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Jordan Hansen: Athletes, you shouldn’t feel as if you have to grind

Jordan Hansen: Athletes, you shouldn’t feel as if you have to grind

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MISSOULA — “Embrace the grind.”

In normal circumstances, it is a commonly uttered phrase in the athletics world, referring to workouts never missed and peak performance in every aspect of their lives. It might be a bit of a buzzword, but it is fairly harmless.

Now, however, we find ourselves in anything but normal circumstances.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken its hold — and toll — on the planet, figuring out ways to cope and keep some sense of normalcy has been paramount. The focus for some people, however, is only what is to come after.

There will be sports again someday. There will be training again someday. There will be scholarships to be earned again someday.

Right now, though, there is not.

Hard workouts and demanding physical challenges should not be forced on student-athletes during a pandemic. They are still trying to grapple with the loss of their time with friends, classes and for seniors, the end of their time in school. It has to be a lot to handle at once.

The mental stress that students are already under at this point is tremendous, so why should student-athletes feel like they owe workouts to their coaches, high school, or college as the world sorts through a rapidly spreading disease?

High school and college coaches need to realize that their student-athletes are kids or young adults, not professional athletes. They are not getting paid for what they do and for that — and that alone — they owe nobody anything but themselves.

Even from the beginning of the cancellations, postponements and general uncertainty, coaches and those involved with college and high school athletics wanted to make sure their student-athletes were still keeping fit for the eventual resumptions of their seasons.

Done responsibly, there is nothing wrong with imploring student-athletes to get outside and do some social-distancing activities. Running, working out in a home garage or finding ways to train in a person’s respective sport is more than fine. Coaches should encourage these behaviors and many have even put together at-home workouts to keep a sense of normalcy for their kids.

Working out is a release for many people. Many coaches have done an admirable job working with their kids to find healthy ways forward and should be applauded for it.

The problem comes when coaches start shaming for not completing workouts or staying inside their home. This is hardly the time to be an authoritarian.

It is a trend readily seen on Twitter, with posts seeming to scold student-athletes for not embracing the “grind” while effectively on lockdown. Take a recent post from teameliteperformance.com, a company that “works with teams and individuals to increase self-awareness, develop corporate culture, and improve team performance,” for example.

In a Tweet, it asks, “Athletes - who will you be” accompanied by a diagram split into three zones: common, uncommon and legacy. While many of the points in the final two zones are valid — “Let go of things I can’t control” and “Reach out to others in need” — it also tries to demonize coping mechanisms.

Scrolling through social media sites for hours to find news, playing video games and binging on Netflix are hardly behaviors worth shaking a finger at right now. Telling student-athletes to “get out and grind” in the middle of a pandemic with a current scope and scale that rarely been seen over the past century seems wildly tone deaf.

In any case, it probably is a good idea pull back what training student-athletes do regardless as overtraining can also result in a suppressed immune system.

Many places in the United States have exempted exercising and other recreational activities from their shelter-in-place orders, though it’s still a designation for people to social distance and stay at their residence as much as possible.

That is a not a reason for coaches to make their student-athletes go do workouts if they do not feel like doing them. People are getting sick and dying in large numbers. We are living in uncertain, scary and fear-bound times. It is OK to stay at home and find a coping mechanism that works.

If that’s Netflix or video games or what have you, there is nothing wrong with that. Sports will still be there down the road and at the end of the day they are far from the most important thing to be worried about right now.

Better yet, let them have a break from structured workouts while the world seems to be falling apart around them.

Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com

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