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An Open Letter to Student-Athletes: Lessons I have Learned from you Amidst a Crisis


Last year on January 27, my best friend suddenly passed away – my dad. My last contact with him came earlier that day when he texted me to ask if I was watching the Michigan State – Purdue college basketball game. Honestly, it felt totally random because we had zero affiliation with either of those teams. But, that’s just how it was. No matter the sport. No matter the team. We always connected over sports.

As I write those words I am filled with a profound sense of loss. And I imagine that is how many of you are feeling right now. The loss of a season. The loss of a career. The loss of postseason play. All so abrupt. All so sudden.

I know many of you are hurting. You tell me this much when we talk. Some of you are angry. Some of you are sad. Some of you are profoundly disappointed. Some of you are filled with anxiety due to all the uncertainty. When I hear your stories, I can feel your pain. Yet, I remain so inspired.

As athletes you have so much to teach all of us about how to be resilient. How to respond to adversity. How to deal with loss. And I hear these stories too. In many ways you are the experts and I want to share what I have learned from our conversations over the past week. Below in the form of quotes are 10 inspiring lessons from student-athletes dealing with the circumstances of COVID-19.

NOTE: The following quotes were taken from recent sessions with student-athletes. Several details were changed to protect confidentiality

Lesson #1 – Stay Connected: “A lot of us (teammates) still get together on Google hangout. We try to do it every day at the same time. We call it our virtual huddle.”

Lesson #2 – Be Grateful: “This whole situation has made me realize I don’t appreciate everything as much as I would like. I get irritated with my teammates about little things. I complain about going to practice. Now I miss everyone and everything so much. When we get back, I am going to write down one thing I am grateful for at the end of each day.”

Lesson # 3 – It’s Okay to be Upset: ”Our season was canceled and I understand from a public health perspective that was the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t really hurt right now. That doesn’t mean this feeling will last forever either. If sports has taught me one thing it’s how to conquer challenges in life.”

Lesson # 4 – Make Space for Recovery: “When I’m on campus I am always going from one activity to the next. Always doing, doing, doing. To be honest, I often feel so physically and emotionally drained. I am trying to look at this as an opportunity to slow down. I’m just allowing myself to be still and hoping that gives my body and mind space to recover.”

Lesson # 5 – Stay Positive: “There’s an opportunity in everything. We just need to allow ourselves to see it. I have been through two serious injuries since I came here (to college). I have learned that life is not necessarily about what happens to you but more about how you respond to it. There will be challenges but those provide opportunities for growth. Hopefully this whole situation will allow us all to grow as people and a society.”

Lesson # 6 – Be Mindful: “I’m looking at this as a time to practice being more present. As you know I’ve been using headspace and now I am starting to invest more time in it. It’s teaching me that there are much better ways to spend my time than compulsively checking the news.”

Lesson # 7 – Control the Controllables: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from our sessions it is that I need to control the controllables. I cannot control what thoughts come up for me. I cannot control what emotions come up for me. I can control what I choose to focus on. So, I’m spending more time focused on what’s important to me like being together with my family. It’s been quite some time since we have all been in the same place and had the opportunity to do things like sit down for dinner together.”

Lesson # 8 – Find Humor: “Every day I make sure to watch something that is going to make me laugh. I try to do that with my friends if possible. We have been watching a lot of funny Netflix shows. I’m all about the quarantine n chill.”

Lesson # 9 – Still Compete: “I love competition. I always compete. Even though my season was canceled I am still finding ways to compete. Yesterday my brother and I created the at home Olympics. We had seven events ranging from video games to board games and everything in between.”

Lesson # 10 – Stay Active: “I know I need to keep moving my body. It is so important for me to do that or else my mind would never be at rest. I am just so used to it. I see a lot strength & conditioning coaches from all over are posting different workouts we can do at home, even in small spaces. I’ve been doing different workouts all week and just helps me stay upbeat.”

Thank you athletes for all your lessons as we navigate our way through this difficult time. I would love to hear from more of you. Please post any other lessons you would like to share in the comments.


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