COVID mental toll: Nova Scotia high school basketball players await — with diminished hope and little joy — a possible season restart

There was some good news for Nova Scotia high school basketball players last week, but at least one coach admits it didn’t do much to lift the spirits of his psychologically drained players .

News came out last Friday that end-of-season dates in the province have been extended in hopes that leagues can complete their schedules and possibly even hold championships. The high school basketball season usually ends the first week of March, but competition may continue until April 9 of this year due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

“The psychological part is really tough. It’s hard to keep these kids motivated and engaged because they don’t know when their next game is or even when they can train properly.”

-Dartmouth High School Boys Head Coach Lance Sparks

But Dartmouth High School boys’ head coach Lance Sparks says the emotional and mental toll of all the stops and starts over the past two years is approaching a tipping point for many of his student-athletes. , if they have not already passed the point of no return.

“If I could sum it up, my players are happy to be back in the gym, but it’s not like they’re jumping for joy,” Sparks said. “I can tell you right now, our kids are in worse shape now than they were in pre-season and we haven’t touched a basketball as a team in almost two months. And I don’t don’t know about the other teams but I can also tell you that my kids aren’t that motivated right now because of how mentally draining it all has been I understand that no one can say ‘The season starts on February 14 because if we take another turn for the worse, they’ll I get all that, just like I know it’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the way things are served in the world.

“But the thing is, they got excited because they heard at Christmas that they could go back to the gym on January 31, so they wanted to get in shape and get ready. They had hope. But then the date gets pushed back again and, boom, it hits them and it’s really hard on them mentally so now we’re telling them the season might come back but nobody knows the details which puts them even more at risk tough test. “

The Dartmouth High Spartans bench erupts after their teammate scores a field goal while fouled during third quarter action at the 2021 Metropolitan High School Women’s Basketball Championships. -Eric Wynne

No one is yet sharing details on how league schedules might work if there was a restart or what regional and provincial playoff formats might look like, if they even had one. School Sport Nova Scotia executive director Stephen Gallant has declined five separate interview requests since last Tuesday.

Gallant acknowledged receiving the first two requests for comment, but said in an email response, “Now that School Sport NS is part of the Nova Scotia Educational Common Services Bureau, all media inquiries go through DEECD communications. The communications contact is Jenna MacQueen.

MacQueen declined to coordinate an interview three times, even after being told last Thursday that the purpose of the call was to discuss a range of issues regarding school sports in the province and their connection to COVID-19.

“We are declining your interview request as you have not provided details of what you would like to discuss with Stephen,” MacQueen wrote in an email Wednesday.

Sparks said this kind of lack of transparency and communication makes it even harder for coaches, teachers and school administrators to help kids navigate the relentless upheaval because they don’t know how to answer legitimate questions from kids. student-athletes.

Morgan Hillier of the Breton Education Center Bears, right, looks towards the basket during action at the Sydney Academy Wildcat Invitational high school basketball tournament at the Sydney Academy gymnasium in the fall.  - Jeremy Fraser
Morgan Hillier of the Breton Education Center Bears, right, looks towards the basket during action at the Sydney Academy Wildcat Invitational high school basketball tournament at the Sydney Academy gymnasium in the fall. – Jeremy Fraser

“They see a gym class with a divider in the gym with 25 or 30 kids on each side when they’re training with all these restrictions,” Sparks said. “Some of our players go to these gym classes with all these kids, but basketball practices are nine players max, plus a coach. I know I’m at the point where I’m just done. with questions, but some of them just don’t make sense so imagine what it’s like for a teenager.

“We can’t answer those questions. All I can tell them is, ‘Guys, gym class is part of the school curriculum, so it’s different for after-school activities’, but I can’t. I guess I could tell them it’s bull (shit) and give them a negative answer, but I don’t want to make them any more upset than they already are.

“And a lot of these kids, especially young boys, have a hard time showing their emotions, so they’re not going to tell you how they really feel because they think it’s a sign of weakness. But I know they’re bored, they’re playing video games more and they’re probably turning to other alternatives to keep themselves busy. The psychological part is really hard. It’s hard to keep these kids motivated and engaged because “they don’t know when their next game is or even when they can have a good practice. They don’t want to train just to practice. They can do it with (all the coaches) that are around. They want to compete. It’s so hard for some of them.

Sparks and the Spartans won the last two provincial championships before the pandemic and won last season’s Metropolitan league banner during the COVID-19 makeshift season. He said he barely spent time designing drills or developing strategies and playing lately because it felt like torturous drill.

He also can’t work with players away from the gym like he usually does. During a “normal” season, Sparks regularly hosts gatherings of players at his house for team-building events like pizza parties and NBA viewing parties. He calls this type of exercise “really important” for boosting self-esteem and morale, much like travel tournaments where everyone can be together for a few days having fun.

These days, Sparks said his role is often to keep some of his players from hitting bottom mentally, academically or socially.

“My biggest goal isn’t basketball really, it’s making sure we can get these kids through high school and keep them motivated because a lot of them depend on the social interaction of the sport. “, did he declare. “Just imagine what it’s like for those 12th graders who don’t know if they’ll get prom or not. They’ve watched their older buddies not get one and with all these new variations all the time, who knows where we’ll be. three months. We could be really clear or we could be even worse off. It’s so much for these kids to have to worry about.

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