How to train hard for virtual and at home sports

Ethan Marcus and Ryan Duffy

Change. Hope. Innovation.

Throughout the COVID-19 shutdown of school sponsored sports, student-athletes wanted to improve their skills while locked up at home. Athletes wanted to meet and connect with their teammates. Athletes wanted to innovate ways to improve their skills at home during their quarantines.

And many found a way to do that.

Even if that meant using Cola cans for bowling pins.

Senior bowling captain Carter Stocker created an at-home bowling alley to help vanquish the longing for team comradery, a large part of in-person practices and games.

“The team chemistry isn’t good because, usually, when we are all in the lanes, we are laughing and having a great time swapping stories. But now, I just bowl by myself around the house. Even the pop cans I stand up as bowling pins look sad,” Stocker said.

Stocker is not the only athlete seeking an alternative to make up for the unity that comes with being in person. Senior Birmingham Unified lacrosse player Emma Ruszkowski experienced similar situations trying to deal with not being able to play one’s sport in person. To eliminate the craving for competition Ruszkowski took it upon herself to organize and host covid regulation-friendly lacrosse scrimmages.

“We’ve been doing some full-field scrimmages in our houses. It varies week to week which house we do it at and what room we play in, but typically we play in the kitchen,” Ruszkowski said.

Fully equipped, each member of the teams enters the kitchen for their 7v7 scrimmage. Although these scrimmages are socially distant they get very competitive. Ruszkowski and her teammates have had to get creative when a teammate is unable to attend the scrimmage and Ruszkowski’s dog Winnie has had to step in a couple of times to play.

“Winnie doesn’t have the best stick skills. We mostly use her as defense so she doesn’t have to catch or pass the ball. She is kind of able to juke people out and break ankles. She just runs around their feet and people get scared they are going to step on her,” Ruszkowski said.

Stocker hasn’t been lucky enough to practice with his teammates, so to subdue the loneliness Stocker also found new ways to practice his sport around the house.

“I put down a plank of wood in my backyard and put some practice pins at the end that I bought while thrifting. Sadly, I only have three pins so I’ve been finding other alternatives,” Stocker said.

To find a worthy alternative for real bowling pins, Stocker had to endure many trials and errors. Stocker started his journey to find the perfect alternative with gallon milk jugs. But Stocker found a key issue with the milk jugs.

“The milk jugs don't have the same weight distribution as the pins. Therefore, when my bowling ball curves into the side of the one and three-pin, it doesn’t give the same results,” Stocker said.

After Stocker’s failed experiment with the milk jugs, he transitioned to soda cans. Stocker came to the conclusion that adding 300ml of water to each 7.5 fluid ounce cans gave the most realistic weight distribution to each can compared to an official pin.

Other Groves athletes such as senior star basketball player Kenny Pepper have been adapting to the new way of training by taking advantage of Zoom. Kenny has been practicing along with his team on Zoom since the beginning of the fall. Two to three times per week, Pepper hustles downstairs to his basement and grabs his brand new Wilson evolution basketball to start practice. Without being able to step on the court and showcase his skills, Pepper has found other ways to keep the scouts interested.

“I have been making sure to flex my biceps a whole lot and when I see the scouts looking at the camera, I make sure to go extra hard,” Pepper said.

The opportunity to keep the scouts’ attention is vital if an athlete wants to continue their career after high school. Although

Pepper has found a way to continue scouts’ interest in his talent, Pepper remarked on how practices on Zoom don’t have the same environment as in person.

“Practice is a lot more lively in person. We don't chat much on Zoom. It's more just coaches talking to us but we still get some jokes in every once in a while,” Pepper said

Pepper has implemented elements of his normal pregame rituals into Zoom workouts to bring more energy into the lackluster Zoom practices.

“Before I hop on the Zoom, I grab my headphones and bump Lil Baby’s hit song ‘Time’,” Pepper said.

Blasting the wise words of Lil Baby as he raps about his struggle with rising to fame gets Pepper hyped up and ready to crush his Zoom workouts.

Other athletes like Pepper, such as senior varsity swimmer David Nakisher don't necessarily enjoy Zoom workouts. Many upperclassmen feel as though they hardly know their underclassmen teammates.

“There is virtually no socialization. I know only two of the freshmans' names. We haven’t really had team meetups. When we are on Zoom, we are far away from the camera so we can't really see each other's faces,” Nakisher said.

With an abundance of virtual workouts that make it difficult for interaction between players, many athletes have little bond with their teammates. Nakisher is bummed he hasn’t had the chance to get to know the freshman swimmers.

“Back when we were in season last year, my swim teammates were pretty much the only guys I saw. I saw them during the morning and at night. For me, I really think I saw some of the guys more than I saw my parents most weeks,” Nakisher said.

"The chemistry is totally different. There isn’t really as much brotherhood.”

Although the brotherhood isn’t as strong as it usually is, Nakisher does what he can to keep it alive.

“When we swim in the bathtub, we take turns. We often time ourselves getting in and out as quickly as possible. This is the best form of brotherhood we can recreate *sigh*,” Nakisher said.

On the positive side of things, other athletes take advantage of the spotlight to show off. Senior varsity Birmihgam Unified hockey player Eric Fuderer intends to assert his dominance every time he participates in a Zoom workout.

“When I show off to the boys on Zoom, it gets competitive. There is no stopping. I have to be the best,” Fuderer said.

If a scout showed up at Stocker’s front door, Stocker would be readily prepared. With no hesitation, he would know exactly what would need to be done. “I would say, ‘one-second sir.’ I would go run to my room, throw a tank top on, and then walk back to the front door with my ball. I would try to be intimidating. I would say, ‘what’s up chief?’ And he would say, ‘It looks like bowling is really a big part of your life.’ I would then say, ‘yes sir.’ And then he would say, ‘full-ride scholarship.’ It’s as simple as that. He would instantly be able to assess my finger strength from our handshake. When I shake his hand, I slide my finger onto his palm and tickle it aggressively so he can feel how strong my fingers are.”

The homes of student-athletes have taken a beating from the new way of practicing. Ruszkowski’s home, the typical host of the intense 7v7 lacrosse scrimmages, has had numerous damages.

“In my kitchen, we have a window right above the kitchen sink. Our coach has really been emphasizing stick stills and catching skills. Everyone makes mistakes,” Ruszkowski said. “Lilly passed the ball to me, and I didn’t catch it. That one was on me. The ball just went right through the window. The pass was a little bit too high. If I would have jumped, I still wouldn’t have been able to reach it. I completely blamed Lily. I sent her mom a text telling her that Lily broke our window and that it was destruction of property.”

In Stocker’s situation, he must use heavy bowling balls around the hallways and floors of his home. There was a slight accident in the basement.

“It made a big bang. My mom came downstairs and said, ‘Are you practicing bowling again? Maybe you should get some friends.’ I said, ‘You know what Mom? I’m trying to improve my skills.’ Once she saw the hole she asked, ‘How is that even possible? The pins are one way and you threw the ball the complete opposite way. How does that happen?’ I said, ‘I was trying to do Wii bowling and no one was behind me to jump up in the air and spin,’” Stocker said. “It wasn’t a great moment. The hole isn’t the size of the bowling ball. I would say it is the size of a silver dollar. I think the hole is going to just remain there in memory.”

When Fuderer participates in mini stick scrimmages in his friends’ basements, there are absolutely no rules, and the walls of their basement display similar damage to Stocker’s.

“These games got very physical. We once put a hole in Nathan Glime’s house. His basement flooded during quarantine, and they had just redone it. Just two weeks after the basement was finished the incident happened. It was in overtime. Collin McClain body-checked Trevor Peterson into the wall, and his shoulder put a nice little hole in the wall,” Fuderer said.

Stocker believes he speaks for most athletes when implementing an at-home training program after the quarantine is over.

“I don’t see why anyone would want to return back to in-person sports. Playing crowd noise in my headphones and pretending to be in a normal bowling alley eventually grew on me,” Stocker said. “As soon as I can practice normally, I will not. I've learned to love my time alone with my Cola cans."

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