting training plans for their current athletes and planning recruitment for the future. Over the summer, most coaches had to make the adjustment of accommodating students that did not have access to gyms, fields or water, depending on the sport.

Coach Tina Mattera of the field hockey team sent her players workouts from, a free website that includes many varieties of full-body workouts and healthy eating recipes.

“I sent them workouts that they could do at home from [a] fitness website, but a lot of girls were just running to get out of the house or [biking] indoors. They did what they could do, also either doing yoga or finding ways onto a field,” Mattera said.

Mattera also shed light on difficulties in the recruitment process for the high school class of 2022. “It’s been kind of awful and I feel so bad for them. Normally [high school] players send me a video and I’ll say ‘OK, see you at the tournaments,’ but now I’m relying on videos so much more.”

She noted that the disappointment goes both ways because in the past, bringing potential recruits to campus has been such a selling point for the field hockey program. “It’s really hard because we haven’t been able to get the players on campus. The fact that we can’t [bring them here] has been so tough,” Mattera said.

Mattera remarked that another consequence of COVID-19 has been the inability to see non-local girls play. “There’s a group of kids that we’ve seen multiple times and then other players we haven’t seen at all. I’m more likely to recruit a local kid that I’ve seen four times than a kid that I haven’t seen and only have a five-minute video of which is tough.”

While it is difficult for teams to stay in touch due to social distancing regulations and strict rules about group practices, field hockey has done Zoom calls to do check-ins with players and to provide updates about the program and workouts this fall.

“My players are awesome and they took ownership. They were really good about pulling the freshmen in for this year and the captains organize team Zooms. It’s their team so I love for them to do fun stuff together without me there,” Mattera said.

Although student-athletes were disappointed to come back to campus without their seasons, most teams have found ways to stay motivated and connected thanks to support from their coaches and substantial online activity. Until they can get back out on the water, field or track, they plan to keep energy high and focus on what they can accomplish in the future.