Sports and teams are renowned for their unity through common experience. But with little common experience to be had amongst a team, staying connected and unified is a challenge.
When students were sent home in March during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, college athletes across the country began preparing themselves — mentally and physically — for a return to action in the fall.
Yet, here we are at the beginning of those supposed seasons, and athletes at Ivy League universities are still not playing, nor are they practicing with their teams. The challenges for these athletes are apparent, especially for those seniors whose careers may have already ended without them knowing it.
At Penn, men's soccer coach Brian Gill is providing leadership to his team during this trying time, as he does all he can to unify a team spread out across the country.
Many of his freshmen are yet to step onto campus and can only stay bonded through Zoom sessions, phone calls, and texts. On the other hand, juniors and seniors are facing uncertainty regarding the future of their careers. So while the pandemic hits everyone, individual players on the team are faced with unique situations, hardships, and concerns.
“Many people who have gone through this before know what it's like to be a freshman, a sophomore, a junior, and a senior … how those years are distinctly different and the lessons you learn during each of those periods of time,” Gill said. “So naturally we have concerns that the players don’t lose out on those experiences and continue to learn as they would so we can get the best out of them in the long run.”
Gill stresses the importance of the players holding themselves accountable to their personal standards and goals. However, he realizes the difficulties of maintaining a consistent amount of motivation, especially with a lack of organized practices and events on campus.
One lesson he is attempting to drill into the athletes' minds is the significance of looking at the positives in the situation they are facing. For instance, Gill applauds and continues to place trust in Penn Athletics and the Ivy League for working tirelessly in the interests of teams and players.
Similarly, the coaching staff places trust in the players during this time, expecting that they will continue to be safe and follow safety protocols.
“Our main challenge, though, is being able to grow and develop the players within the program in a way that we are excited about doing in more normal times,” Gill said. “[We're] shaping the mentality and helping to mature the players' outlook on how to become proper players while they are here at Penn and beyond.”
Gill remains as focused and poised as ever in guiding his team and players through an unprecedented time in sports history and continues to drive the team to improve.