High school athletes deal with anxieties, fear ahead of uncertain seasons

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Julia Ondo has set her life around volleyball since she was eight years old.

“I liked it so much!” the 13-year-old girl said with a smile. “I was playing softball at the time too, so I knew that it was going to be hard to decide at that point.” 

Her mother instantly saw volleyball change Julia’s life for the better.  

“She is all about that confidence and going out and attacking that ball all the time,” Rebecca Ondo said. “She is the shyest kid around. She won’t talk to anybody. But when she gets out on that volleyball court, she becomes a completely different person. Her leadership skills come through and she just runs it.” 

Now, heading into her 8th grade year at Worthingway Middle School, the idea of having no volleyball season at all has Julia’s head spinning.  

“I’ve just been playing volleyball for so long that I’m use to to my schedule of what days I have volleyball, and now that I don’t I just don’t know what to do,” she said nervously.  
 
And Rebecca also feels lost watching her daughter struggle.  

 “It’s devastating because this is my kid, this is her fun! This has been her fun since she was eight years old,” Rebecca said. “When they lose that, it’s like they don’t know what to do with themselves and then they get in trouble. They lose their gumption to go.” 

Dr. Chris Stankovich, a professional athletic counselor, said he’s seen a lot of athletes struggling mentally during the pandemic with the possibility of no fall sports. He’s also seen them struggle with anxieties about returning to play.  

“Sports are a big part of what kids do. Student-athletes often identify themselves through their sports,” he said. “It’s a big, important part of a child’s learning experience. Many of them have expressed to me uncertainties and not really knowing protocols, and even if I’m doing everything right, what about the guys I’m playing against? Is that team safe? What if I get it? How long will I be out? Can I infect my family? So many questions right now.”
 
“I’m just worried that if we do play it’ll be really weird and it won’t be as fun as normal but like, I’d still rather play than not do anything,” said Julia, who is doing everything she can to stay sharp mentally and on the volleyball court. She even organized her own sand volleyball practices at a park with teammates.  

“They’re social distancing, they’re doing the six feet on the court and stuff like that, but they’ve just got to get up and go,” Rebecca said. “It’s the structure, it’s the teammates, it’s the camaraderie, it’s all of that. It’s thinking and problem solving. I loved it as a kid and I wanted my kids to experience that same fun that I got to do.” 

When it comes to supporting young athletes, Dr. Stankovich said to be patient, open-minded and remember everybody is navigating this together.  

“Everybody is trying their best. We all want the same thing whether it’s your local coach or the Ohio High School Athletic Association,” he explained. “We all want the same thing, but we really need to pay attention to the experts, use critical thinking, really evaluate information not just go with emotions but logic as well.” 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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