Student-athletes resume practice post-quarantine

by Ethan Strauss and Sara McClanahan | 1/29/21 2:00am

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The athletics department consolidated phase one and two of return-to-sport protocol, allowing both individual and small group activities in the first phase.

Source: Gil Talbot/Courtesy of the Dartmouth Athletics Department

On Tuesday, with the initial two-week quarantine over for students living on campus, student-athletes resumed training. After a fall term marked by stringent COVID-19 regulations on practice and low COVID-19 rates campus-wide, this winter’s return-to-sports protocol is slightly more accelerated. 

In the fall, athletes followed a three-phase return to sport protocol, moving from individual conditioning to small group workouts and finally to small group practice sessions. This winter, the first and second phases have combined into a single opening protocol. 

In this modified first phase, scrimmages and other game-like simulations for team sports are not permitted. Instead, as in the fall, teams will practice in smaller training pods that vary in size depending on the team. While this model allows student-athletes to work on individual skills, it also comes with major drawbacks, according to some student-athletes.

“As any athlete knows, the best teacher is experience,” said men’s basketball player Taurus Samuels ’22. “Even just playing against each other and implementing those skills that we’re learning … we didn’t get that [in the fall].”

Track and field and cross-country director Porscha Dobson believes that practice this term will run smoothly, citing her program’s prior experience with COVID-19 restrictions. She said that holding practice over fall term taught her and her staff how to effectively manage practice while keeping athletes socially distanced.  

“We've already built a practice schedule for the student-athletes, kind of a rules and regulations,” Dobson said. “Each event group will be sectioned off into different parts of Leverone, and we've mapped everything out … how we'll be able to distance this, who's using what lanes on the track and which equipment and so on and so forth.”

Although training will be limited and masked, Dobson said her coaching staff and student-athletes are excited to resume preparation for future competition, whenever that may be. For many, group training has been impossible for the past 10 months.

As in past terms, teams will have to accomodate athletes living off campus. College rules stipulate that these students cannot participate in any in-person practice or other team activities. While coaches can easily send out independent training regimens to these athletes, team bonding is a harder thing to foster online. 

According to Samuels, Zoom meetings and check-in calls have helped strengthen team unity. He and his basketball teammates stay in touch — regardless of where each squad member is currently living — through additional calls outside of mandatory meetings. 

According to head athletic trainer Ben Schuler, the athletics department has assumed the responsibility of ensuring that students comply with COVID-19 protocols, including mask wearing and maintaining social distance. Due to the winter weather, more teams will need to practice inside, which by College guidelines will require the athletics department to manage participant numbers.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to progress, the athletics department plans to stay prepared for any necessary adjustments.

“We work very closely with the College [COVID-19] task force to make sure that whatever guidance we’re using mirrors what they’re using and what they’re putting out,” Schuler said. “If there was to be a change in the campus reopening, we would mirror that change within athletics as well.”

Although restricted, student-athletes on campus will make the most of their training regardless of individual circumstance. Many feel that the opportunity to be on campus with their teammates and coaches is well worth any pandemic-driven limitation.

“We enjoy the game, we enjoy each other and that gives us all the energy we really need,” Samuels said. “We are looking ahead to when we do have a season, and all of this is going to help us out.”

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