Editor's note: Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is an executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
We are excited about a potential full return to competition this fall for high school athletics and performing arts programs.
With the expectation, that a majority of adults will have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and perhaps many young people, there is a hope that all states will be able to return to normalcy when schools open again in the fall.
While there is great optimism about having students back in their favorite sport or activity, and fans back to support these student participants, we must be careful not to forget what we have learned during this unprecedented pandemic.
The struggles we have faced over the past year have reminded us of many significant aspects of participation in sports and performing arts activities.
So, we must remember:
- The importance of participation. Participation in high school activity programs provides students many benefits beyond what they learn in the classroom. They learn teamwork and how to work together to produce positive outcomes. Through participation in athletics and other activities, students learn self-discipline, build self-confidence and develop skills to handle competitive situations.
- The mental and emotional health of students is tied to participation. In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine examining the impact of school closures on the health of more than 3,000 Wisconsin high school athletes, 65 percent of those surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety, and 68 percent reported symptoms of depression.
- We must be thankful and appreciative. The pandemic hopefully has helped us to become better people – thankful and appreciative for what we have. For the first time in the lives of most individuals, normal daily activities were essentially gone and for a period of time the future regarding return to normal life was uncertain, and a bit scary.
- There is more than one way to accomplish goals and dreams. The adage, "We’ve always done it that way" didn’t apply during the pandemic. The shutdown and eventual return to play forced everyone to find new ways of accomplishing tasks.
Meanwhile, coaches were faced with not being able to communicate with players face to face in the early days of the pandemic. But because of the dedication and out of the box thinking teams were able to stay united and active.
More so than in the past, with states returning to play at different times based on specific regulations. We learned there is no right or wrong in many cases. We have learned to be open to other people's ideas, opinions and observations.
We must continue to value the thoughts of other people and the value of collaboration by:
- Showing respect for opponents, officials and others. In the case of contest officials, many individuals made great sacrifices to continue officiating during the pandemic – perhaps even putting their own lives at risk – in order for games to continue to be played. While we desperately need more individuals to officiate high school sports, we must ensure that they are treated with respect and protected from verbal and physical abuse.
- Showing perseverance. If students, coaches, parents, administrators and others can work successfully through the impact of COVID-19, they can handle any adversity that comes their way. The perseverance required to survive this past year should bring a new level of confidence about handling adversity in the future.
- Showing support. We definitely have learned that nothing can replace parents, students and others in the community when it comes to lending positive support to high school students involved in sports and performing arts.
As we return to athletics and activities, let’s remember how difficult it was to be without them, and let’s be the best participants, coaches, fans and leaders that we can be.