Student Athletes and COVID 19: This is not the last dance…

Student Athletes and COVID 19: This is not the last dance…

By Andreas Themistocleous, APC Sports Consulting Ltd

In the summer leading to the start of the 1997-98 NBA season, the Bulls front office had taken a decision to rebuild the team, after having won two consecutive titles. Pressure from the team’s superstars and the media forced a one-year suspension of that decision and then coach Phil Jackson dubbed that year “The Last Dance”. Perhaps you know the outcome already, but still it will be a great documentary to watch on ESPN, come next Sunday.

We are the superstars in today’s coronavirus pandemic, all of us in it together. We are experiencing unprecedented conditions the likes of which show up once in a hundred years. Despite the uncertainty, despite the temporary cessation of normal life occurrences, including sports activity and sports competition, we should all look for our next “last dance” and prepare. 

In sports we usually say that attitude is key; it shapes your actions, your goals, but most importantly your work ethic. These are the three main pillars for success. If you do the right things, keep your eyes on the prize and work-work-work then you will succeed. It starts with your attitude, your approach, your mental toughness to endure the process and have patience and trust in what you are doing. These are what we call transferable skills; soft skills that don’t’ show up on resumes and can’t be measured by a single stat sheet. Transferable skills that you can’t show in a job interview, but skills that separate us athletes from the rest. It’s time to put them to work again.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the world of sports by surprise. Professional leagues and college sports all around the USA are in hiatus and of course uncertainty. The collegiate authorities, the NCAA, the NAIA and the NJCAA all took steps towards eligibility relief, by granting spring-sport athletes an extra year of competition, with the subsequent adjustment in the number of scholarships that teams can have. It’s a great step to ensure that athletes receive their fair and equal chance to compete for four years. It’s perhaps a lifeline for that 2% of the athletes in the NCAA that turn pro every year, but it’s also a sign of good things to come for all the rest.  Another “last dance” in the making.

The downside of the pandemic is the constant talk in every media show, every podcast, every online article; perhaps we wrongly shaped the world into being attracted to this type of discussions, but rest assured there is an upside too; for us athletes especially, for college athletes even more. College athletes got to stay home a bit more and see their families; they got to study a bit more and catch up with academics; they had time to sleep in, to rest, to enjoy a more relaxed daily schedule and routine. It’s ok to slack off (just a bit) in a time like this, always having in mind that another “last dance” it’s just around the corner. If there is one thing that history teaches us, based on the words of an ancient Greek philosopher, is that ‘the only constant thing in life is change’.

Now is as good as time as ever to do the things you have avoided or the things you didn’t have time for; definitely, it’s time to do the things you need to do for your future as an athlete, but as a person too. It’s a good time for inner reflection and meditation. It’s a good time to read, to explore your options, to think about your future. It’s no doubt the best time to get that 5k run in, every morning; that extra weights session, that extra hour in the gym perfecting your skills. Soon enough it will be a new academic year, a new sporting season, a new challenge awaiting. Yet again, it’s a matter of attitude. Right now, all over the sports world there are those who wait, those who feel sorry for themselves for the “what might have been” and those who are now being crowned next year’s champions due to their attitude, their approach and their work ethic. What are you going to be?

Surviving the pandemic should be a triumph for us all, it’s no small thing to be healthy these days. There are millions of people out there who will be left without jobs, fathers and mothers, families who will have a tough time in life regardless the pandemic. If you are a college athlete whose eligibility has been extended, perhaps one of the few things to worry about is whether or not to proceed with a Master’s degree since you will be on campus anyway…right?

There will always be a next season. Your work is your investment. Your attitude is your investment capital. The hard work you put in will not go to waste, it’s just waiting for that moment when preparation meets opportunity. If you haven’t’ figured it out yet, my take in life is that there is never a “last dance”. It’s always the last, till the next one.  

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