COVID-19 Response Creative training
An unexpected offseason
With the help of coaches and trainers, Loyola University Chicago student-athletes are finding novel ways to keep their edge while sheltering-in-place
It took time for Giann Magno to acclimate. One day in March, the midfield mainstay on Loyola University Chicago’s men’s soccer team was turning around defenders in spring scrimmages, preparing his body and mind for his forthcoming senior season and another NCAA tournament appearance later this fall. The next day, he was shepherded into the locker room by his coach, Neil Jones, and told that all athletics (not to mention in-person classes) would be suspended indefinitely. Be grateful our season wasn’t cut short, Jones advised, and try your best to stay conditioned in the meantime.
“Going from playing every single day to not being able to play at all, I feel like I’m losing my mind sometimes,” Magno says. “It’s hard to concentrate on certain things, especially school, when I haven’t expended that right amount of energy.”
Slowly, though, Magno has settled into a shelter-in-place regimen that, while imperfect, keeps him organized and focused. The alarm rings in his off-campus apartment, often before 7 a.m. He throws on sweats and hits the pavement—running on Rogers Park streets, not the soccer pitch where he prefers to sweat it out. He’ll follow up his cardio with at-home strength training, mimicking a body-weight circuit developed by Loyola’s strength trainers specifically for confined spaces.
Soccer-specific skills training is trickier to replicate, but Magno will park himself “on the road or on any patch of grass I can find” for close ball work, juggling under the ‘L’ tracks and dribbling six feet from strangers. He tackles classwork in the afternoons, and keeps his mind busy at night watching old matches on YouTube or calling his family back in England. Solo training can feel like a lonely pursuit, Magno admits, with motivation fleeting. “I’ve just tried to make it as close to what the routine would be if we were still in training.”
The abrupt disappearance of college sports in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was disorienting on a national scale, a sure signal of the virus’s ferocity. In the weeks since, student-athletes in every corner of Loyola’s athletics department have adjusted on the fly to a strange new competitive landscape. There are no games or practices, no gym access, and no human contact permitted. The intensity of live action can’t be replicated. But with enthusiastic guidance from coaches and some creative problem-solving, Ramblers like Magno are finding novel ways to keep their edge.
“It’s almost like we’ve gone through these stages,” says Steve Watson, Loyola’s director of athletics. The first concern was immediate safety—ensuring athletes had essentials covered and comfortable places to stay. “Then we shifted into the academic piece, and made sure they had what they needed to take classes, like WiFi and laptops and access to our tutors and academic coaches. And now we’re talking a lot more about staying in shape, making sure they’ve got the training programs and the resources they need to stay fit and ready-to-go for next season.”
A lot of that planning falls on the thick shoulders of Dave Vitel, the assistant athletics director for sports performance. He and his coworkers are making the best of a bad situation, building and sharing remote workout programs knowing full well their athletes don’t have anywhere near the space or equipment available to them in quarantine as they do on campus. “When I came to Loyola [in 2011], it was to create a holistic approach,” Vitel says. “It’s still like that here on the road. Can we recreate that Loyola atmosphere at home?”