Editorial: Scrutinizing Screen Sports

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of the Lawrenceville experience, one of them being athletics.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of the Lawrenceville experience, one of them being athletics. Prior to the pandemic, sports served as an outlet for students to make physical gains, form meaningful connections with teammates, and mentally relax by breaking a sweat after classes. However, during the virtual Spring and Winter Terms, we have not had the opportunity to train alongside our teammates. For many students, the time following three hours of Zoom classes is filled with several hours of homework, often done on the computer as well. Aside from the fleeting moments we get to share with our classmates over Zoom, we rarely have the opportunity to interact with others in our community. While in-person sports successfully fostered team camaraderie and physical health, the same cannot be said for virtual sports. Contrary to what pre-Covid-19 sports achieved, athletics over Zoom is unsuitable for student-to-student interactions, and the programs have had mixed success in helping individuals develop their athletic skills.

The reality is apparent: Zoom makes it difficult for students to cultivate organic conversations unless they are placed into smaller breakout rooms. But, for the majority of the time, they aren’t put in breakout rooms. During virtual athletic meetings, particularly interscholastic ones, Lawrentians often find themselves among five to six screens worth of people, with varsity, junior varsity, and freshman athletes all together. Microphones are muted. Video screens are turned off. How can one begin a conversation when more than 60 people are simply staring at their screens? How can one bond with his or her teammates if three quarters of the athletes are unseen due to the sheer number of participants in the call? At some point, most Lawrentians begin viewing these Zoom calls as another chore in their busy schedules. Ultimately, this mindset naturally prevents students from building team camaraderie.

While students may have the opportunity to approach training through a new lens, the added screen time and use of finite daylight afternoon hours limits the efficacy of Zoom sports. Some programs have included exercising over the call, but most involve some type of film work. Coaches often use this time to show recordings of training techniques and games, leaving students sitting at their desks yet again. At a time when all of us are using computers more than we typically do, non-essential screen time may have a negative impact on our mental health, especially when that additional screen time carries an opportunity cost of students going outside or actually exercising. If coaches worry about the effectiveness of students’ individual training exercises, they could, perhaps, consider providing their athletes with a set of guidelines and activities to complete on their own. This way, Lawrentians have the flexibility not only to exercise wherever and whenever they wish, but also to maintain the productivity of their training session.

Given the difficulties of the virtual term, we must acknowledge that it would be unrealistic for us to expect a similar athletic experience to Lawrenceville’s pre-Covid-19 era. However, reflecting upon the efficacy of virtual sports after participating in them for many weeks leaves us with the following conclusion. Our current model of athletic programming largely does not achieve the goals that are fundamental to a Lawrentian’s athletic experience. Although in-person athletics seems plausible in the Spring Term, should health concerns ever impede such plans, the administration should reconsider implementing virtual sports and instead, ask coaches to create training guidelines and exercises for students to complete as they see fit. The same applies to those who decide to enroll in the Remote Learning Option (RLO). Ultimately, athletics are an integral part of the Lawrenceville experience. When we return to campus, we must not take for granted the connections we form and the gains we make after weeks on end of practice and competition.

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