Ellen Hu ’24
Unable to return to campus until Fall 2021, CMS athletes are now taking the semester to focus on mental health and team chemistry.
On Jan. 29, CMS teams received official news that spring sports would not be happening in the spring 2021 semester. In an email sent out by CMS Director of Athletics Erica Jasper, students were told, “As you know, with students not able to return to campus, we are unable to compete in Spring SCIAC play as we had hoped. To all of you, I am so terribly sorry.”
Like many other student athletes, Emma Thompson ‘22 was disappointed when she heard that the 2021 volleyball season was officially cancelled.
“It was definitely super sad. We were all anticipating being able to go back,” Thompson said. “I think it was more disappointing because we had gotten our hopes up.”
Destiny Garcia ’24, member of the CMS softball team, shared a similar sentiment.
“I was kind of bummed out because our coach was super optimistic,” Garcia said. “She was really pushing for us to be back on campus.”
With student athletes away from campus, CMS athletic directors and coaches have pivoted to focus on other important aspects for their teams: mental health and team bonding. Athletic directors in collaboration with athletes have begun leading mental health forums while coaches have been putting on activities to try to bring their teams closer together while they are apart.
Scripps student and member of the CMS women’s soccer team Sophia Drezner ’23 has taken this focus on mental health in stride.
“Feeling very disconnected from the CMS community has been a big issue for me in general,” Drezner said. “Being off-campus and away from my team has weighed really heavily on me.”
When she saw emails from former forum leader Celia Aldrete CMC ’20 in the fall 2020 semester about mental health forums for student athletes like herself, Drezner decided that it couldn’t hurt to attend. She was one of the few members who continued to participate in these events throughout the semester.
“After the first one, I realized how helpful they were and how cool things were that people were working on,” Drezner said. “I was like, ‘Okay I want to keep showing up. This is important to me.’”
Drezner found herself invested in the conversations Aldrete was facilitating and has taken over the forum leader position for the spring 2021 semester. In this role, she works closely with CMS athletic trainers to collect mental health resources while planning and presenting at the bi-monthly forums that first drew her in.
The forums are an open space for student athletes, staff, and coaches to learn about mental health resources at the Claremont Colleges while also providing anonymous feedback on the resources that are available to them. Because of these forums, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services (MCAPS) now hold drop-in hours so that athletes do not have to wait weeks before appointments.
Distributing information on how to use and access mental health resources provided to athletes has been one of the most important aspects of the forums, according to Drezner. She and the athletic trainers she collaborates with want to ensure that athletes know “exactly where to go and what to do” if they ever seek support.
However, distributing these resources does not make up the entire event. Each month, Drezner chooses a different topic to focus on and welcomes guest speakers to speak about these important issues. In February, she focused on men’s mental health awareness, in March, a focus on nutrition and eating disorders is in place, and in April, she plans to turn to stress and performance anxiety.
Participation at forums has been inconsistent. Drezner said that they gain the largest audiences when guest speakers appear and at other events where all CMS teams pushed participation. She believes that Zoom fatigue has played a role in lower participation at regular events, but still believes in the importance of what she is doing.
“The emphasis on physical health often overpowers the emphasis on mental health,” Drezner said. “At least for these forums, one of the big pushes is to start making students more comfortable talking about mental health and de-stigmatizing those discussions.”
Thompson, who has attended some of these forums and other conversations surrounding mental health through CMS, has found that they’ve been beneficial in bringing her team together.
“Of course you don’t want to bond over these situations, but I definitely feel closer to everyone,” Thompson said. “It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in feeling these feelings.”
For many first-year CMS athletes, a cancelled season and a focus on mental health was not what they had expected to find at the beginning of their college careers. Yet, these events that focus on connecting with their teams outside of practices and games have also provided coaches with more opportunities to build a team bond. The coaches have cancelled all workout sessions, instead choosing a more conversational approach to time together.
“Since the season got cancelled, we’re just talking to each other, trying to keep the team chemistry even in these weird times through Zoom,” Garcia said.
Outside of the weekly Wednesday meetings with the entire team and coaching staff, Garcia attends impromptu Zoom dinners with her team on Tuesday nights. There, she has been able to learn more about the team’s dynamic and what they would do together if they were on-campus.
“As a freshman, you haven’t really been able to talk to anyone, to connect with anyone,” Garcia said. “I feel like those [the dinners] are really helpful, just kind of showing me what the team is like on-campus.”
However, this sentiment of team bonding has not been as easy for other first-years. Sabine Salles ’24, a member of the CMS women’s lacrosse team, has felt disconnected from her older teammates.
“They all know each other already,” Salles said. “They say they’re trying to be inclusive, but it’s so much work trying to make people be friends with each other over Zoom.”
Still, Salles does attempt to join the team for weekly workouts and bonding activities that her coach has instituted in the spring semester. The coaches have begun holding weekly team workshops where players are split into smaller competition teams in hopes of building stronger team chemistry.
So far, Salles doesn’t feel like these teams have provided her with a greater sense of connection.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m closer to my chemistry lab group than I am to my competition team,” Salles said.
While she doesn’t currently feel connected to her teammates, Salles believes that she’ll become closer to them when they’re on-campus and training together in-person.
Drezner hopes that the mental health forums will act as a way for CMS athletes, new and old, to support each other even if this bond isn’t completely established.
“I think that learning about the resources is the first step and the most important because you never know when they could come in-handy for you or for one of your teammates,” Drezner said.
Image Source: Scripps College