This past year has brought about numerous challenges for athletes and performers striving to continue their passions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports and performing arts are unique in the way that they benefit both the performer and audience. Performers are able to express themselves while sharing their passion with others, and fans are able to engage in live entertainment. With the current inability to safely host large social gatherings, both groups are forced to adapt and find new ways of sharing their passion with others.
Teams and programs have adjusted the structure of their sports, aiming to safely allow their players to compete in their respective sports while keeping fans engaged through virtual livestreams. Although this is thought to be a great modification, the virtual aspect is not ideal and has presented its own set of hardships. With gamedays occurring in empty stadiums, athletes are missing out on the energetic atmosphere and crowd engagement that comes with a normal season. This creates a range of issues for performers in terms of their mental, physical and emotional health.
Without a live audience, athletes and performers are struggling to stay motivated within their craft. During a normal season, fans serve as a distraction from fatigue, influencing the energy and aura of the room. Athletes are now forced to rely on their own motivation to grow as a player and compete to the best of their abilities.
Another aspect that contributes largely to the mental wellbeing of athletes is the levels of endorphins that are released during physical activity. Endorphins are chemicals released by the body that relieve pain and stress, boosting the individual’s overall feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. This chemical release is commonly known as a “runners high” and is often amplified when in a group setting. The International Journal of Stress Management conducted a research study examining the stress reducing benefits of exercise in both individual and group settings. The study found that individuals engaging in group exercise found it to be more enjoyable and were more likely to be more consistent in their workout schedule than those who exercised on their own. When athletes are competing, their interactions with both their competitors and fans leads to the release of endorphins from not only physical exertion, but also smiling and positive interactions. This mood booster helps athletes push themselves harder when they begin to feel the effects of exhaustion that comes from high levels of performance.
As a dance team coach during the pandemic, I was able to see first-hand just how big of an impact COVID had on sports and how important spectators and competitive atmospheres are in the lives of performers. Although my team had limited opportunities to showcase their talent, they were able to attend one in person competition! This experience allowed the girls to show off all their hard work and perform in front of a limited number of spectators. For dancers, performances are the motivation that drives them to spend countless hours practicing and perfecting their work. Competitions are the peak of a dancer’s season and without it, performers are unable to fully express their art form and share their passion with others.
Through these tough times, it is imperative that we do what is best for the health and safety of the public, regardless of what that means for sports. However, it is clear that sports played without spectators are taking a huge toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of athletes. It is important that we acknowledge the hardships athletes are experiencing during this time and aim to help players find ways to stay engaged to prevent athlete burnout.
Below are some resources on how to cope with the stressors that come with participating in sports and performing arts.