An Inside Look at Brockport’s New Normal: Practice Makes Perfect for Student-Athletes
With athletic competitions on hold, the continuation of team practices has helped support student-athletes' physical and mental health.
Being a student-athlete at SUNY Brockport looks much different these days. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, many have wondered what the Golden Eagles have been up to. For Brockport and NCAA Division III student-athletes across the country, typical sports competition against other teams has been canceled due to ongoing health and safety concerns.
Despite the lack of outside competition, Brockport student-athletes and coaches for fall and spring sports have been practicing three times a week since early September. With the fall season coming to a close, winter sports programs are now beginning to hit their respective playing surfaces for practices prior to the semester break.
For many student-athletes, although missing competition has been difficult, practicing with their teammates has been a highlight of their weekly schedule and beneficial to their mental health.
“Even just having small chances to be outside with our teammates is awesome,” said field hockey student-athlete Katelynn Mello. “I am so happy that we still have that opportunity.”
The practices have placed an emphasis on team skill and drill development in small pods. Wearing masks and social distancing during practices have become the norm for the Golden Eagles this semester, and many of them are grateful for the opportunities they have had to get together with their best friends and teammates.
“These soccer practices have done a lot for me. They say exercise is good for your mental health, and even just three practices a week checks that box for me,” said women’s soccer student-athlete Fiona Stockdale. “I’m sure I’m not the only Brockport athlete that would say my team is my family, and I feel lucky that I get to go out to the field and spend time with my family at practice.”
Brockport baseball student-athlete Ryan Mansell echoes those comments, “100 percent, no doubt these practices have been helpful for my mental health. COVID has put a lot of stress on a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. For kids like us that love to go play — and that’s all we want to do — practice gives us a way to get out and not have to think about anything else.”
Mansell takes pride in the fact that the baseball program has been able to be a part of the greater effort to keep the Brockport campus safe by following the appropriate protocols off the field.
“We had a Saturday practice where it was 65 degrees and sunny, and it was awesome to be out there,” said Mansell. “You know that there’re a lot of student-athletes around the country that don’t have the opportunity that we’re having, and we take pride in the fact that we have been able to continue practicing.”
This semester has certainly been different for student-athletes, whose typical non-COVID workload includes daily practices, film breakdown, workouts, and traveling on weeknights and weekends all across the northeast to compete against other institutions.
“We’re all finding different ways to cope with the loss of our season,” said Mello. “Missing the competition and coming together with your teammates on game day is probably the hardest part. Even little things like the bus rides, you get really close with your teammates. Pregame locker room dance parties are the types of things we’re definitely missing.”
However, with a lighter practice schedule this fall, many student-athletes have found themselves partaking in traditional seasonal activities they otherwise wouldn’t have time for.
“I’ve been hiking a couple times this fall,” said Mello. Stockdale noted, “I actually have time to go apple picking, whereas normally on the weekend I might be on a bus heading to Plattsburgh for soccer.”
The goal for most student-athletes is to get back to regular competition as soon as the health and safety standards allow. In the meantime, they have leaned on their teammates and coaches to help get them through the tough times.
“Having a very close team has helped. We’re a close group, especially the guys that I live with,” said Mansell. “They’re my best friends, so it helps living with guys that are going through the same thing that you are going through. Coach Justin Beach has been great. He cares about us like we’re his own kids, and losing the baseball season last year was just as tough for him as it was for us.”
Ultimately, for many student-athletes, just being back on campus with their friends has been a positive step in the right direction.
“We missed Brockport,” said Mello. “At least we get to be here with our Brockport family.”
Like always, the student-athletes and coaches at Brockport have found creative ways to stay engaged with their teammates and the community, despite the adversity they have faced this semester. The women’s soccer program partakes in one socially distanced team bonding activity per week. Examples have included writing a letter to their future self that they will read at the end of the fall season and a socially distanced talent show, where many of the team members’ personalities shined.
The field hockey program is currently working on a fundraising campaign on social media in an attempt to raise funds for organizations in need, just one example of Brockport athletics giving back to the community in these difficult times.
Student-athletes have been able to concentrate even more on their school work, and some have found time to join extracurricular activities. For Stockdale, spending more time with organizations, such as the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and a new student group called Student Athletes for Equity (SAFE), has helped her to connect with other student-athletes while also making a difference on campus.
Although this is not the season that the Golden Eagles could have ever expected, student-athletes are making the most of the situation and coming together as a Brockport community.
“Seeing the guys at practice and seeing that they want to get better — that’s what it’s about,” said Mansell. “No matter what the circumstances, there is no excuse not to be getting better every single day.”