"We Are All in This Together"
College Writing 2, Dr. Thomas McNamara
Being a student athlete here at Lewis University, I wanted to find out how athletes on the men's cross country team were feeling and thinking with the changes applied in the fall due to COVID-19 because it was a tough time for all of us to get used to. Writing this taught me how much time goes into writing a peer reviewed article, but with proper planning the process is enjoyable. Dr. McNamara did a phenomenal job of breaking up this project into smaller projects for the class, so it was not overwhelming to do.
Excerpt from "We Are All in This Together"
“For my last interview I met with Simon. He is a sophomore from Indiana majoring in radio and television broadcasting…. The first question was if he found it mentally taxing being away from his teammates from the spring until fall. Simon’s response was, “Oh yes from the spring till fall it was really rough. Especially since we were doing some pretty tough workouts, and I basically had to do it on my own. It was like having to train through the summer by myself but twice as long. In order to cope, I tried to have friends bike alongside me, and I also made a lot of new running routes….” I followed up by asking if using social media and texting helped him feel connected with his teammates and cope with the stress from training alone. He said, “Yeah, it was really nice using Zoom to see the team and talk with each other over the summer. And other things such as Snapchat group chats and Instagram allowed me to interact with guys on the team while staying socially distant.” The use of social media, as Simon said, and having occasional Zoom team meetings helped keep the team atmosphere even when not together helping lower the stress of being alone…. According to Grauspensperger et. al (2020), being able to stay connected with teammates virtually when socializing in person is not allowed can help an athlete maintain or improve their mental well-being (p. 668). This shows that interactions can still be reached while being socially distant and it is still effective.”
We Are All in This Together
by Daniel Arimi
Here at Lewis, I wanted to see how COVID-19 has affected Lewis athletics, specifically the cross country team. As a student athlete, I have seen the changes that have been done academically and athletically to keep everyone safe. Students and faculty are mostly online, but if needed can attend in person classes if they are wearing a mask, are six feet apart from their peers, and have filled out their online COVID screening showing they have no symptoms. Online classes have been a work in progress since being sent home in March to now as faculty are still figuring out how to keep class interesting and less stressful for themselves and for students. It has been difficult trying to adjust to keep everyone safe but also allow people to still be successful. When looking at colleges, each school has made changes to protect their students but still give them the best way to learn and thrive; more specifically, each school has done their best to give athletes the opportunity to still compete while following COVID-19 guidelines, which have been hard. For example, at the University of California, Berkeley, they spent $100,000 in sanitation and have moved training outside to lower the risk of their athletes getting sick (Branch, 2020). This is a Power 5 conference school with more students and faculty than Lewis, but this pandemic makes the playing field level so that everyone must follow proper guidelines to stay safe.
Some schools, no matter the division, have chosen to cancel fall sports to protect their athletes and those around them while other schools have chosen to continue with their season. Along with those schools that have chosen to have their fall season, they have allowed their players to make their own decision on whether they want to play. Lewis is a Division 2 program and a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). Here at Lewis, the athletic department allowed the men’s and women’s cross country team to still compete along with giving the runners a choice to run or opt out. With being allowed to compete, as I am a part of the cross country team, I was grateful to be given that opportunity that some athletes were not granted. The GLVC did their best to keep each team safe, during the three meets granted for the season, with socially distant camps, team only porta pots, mandatory masks to be worn before and after races, and spaced starting blocks for each team; also, no spectators could watch. The GLVC also made each team get tested in order to compete at the conference meet. At Lewis, the athletic department had the cross country teams quarantine for five days when everyone moved in and then get tested to be allowed to practice with the team. During the season, they had three time slots for athletes to go and get their temperature taken along with filling out an online COVID screening for symptoms. Lewis and the GLVC made proper changes to allow athletes to practice and the cross team to compete. Unfortunately, these guidelines did not work as well as planned here at Lewis. Nearing the end of the fall semester more and more athletes were in quarantine or tested positive causing the total number of student cases to rise.
This study aims to show the guidelines and new rules athletes had to follow for school and for competition during their fall season specifically the men’s cross country team at Lewis University. This will be illustrated through the interviews I conducted with five men on the cross country team and expressing their thoughts and feelings about how the school has handled everything academically and athletically. These findings should propose the positive things faculty and the athletic staff have done this semester but more importantly what both the academic faculty and athletic staff could continue to do to make changes and enforce new rules to keep student athletes safe.
For my research, I interviewed five runners on the men’s cross country team by asking them in person or through text. I focused on one team because I am a part of the Lewis men’s cross country team, and the cross country teams were the only teams competing in the fall this season while other teams only had practice and conditioning. I also wanted to gain my teammates’ thoughts on how they felt the season was going with training and competing. Each interview was in person, was a semi-structured conversation, and was done separately except for one because I wanted to see if having two interviewees would bring out more conversation and better answers to the questions asked; every interview took around 30 minutes to complete. I also asked one of my interviewees two follow up questions through text messages. The questions I asked were all approved by the IRB and most questions had follow up questions dealing with their academics and athletics.
A few examples of the questions I asked:
- How did it affect you physically and mentally to switch form in person to online in the spring?
- What have faculty done that have made online learning successful for you?
- What NCAA policies about the pandemic do you feel have most impacted you? Your teammates?
- What have your experiences been of the required COVID screenings?
- How does COVID affect your athletic eligibility?
Each of my interviewees will have pseudonyms to protect their identity. Their names are David, Tyler, Max, Kyle, and Simon.
For my first interview, David is a graduate student from Gurnee, Illinois getting his MBA, and he received his undergraduate degree at Notre Dame University; I will highlight his experiences and thoughts with online learning. I asked David to explain how his first semester has been going so far, and he explained that it took time getting used to taking online classes in his dorm compared to taking online classes during the summer when it felt normal and getting used to a different school. David said, “taking a class that could be happening a quarter mile away feels weird,” but overall classes are going well for him, and he mentioned teachers are doing their best with online teaching. To help with not staying in his room all the time, he tried going outside for a change to do his online classes, but the Wi-Fi connection was not strong enough, and David was kicked out of his class twice. “I barely have a strong Wi-Fi signal in my room, and when I leave it’s even worse,” he said. He also admitted, “it could be pretty easy to neglect like a homework assignment or reading when you don’t leave your room very often.” David does have one in-person class, but he said with social distancing it does not help with socializing and getting to know classmates and forming study groups.
When I asked him to explain more about his online experience, David explained the difficulties with online learning. “People kind of pop in late, and the teacher doesn’t know what’s happening; he thinks he stopped sharing the screen or something, or the Wi-Fi crashes and the entire class gets booted out, so it’s definitely got a lot of difficulties.” For him personally, David is a visual learner, and he misses “seeing the different colored expo markers on the board,” and asking questions when it comes to having his asynchronous class. Even when I asked him about going to online office hours to get help, David said that he does but sometimes it will not work. He said, “they feel a lot less personal and I can’t show like my exact work or thought process,” when using the online office hours, which is why he prefers going in person. The good thing with online learning for David is having one synchronous class because he can ask questions and get an answer, and he likes having a “specific time” for class. Overall, David highlighted the positive and negative aspects of online learning, which can be similar to other students’ experiences too, which is comforting for them to know they are not the only one trying to get used to this new way of learning.
For my second interview, I interviewed two people with the goal of creating a better conversation between the three of us, and if their answers could encourage each other to answer in support of their opinion giving a different perspective or even disagreeing with them. Their names are Tyler and Max. They are both sophomores here at Lewis University; Tyler is from Greenville, Wisconsin majoring in physics, and Max is from Colorado Springs, Colorado majoring in math. The topic I found most engaging with these two was athletes getting their temperature taken by the athletic trainers here at Lewis University to be allowed to practice with their team. Temperature checks are taken at 9:00 am, 12:30 pm, and 6:00 pm. When asking which time, they prefer to get their temperature taken, Tyler said he liked going in the morning because when he tried going to get his temperature at 6:00, he said, “... it seemed liked pretty much every single student-athlete was there trying to get their temp taken, so I felt like the 9:00 nobody’s really there, and I’m just hoping that most people are sleeping in.” His answer led me to ask a follow up question if they felt unsafe being in a line with different athletes that are not on the cross country team. Max’s answer was, “For sure, there have been times where I’ve noticed that the organization has been lacking… There was one time in particular, where some things have gone wrong on the trainers’ side, and there was a group of at least a 100 kids in one hallway and it was like, this might be the largest on campus group of people that I’ve ever been in period… So that was kind of frustrating for me.” Hearing this shows that even though the athletic trainers are trying to keep athletes safe to practice and compete, standing in line not six feet apart with a large number of people in one place defeats the purpose, and causes student-athletes to feel concerned about their health.
Even Tyler felt concerned about his health adding that he agreed with Max and felt somewhat unsafe being around other people outside of their “quarantine group” for the cross country team with the uncertainty of who were, or not, exposed to the virus when hearing that athletes are testing positive. Tyler brought up a good point that not only is it a concern with being in a group with other athletes they are not usually around, but it is also more concerning when athletes who have COVID-19 could potentially expose their teammates and their teammates could potentially expose the athletes and athletic trainers at temperature checks.
For my fourth interview, I met with Kyle, who is a sophomore here at Lewis University majoring in Aviation Administration, and he is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With Kyle, I found our conversation with the mental side of being an athlete interesting. Kyle was injured coming into this season, and he mentioned how it took a physical and mental toll on him, so with his permission, I asked him to elaborate on how being injured affected him mentally. He said, “For me it was just seeing my teammates run every day and me just kind of in the dark about not knowing what I’m gonna be doing next… the communication between my coach and I were we just continued to not really be linked with each other and just kind of understand what we’re thinking.” Kyle found it hard to not get the proper attention he needed as an athlete from his coach as he was “mentally in the wrong place”, and he thought the pandemic possibly had a reason to do with it as the team still had a season. He thought his coach focused on those athletes who were competing more than those who were injured. I then asked Kyle would his connection with his coach be better while he was injured if there was not a pandemic. He said at first that he was not sure because he never got to talk with his coach about it, but then he said that his coach was under a lot stress doing his best to get his athletes a season to run in and with all that extra work he did, Kyle said “I don’t know if he really wanted to have to worry about me.”
This shows how with COVID causing changes with so many things, added stress comes with it, and for an athlete that is injured, it does mentally affect them if they are not receiving proper attention from their coach not just for instruction but for comfort as well. An athlete puts their trust in their coach, and if their coach is not reaching out just to check in, that can have negative mental effects on that athlete, which could lead to the athlete giving up on their sport and even struggling with their academics. It is also important to highlight that the cross country coach did have a lot more work to do this season. He had Zoom calls with the conference, organized when the athletes should get tested, and of course had to coach both the men’s and women’s teams for the season. This should not be an excuse to not give an athlete the proper attention, but it does show that he had a lot going on for himself too.
For my last interview I met with Simon. He is a sophomore from Indiana majoring in radio and television broadcasting. I asked Simon the same main questions just like the other interviewees, but because I interviewed him much later than the rest, I asked him two additional questions, through text, that came to mind from reading an article to see if he had anything to say. The first question was if he found it mentally taxing being away from his teammates from the spring until fall. Simon’s response was, “Oh yes from the spring till fall it was really rough. Especially since we were doing some pretty tough workouts, and I basically had to do it on my own. It was like having to train through the summer by myself but twice as long. In order to cope, I tried to have friends bike alongside me, and I also made a lot of new running routes”. Having to train alone all those months after being sent home running 70+ miles a week, and sometimes more, is not easy to do, and it can become more of a mental challenge rather than a physical one. Being able to run with a teammate or simply anyone can help keep one motivated to continue to train as Simon did here by having a friend bike alongside him. I followed up by asking if using social media and texting helped him feel connected with his teammates and cope with the stress from training alone. He said, “Yeah, it was really nice using zoom to see the team and talk with each other over the summer. And other things such as snapchat group chats and Instagram allowed me to interact with guys on the team while staying socially distant.” The use of social media as Simon said and having occasional Zoom team meetings helped keep the team atmosphere even when not together helping lower the stress of being alone. The team also uses a running app called Strava to track mileage, and I felt that helped me feel connected with my teammates and stay motivated when I see that they are still running and training hard at home. According to Grauspensperger et. al (2020), being able to stay connected with teammates virtually when socializing in person is not allowed can help an athlete maintain or improve their mental well-being (p. 668). This shows that interactions can still be reached why being socially distant and it is still effective.
My proposal is for Lewis to continue listening to their students to make proper accommodations for online learning. This is still a work in progress for teachers, so both faculty and students need to be flexible and work with each other to get the best results out of online learning, however, despite being caught off balance by this pandemic, Lewis should have their teachers prepare an online course along with their regular in person class if something like were to happen again. Hodges et. al pointed out that teachers should not go back to their old ways of teaching but rather be prepared for another “emergency remote teaching (ERT)” if another shutdown were to happen again due to a natural disaster for example (2020, p. 7). As David mentioned above, it seemed as if his teachers were still figuring out how to use Zoom, so by being prepared in advance will allow for a smoother transition from in person to online. For athletics, the athletic staff need to do a better job with screenings and applying strict rules to lower the chance of athletes getting sick. With what they have been doing now, it has not worked with more athletes getting sick and having to quarantine. To help with the concern my interviewees addressed with temperature checks, each team should get their own temperature checked before their practice and not have to worry being around people they are normally not around. Also, coaches need to make sure they do their best to listen to their athletes that are injured during a time like this and encourage them to seek help if needed. Putikan states, “It is important for coaches, athletic trainers, and team physicians to provide support for injured athletes and keep athletes involved and part of the team” (2016, p. 3). It should also be encouraged for athletes to stay connected with each other whether by having weekly team meetings through video chat, team group chats, or other sources of social media as it has been hard being socially isolated. By doing these things, the spring semester can go by more smoothly.
Lewis University has done their best so far with keeping students and faculty safe during this difficult time. My interviewees shared their thoughts with how they thought things have been handled well and not well. From online learning to staying socially distant with teammates, I have found that this is still a work in progress with room for improvement academically and athletically to keep not just student athletes safe but the whole student body and faculty safe. This is not only the case at Lewis University, but other schools have their own situations to deal with. By being able to share people’s thoughts about what has worked and not worked, it can help Lewis first accomplish those problems and eventually help neighboring schools.
Lewis and other institutions need to make sure their teachers have a plan if something like this were to happen again. This will allow an easier switch to online and lower any stress. Teachers and students everywhere need to continue to communicate with each other with ways class can be improved for better involvement. Coaches and athletes need to make sure they are communicating with each other too if something is not going well; if athletes are struggling due to injury, coaches, athletic trainers, team doctors should make sure they are helping their athlete get the proper help physically and mentally. Even with students not in sports, teachers need to make sure to check in with them and make sure they are doing well and seek help if needed. Athletes need to continue to stay connected with their teammates when they are not together in person any way they can to lower any chances of their mental health declining. Finally, the athletic staff need to continue to make the right changes to lower the risk of athletes getting exposed to COVID-19 and ruining their chance to compete. This takes everyone to work together to do their part and stay safe and by doing that, this pandemic will be nothing but of the past.
Branch, J. (2020, September 2). Solving a Pandemic Puzzle: Inside the Return of Sports to a Power 5 Program. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/02/sports/ncaafootball/coronavirus-cal-athletics-season.html
Graupensperger, S., Benson, A. J., Kilmer, J. R., & Evans, M. B. (2020). Social (un)distancing: Teammate interactions, athletic identity, and mental of student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67, 662-670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.08.001
Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning
Putukian, M. (2016). The psychological response to injury in student athletes: a narrative review with a focus on mental health. Br J Sports Med, 50, 145-148. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095586