The Importance of Team Morale

The affect that Covid had on student-athletes was tremendous. Now, Liberty sports are coming back, and the team aspect is more important than ever.

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Katie Tippet

The Liberty football team returns to the field with a full student section at their backs.

If athletes were told one year ago that COVID would stop affecting sports and allow life to go back to normal, most wouldn’t believe it. In 2020, fans weren’t allowed at games, practices were changed to fit guidelines, and many athletes were tired of it. For student athletes, sports are supposed to be a place to let go of stress, but most felt that sports had the opposite effect during COVID season. Those who played a sport last year said that the restrictions messed with their season for many  reasons.

Summer 2021 kicked off the first round of fall team sports: football, cross country, and volleyball. After mask mandates in schools were lifted in late May, restrictions for summer sports seemed to be non-existent. Spirits were high and teams were ready to go after a long year filled with masks, social distancing, and COVID restrictions. The new school year has made it possible for high school sports to return to what they once were before the pandemic. Each sport has a different experience, some being drastically more restrictive than others.

 Zach Gallagher, junior, is one of the many football players that had to endure the harsh COVID restrictions from last year. With the restrictions, most of the team was required to practice in different sections to avoid contact with each other as much as possible. This year, the football team is allowed to practice together in full. 

“We were able to come together and create a brotherhood that we weren’t able to create last year,” Gallagher said.

 Even this year with the new mask mandate, football doesn’t seem to be affected; with fewer restrictions, the team is in full spirit.

We were able to come together and create a brotherhood that we weren’t able to create last year.”

— Zach Gallagher

Cross country is a year round sport, even though they only compete during the summer and fall months. Training does not stop during any point of the year, making COVID a big deal for the runners. Cross country may be an individual sport, but the bond of the team is important. Both running meets and preparing for meets were altered for Nathan Kinzer, junior, and his teammates. 

“We have always practiced as a team, all 50 of us,” Kinzer said. “When the whole COVID thing started, we practiced in two groups so I wasn’t able to see my friends as much.” 

Kinzer was fortunate enough to not contract the virus during its peak but described the “flow” of practices to be very different if one of his teammates was out of practice.

The Cross Country team racing at Iowa City Kickers course in September this year. (Dylan Wilson)

“I didn’t miss any practices or meets, but others had to due to COVID-related issues. Even though I didn’t miss anything, the absence of some of my teammates did affect me. The previous year I got into a flow with people I would run with on a day-to-day basis, but with quarantine I could run with one group of people one day and an entirely different group the next,” Kinzer said.

One positive of the mayhem last year was the improvement in team morale. 

“As a team, we held everyone accountable if they were being nonchalant with the protocols. That accountability and discipline helped strengthen our team’s morale,” Kinzer explained.

Volleyball suffered a lot being the only indoor sport in the summer. Many of the routine activities they were accustomed to became restricted and modified. A few of these restrictions carried over with the new mask mandate, however, many upperclassmen are thankful that they can play. Katie Tippet, senior, being one of these upperclassmen, is making sure to take full advantage of this season.

“Some rules from last year are still in place this year, like no shaking hands, no switching sides, and mask wearing when not on the court, but these things haven’t necessarily prevented us from giving our all during game play. We still have to be cautious about keeping our circles small and resting up when we are sick, but we’re allowed a bit more room when it comes to COVID,” Tippet said.

The guidelines are much more relaxed than they were last year. Every practice could’ve been the last and the team knew that. A couple of positive tests and the team’s season could be over. Every day was an opportunity to get better and they had to take it.

 “In practice we always try our best to perform as we would in games, but with protocol last year, there was a chance our season could be cut short if anyone tested positive. Because of this, we always practiced as if it was our last, because there was a possibility that it could be,” said Tippet.

A number of things that would occur during a regular volleyball season were missed due to the extreme of COVID. To Tippet and her teammates, this was a bigger loss than just time together; some of these events are a big opportunity to build up team morale and a connection with each other.

“With the guidelines in place last year, we missed out on having the locker room, pink out game, and team dinners, which all really help to build our team culture and spirit. With these things back this year, things almost feel normal,” Tippet said.

The constant battle of following each and every rule wore teams down last year. Teams and participants of each sport couldn’t fight the guidelines if they wanted to play that year. These rules could separate and prevent teams from ever coming close to building a bond. Without sports being constricted by COVID, teams are able to come together and enjoy every aspect of each sport.