One year ago Alex Ramirez, the varsity boys’ soccer coach, worried about the effect COVID-19 would have on his athletes’ mental health.
While he couldn’t change how the pandemic affected their home life, he realized the best way he could help them was through soccer.
Like other students, the players on the boys soccer team were attending school over zoom. While they would normally be in class talking to teachers and friends, they were stuck behind a screen with limited means of social interaction.
That was not the only problem the boys faced, though. One of the biggest factors that contributed to bad mental health was monotony.
Over half of the boys soccer team said that one of the main reasons for a decline in their mental health was due to repetition and a lack of social interaction
“I was bored, maybe even a little depressed” said sophomore Luke Musser. “It was hard, especially with no sports.”
Every day was the same: wake up, attend zoom classes, go to sleep. Once soccer started the players got a much needed change.
“I know the athletes suffered negative impacts of the pandemic in other aspects of their lives,” said Ramirez. “But being able to play school sports in the COVID season actually helped my players.”
The athletes agree.
Even in the past without the pandemic, the soccer season provided the players with a beneficial outlet, as these students are constantly facing challenges such as stress, anxiety, and depression, which has just been magnified due to COVID-19.
60 percent of the boys soccer team said that COVID-19 negatively affected their mental health, while 100 percent of them said that being able to play soccer for Riverside improved it.
“[COVID] Made it really hard to get out of the house and made me feel lonely because I was doing the same things all day every day,” said junior Reese Compton.
Sophomores Noah Cho and Julien Cloutier agree.
“I did not like being inside the house for months without social interaction,” said Cho. “I couldn’t go to school to talk to people. Even with phones it felt like I was isolated.”
“Every day felt really boring and repetitive,” said Cloutier.
Soccer gave these students a needed change and something to look forward to.
“I felt completely isolated and alone,” said senior Nathan Gordon. “The only thing I had to keep me going was soccer.
Although there was a boys soccer season last fall, it had very different guidelines than in the past. Athletes had to wear masks at all times, coaches couldn’t be within six feet of athletes and no spectators were allowed at games. Additionally, fewer kids tried out for the team, and the season was shorter than normal. There were only 3 practices a week and 10 games overall in relation to the 3 practices a week and 18 games, not including preseason practices.
“There were a lot of players who could not play because of grades or having to work jobs for their families,” said Gordon.
“During the season, we started a few months behind the Cary teams we were playing,” said Cho. “We weren’t as prepared as them.”
Playing a fall sport during the winter was an adjustment, too.
“COVID-19 made the season start in the winter, which isn’t ideal for an outdoor sport,” said Cloutier. “The soccer season is usually in the fall when the weather is much nicer. We also were required to play with a mask, which made it harder to breathe.”
While the environment was much different, the effect it had on the players was greater than in the past. For many of the players, school soccer was a good distraction.
“[The pandemic] made soccer something I used as an escape from online school and other COVID things,” said Compton. “It gave me something to focus on that I could do to distract myself from all the bad things going on.”
It also gave the players a reason to stay motivated.
“It improved my mental health since I had something to do after school and look forward to too,” says sophomore Logan Armstrong.
“It felt good to meet people and actually physically talk to people,” says Cho, “ It was something that I could look forward to after Zoom class.”
Clinical research supports the players’ anecdotes. According to News Medical Life Sciences the benefits of athletics on students, especially during fall of last year during the pandemic, are significant, as they lower symptoms of mental illnesses.
“Just being able to be together as a team (even if it wasn’t normal) was a huge benefit for them,” said Ramirez. “They hadn’t seen each other in school for months so to be able to come together again and have time with one another was beautiful.”