Sports

Sports psychologist to athletes: Be creative during challenging times

Ogden column: The art of cross-training has been lost on many

Steve DeVries coached at Cornell College from 1982 to 2000 and later earned his doctorate in sports psychology. Now reti
Steve DeVries coached at Cornell College from 1982 to 2000 and later earned his doctorate in sports psychology. Now retired, he said it’s important for athletes to be creative in their workouts these days, and for coaches and parents to support their athletes. (Cornell College)
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If sports play a big role in your life, this is a tough time.

If you’re an athlete who relishes competition or thrives on getting bigger, stronger and faster with each workout, these are difficult days.

If you’re a coach who loves working with these athletes and feeds off the challenge of molding them into champions, you’ve had better days.

If you’re simply a fan who misses watching games — maybe even gambling on them — this time is not easy.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled or suspended many things we enjoy as lovers of sport.

Steve DeVries feels our pain.

DeVries just turned 71 and officially is on “grandkid time” these days, aka retirement. But he’s also a former Division I athlete who won Midlands and Big Ten Conference wrestling titles while at the University of Iowa. He then coached wrestling at Cornell College for nearly 20 years, winning 10 Midwest Conference titles. In his most recent role at the school, before retirement, he was a professor in kinesiology.

He knows a thing or 20 about sports, about competing and about coaching. And, yes, about being a fan.

“It’s just full of challenges,” said DeVries, who earned his doctorate in sports psychology from Iowa after retiring from coaching in 2000.

But DeVries also is a history buff and said our past if full of difficult times when we, as humans, “rose to the occasion.”

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He sees that happening again and, honestly, thinks these difficult times could make athletes and coaches better in the long run.

“It’s a unique challenge for modern athletes,” he said, emphasizing this is a “a real challenge.”

You see, he’s old enough to remember a day when sports weren’t a 24/7 obsession, when athletes had to find creative ways to stay in shape when there actually was an offseason.

“We didn’t train year-round,” said the man who won a Big Ten wrestling title at 177 pounds in 1971. “You went home, went to work and figured it out yourself.

“You had to be innovative in your training.”

Athletes are dealing with that today. Sports facilities and gyms, for the most part, are closed. Even some outdoor areas are locked down to prevent large groups from gathering.

DeVries said this is a perfect time for athletes to try something different.

“Cross training. Remember that term?” he said. “It’s kind of a lost art.”

He also said athletes need to have a plan, set goals and measure their progress.

“Do what you can to simulate the demands of your sport,” he said. “Identify things you can measure, then log it — and I mean write it down. Then set up a strategy and ask ‘how can I improve it.’

“Keep on top of it. Keep reflecting.”

He said maybe the worst part about this shutdown is the lack of coaching these athletes are getting.

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“The other real challenge for kids right now ... is support,” he said. “Teammates, coaches, family.”

The good news is coaches “have the tools” to stay in contact with their athletes, not only giving them workouts but helping them reach goals and then resetting those goals. It’s not about the Xs and Os right now.

“You just wish ... they would find somebody who will find that kind of support for them,” he said. “Of course, that’s what coaching is all about.

“I think that’s really helpful. We’ve got to find someone who can help us with the motivation part of it.”

There is no “easy button” to push these days, not magic pill that will make these times go away or help these athletes reach new heights. It will take hard work. But isn’t that always the case?

“Some kids are going to struggle with it, some are going to figure it out,” he said.

And the benefit of “figuring it out” could mean bigger rewards down the road. That’s what DeVries remembers about his days as an athlete, “figuring it out” when not in school or around his coaches.

“We didn’t know it was benefiting us mentally,” he said.

Maybe this is one of those difficult times that really will make us stronger, make us better.

And keep this in mind:

“We’re all in the same spot,” DeVries said.

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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