Carpooling to practice. Sharing snacks. Stealing sips out of teammates’ water bottles. These were all elements of a pre-COVID era volleyball practice for junior Hathaway Bush. But in a matter of months, Bush’s familiar practices vanished as mandates of masks at all times, six-feet social distancing and regular sanitizing of equipment overshadowed her once familiar routines.
Due to the highly infectious nature of COVID, most club sports discontinued practices in early March, resulting in widespread disappointment among student athletes. But in late June, the California Department of Public Health announced guidelines that would allow for the reopening of sports.
“Before the closure of my volleyball club, practices were super fun,” Bush said. “I looked forward to getting a good workout, improving my volleyball skills, and talking with my teammates. Now, we are required to wear masks all the time, temperatures are checked, and my parents aren’t allowed to watch me play.”
According to the CDPH guidelines, physical distancing of at least six feet and a stable cohort of 12 people are required to play sports. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly recommends face coverings, outdoor practices and daily disinfection of equipment.
“Before, the focus on volleyball was 100%, but now I feel like it’s about 75% — the other 25% is on COVID guidelines,” Bush said.
While Bush acknowledges following COVID restrictions is crucial to her safety and the safety of her teammates, she also said the guidelines often undermine the purpose of practices.
“We end practice about 15 minutes early to clean the courts and equipment, which is important to protect the health of my team, but it takes away from the time we actually get to play volleyball,” Bush said.
All of which makes Bush recognize the aspects of volleyball practice she took for granted before COVID changed her sport for the foreseeable future.
“I miss being able to share mid-practice snacks with my teammates and hugging or high-fiving them for a good play,” Bush said. “I wish I could go back and cherish those moments.”
Sophomore Cameron Toland’s club softball team has been observing the same COVID guidelines announced by the CDPH. Contrary to Bush’s experiences, though, Toland’s softball practices look similar to what they were in the pre-COVID era. Because softball is played outdoors and players are naturally spaced out across the field, COVID restrictions only slightly impacted Toland’s practices.
“We usually do team bonding every year like having dinner together or having a team sleepover, but we can’t really do that now,” Toland said. “The social aspect of softball isn’t the same since we can’t do fun activities, and I think there’s a bit of awkwardness in the team since we do not know each other very well.”
Similar to student athletes, a new meaning of practices has emerged for Paly Dance Coach Alanna Williamson. With the majority of practices being virtual, Williamson has experienced challenges and limitations with coaching over Zoom.
“It often requires me to ask the dancers to change the angles of their cameras so I can see things more clearly,” Williamson said. “When we do things that are as a group, getting everyone to do the same timing is more challenging and I cannot physically give them cues or manipulate their bodies like I normally would.”
COVID guidelines have impacted high school sports in a wide variety of ways, with many athletes and coaches longing for the non-restrictive practices that were held in the pre-coronavirus era.
“It’s sad to not be able to be in person together as often, or be able to get close to each other and do regular things like change formations or execute lifts,” Williamson said. “But overall I am extremely grateful that our sport has been one we’ve been able to continue very easily.”