Athletes in Arms: In a year of stress, having an outlet is necessary

columnist graphic for Liam Schroeder fall 2020

An NBA Finals win, a week until a long-anticipated presidential election, a World Series win and final exams looming ominously in the near future — each of these can consume your thoughts on their own, so how am I supposed to deal with them all at once?

The fall semester began 73 days ago. We were sent home from campus last spring 231 days ago, and we have survived a total of 303 days of 2020 so far. Attempting to describe every major event of this bizarre year would be an almost impossible task, and we still have an inevitable uptick on Nov. 3, which is less than a week away.

Because of the mental strain caused by this year, 2020 has seemed to last ages. As we approach November, I am extremely tired for many reasons. With the recent championship wins by two Los Angeles teams, it seems when good news comes, it can easily be drowned out by consuming negativity.

Zoom University is clearly not a sustainable mode of learning. This week alone, I have several papers and projects to work on and virtually submit to teachers who I have not and most likely will never meet in person. Most students spend the day learning in the same spot, staring at the same screen, followed by homework on that exact same screen. 

All this may seem very pessimistic as it’s pretty clear that I am frustrated. I believe that all this pent up frustration and negative energy is really from the absence of my own sport in my daily life. This is legitimately the longest I have gone without organized sports in over a decade, and I am really feeling the effects of not having an outlet to release excess energy every day.

In high school, and now college, sports have been a way to cope with the stress of everyday life. This year in USC men’s volleyball, we often refer to the practice courts as a sanctuary. Every day of the week, we leave our phones in our lockers and forget about the school work we have for four cathartic hours. As you walk up the stairs in Galen Center, everyone mentally “locks in.”

Having several hours each day away from social media was already a worthwhile benefit to attending practice. Shifting focus to a sport itself, pushing yourself to be better and enjoying the camaraderie of your teammates on a daily basis is something that I took for granted. It provided me with a healthy coping mechanism for the stress of everyday life. Now without it, I am only left wanting that same camaraderie more than ever.

To be fair, I have been able to pursue another love in basketball as I have used that as a backup outlet for my restlessness and need to compete. Carving out an hour or two per day to play pick-up three-on-three basketball has been a daily highlight since the semester started in August. However, it still cannot compare to the daily training of volleyball.

Not only does volleyball give me an opportunity to leave the world behind, but it also is a journey with a clear goal and with rewards along the way, something that has been absent this school year. Almost every day leaving the gym, I can confidently say I improved as an individual which added to the strength of the team as a whole. During Zoom lectures, I often finish class wondering how much I really received from that hour or two of lecture. 

I am constantly asking myself: Did I really learn, or am I really just telling myself that I did?

After a session in the weight room, my body might be aching, but it only reassures my mind that I used my time to better myself. After a virtual lecture, I don’t receive that gratification, instead just added frustration on top of what is already presented by news and social media.

This is all very evident to me as I am currently living in a city of champions here in L.A. Winning the NBA Finals and the MLB World Series within weeks of each other should be a memorable moment for the city and its people. Every Angeleno should feel a sense of pride in their city and their hometown sports teams. However, because of the state of the year and current events, that sense of reward just feels lackluster compared to what it has the potential to be.

Hopefully, moving forward, collegiate sports and other activities among USC students will return in an exciting yet safe manner. Until then, I can only look for other outlets to escape the stress of the day, such as locking myself in a gym with only a goal of improvement. 

Liam Schroeder is a junior writing about sports, social justice and student-athletes. He is also a middle blocker on the USC men’s volleyball team. His column, “Athletes in Arms,” runs every Thursday.