VICTOR, N.Y. — With the pandemic raging on for 16 months and disrupting a number of sports, athletes have lost a crucial year of development, but some are still striving to be their best self.
“I really want to work hard and achieve success, and everything I do I just want to push myself to my limits,” Ava Mendler, Brighton High School, athlete said.
It’s been a tough year for both high school and college athletes, but Mendler is trying to keep her eyes on the prize despite the challenges.
“I wanted to quit,” said Mendler. “It was hard to keep going and hard to keep running and working out, but in the end, I know it’s going to pay off.”
Dr. Craig Cypher, a University of Rochester sports psychologist, says the pandemic has been really challenging and disruptive for athletes.
“I think it’s been a really challenging thing for athletes just to have everything disrupted, just as our whole lives have been disrupted,” said Cypher. “And if you think about what sports provide, it’s identity. It’s connection to others. A lot of things that are just like personal growth and achievement.”
Cypher says the adjustment for athletes has been difficult.
“Part of what sports psychology is about is how do we build skills to kind of help with the mindset,” he said. “So how do we help with managing stress overall, so the issues around mindfulness, breathing, around muscle relaxation, visualization and imagery, skills that can just kind of help manage or stress in general.”
“It’s been hard because there’s always something to look forward to, always something to prepare yourself for, and when COVID hit, there really wasn’t anything in the future to directly prepare yourself for, so it was hard to stay in track,” Mendler added.
Dr. Cypher says some athletes used the pandemic as a guiding tool to play other sports, but there were two major differences between college and high school athletes.
“With my college athletes, everything has been changed,” said Cypher. “They have really been forced to be a little bit more focused just on the team and losing a lot of the social outlets because there’s a lot of strict COVID protocols that they’ve been having to deal with.”
Whereas high school athletes are worried about the pandemic affecting their transition to college, sports camps, recruiting and getting exposure.
“Since the pandemic, there’s just been a lot less energy at the meets and competitions I do, things are just different,” Mendler said. “There’s just not as much motivation from coaches, and so it’s hard to stay in the mental game.”
Mendler took on training at UR Medicine Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Center in Victor to stay focused, and prevent injuries when sporting events return.
“This is helping me get ahead of everybody else who is just sitting on the couch, just giving up because the pandemic destroyed their confidence, and so I want to be here, put in the work and get stuff done so I can be better the next seasons,” said Mendler, who also has this message for other athletes: “Stay focused. Make goals for yourself. Your time is going to come. You’re going to have competitions. You’re going to have meets, and all of the hard work you do now is going to pay off.”
UR Medicine tells Spectrum News 1 that parents should pay attention to changes with children or teens involved in sports. If you notice changes, talk to them about it and see if there are concerns that may need a professional to help them.