Athletes motivated to stay in shape during pause in high school sports

Friday, December 18, 2020 | 5:07 PM

With repeated shutdowns of school sports and closing of local gyms, high school athletes have had to find their own ways to train throughout this year as they prepared for fall and winter sports.

Now, due to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf “pausing” high school sports until Jan. 4, the ball is in the athletes’ court once again as they’ll have to try to find a way to stay in shape until practices and games resume.

Before the shutdown went into effect Dec. 12, the Fox Chapel boys basketball team was able to get in one game, which it won against Hampton, 57-44. Now, in the midst of a three-week shutdown, coach Zack Skrinjar said his players have to just control what they can control.

“We just have to be positive about it. There’s nothing else you can really do about it. There’s no good spin on it. You just have to make the most of it,” Skrinjar said. “People who have some minor injuries, they can work on that, maybe watch some film or take some time to get better at something little. Ball handling, driveway shooting, just control what you can control and move towards the hope that in three weeks, we’ll be up and moving again.”

For basketball players, finding a hoop outside or an open gym to get shots in could be an easy fix, but what are wrestlers or swimmers supposed to do during the down time?

When Fox Chapel swimming coach Dan Taylor first found out about the shutdown, he gathered his team together to brain storm.

In the end, he said they put together a three-week program. It includes Zoom meetings, cardio workouts, core workouts, running and watching technique videos, as well as other activities that would give them the opportunity to stay in shape and be focused when they came back in January.

“If they maintain their aerobic capacity, their running, using their arms in movements similar to their strokes, they’re not going to lose much in the three weeks if they are doing those things,” Taylor said. “It might take a week or two to reacclimate to being back in the water, but in terms of fitness and conditioning, they’re not going to lose very much. That was our big talk with the kids. I am confident they will be able to come back in January ready to go.”

Wrestling may be a different story. It’s a head-to-head sport where athletes are making constant contact with their opponents. Not exactly a sport that you can socially distance in, and because of that, Burrell’s Ian Oswalt has tried to come up with as many ways as he possibly can to stay in shape until January. Basically, he’ll find any place with a mat to try to stay fit.

“I’m just trying to follow the rules as closely as possible without really being able to do anything,” Oswalt said. “Obviously wrestling is head-to-head and you can’t really socially distance, but I’m obviously running, biking and any sort of conditioning I can do. Most of our team is doing stuff at home too, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, small things like that to just keep muscle endurance.”

There’s also the motivation factor. Athletes can’t be forced to train during the shutdown, and they have to find a way to stay self-motivated. For Oswalt, that may not be too difficult as he’s chasing something he’s wanted since he was young: a state championship. He was on the brink of one last season when he finished as a runner up. Now, he has to stay ready for when he gets another shot.

“It’s all based on the individual themselves,” Oswalt said. “Our coaches aren’t there to make us to do it, so it’s all about having the self-motivation to do it, and I think a lot of the guys on the team realize that these three weeks is not a good thing by any means, and we’re gonna have to do all the small things on our own to be where we want to be when it is over.”

While there aren’t many positives about the situation, most athletes were able to develop some type of rhythm this summer when offseason team practices were shut down. So, when practices and games got paused by the governor last Thursday, Plum senior basketball player Connor Moss said they were able to fall back into the plan they used this summer.

“We definitely had more of a familiarity, just because we had already experienced it before,” Moss said. “I honestly think it brought us much closer as a team too, just because we all had to go through it together in a way. We all kind of had a common enemy, so it’s worked out well for us.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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