Since the nationwide closure that began in mid-March, the world of youth sports have been turned upside down. After players waited month after month through game and practice postponements, October signifies the end to this disheartening cycle for many, with new regulations and cautionary guidelines implemented in club sports that will allow for some athletes to return to playing fields.
From temperature readings to sanitation, non-school affiliated soccer and basketball organizations have become the first athletic programs to reopen facilities since the pandemic.
“We are back to practicing and it was really different because there were so many restrictions and rules that we had to follow,” junior Jackson Haynes said via Instagram. “We all have to stand at least six feet apart, we can’t play defense on each other, we couldn’t touch the ball with our hands, and we couldn’t shoot on goal [during practice].”
Playing for the premier soccer club Legends FC in the Elite Clubs National League, Haynes recently traveled to Arizona with his teammates for tournaments. They began following the league’s schedule, out of state, in early September, and have resumed playing since then.
“For our league, we have a couple of teams from Arizona and Las Vegas so we do quite a bit of traveling out of California,” Haynes said via Instagram. “Arizona has less restrictions in place than California so it’s easier for us to be able to resume our league out there.”
Similarly, juniors Alessa Sampson from Arsenal and Samantha Marcello from Strikers FC have also been following guidelines with their clubs.
“Practice begins with technical skills and conditioning, anything six feet apart, then we get into the small sided games with no tackling allowed,” Sampson said via Instagram. “It’s amazing to finally scrimmage even if there’s restrictions.”
Meanwhile, those partaking in non-travel ball clubs are limited to individual skill development. For Foothill Storm player Damian Mata, soccer practice focuses on technique and conditioning, with a strong emphasis on social distancing and mask-wearing enforced for the duration of training.
“We don’t get to do scrimmages, which means you start to lose your feel for the game,” Mata said via Instagram.
Nevertheless, the majority of club soccer coaches and parents have been determined to return teens to the field.
“Our season usually starts at the end of September or beginning of October, but because of Covid our schedule is in the air,” Marcello said via Instagram. “Even though California isn’t allowing any games, there are numerous games scheduled in Arizona to start at the end of October, which I am looking forward to.”
On the other hand, most statewide basketball organizations have held off on arranging group gatherings until recently.
Unlike previous seasons, scrimmages only take place every other week rather than spanning the entire weekend, and travel-ball clubs have remained sedentary. Disinfecting agents are also available throughout their facilities, and players are asked to sanitize all equipment before leaving.
Some travel ball organizations have begun to integrate technology into training, such as Dtermined, a coed travel-ball organization based in Corona. One of their sophomore players, Kailey Taing, took part in their “hell week” program.
“Once it got towards the end of the school year and into summer Dtermined started online training via Zoom for everybody across the country called hell week which consisted of intense training for anybody willing to work,” Taing said via Instagram. “We did that for about six weeks while waiting for the numbers to go down, where they met with all the families and asked who would be willing to send their child back to distance training at the gym.”
Keeping her circle small to minimize exposure, Taing now attends private training with three of her teammates.
“We all agreed on only practicing together and no tournaments because they are too risky,” Taing said via Instagram. “You never know where the other teams have gone and if they were clean at all.”
Likewise, several other players have parallel concerns. Playing in the open division for the AAU team Hawk Hoops, junior Myles Che also takes great precautions both on and off the court. Conducting conditioning drills and utilizing free time to improve his skills at home, Che hopes practice will return to its pre-quarantine state once people begin adhering to the guidelines.
“It’s a team sport so not much distancing there, but I do feel concerned sometimes that the people who get it might affect others,” Che said via Instagram. “I feel if we are going to play this game, all we can really do is follow rules and make sure we can all go back to our normal lives.”
In the face of the struggles the virus has posed, sophomore SoCal Heat basketball player Elizabeth Camargo makes the most of the current situation.
“But on the bright side it lets you work on the things that you can’t do very well by yourself,” Camargo said via Instagram. “I like that we are now able to resume practice and interact with people and see how much we have improved since quarantine.”
Despite the strict precautionary regulations, such as the mandatory three-week quarantine necessary to play in tournaments, the safety measures taken do not always prove to be sufficient.
“It doesn’t really work, because we had a kid come up positive and we had to shut down for two weeks but it still is better than nothing,” Haynes said via Instagram. “But I make sure I have hand sanitizer and my mask to try to limit my exposure.”
Whether training at home or with other teammates at facilities, most athletes are grateful for any form of practice they can get. Looking forward to a prospective season once the virus is no longer a significant threat, many cannot wait to showcase the results of the training they’ve undergone since the start of quarantine.
“This upcoming season is going to really show who has been working and who has been slacking as a team and individual,” Camargo said via Instagram.