Ridwan Hannan is a senior who played for the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer team.

By Ridwan Hannan

Special to FrontRowSoccer.com

A standard day for most student-athletes is something along the lines of getting up 6 a.m. (in my case but perhaps earlier for others) and in school by 7 a.m. ready to take on the day. I’m a morning guy so I try and get a head start on my schoolwork before anything gets started.

By 8 a.m. I’m in the mail room where I spend my time as a student worker. This is where I work with a lovely group of people who are also my biggest fans in the school. At times my supervisor is more stressed out about the results than myself. When it starts itching towards 11 a.m. the “athlete” part of my day gets a run for its money. Head down to the locker room for a quick laugh with the boys and straight into the fun stuff. Get a big lift in for an hour and then we’re raring to go. Time to hit the fields and play some footy!

Once were approaching the end of practice it’s about to hit 3 p.m., and yep you know it change of gear again, back in the locker room, trying to barge my way to get into the showers first so I’m not late back to the mailroom where my alter ego “Postman Patz” kicks in. Spend time there until 6 p.m. and that’s a wrap for the day at school unless I have a night class to compensate for time being away at practice or work.

The long day starts at 6 a.m. and each part is broken up into multiple segments. While you’re at each segment you’re mentally getting prepared for what’s coming next. It’s a challenge but the sensation that comes along with being productive and having a purpose is somewhat addictive.

Fast forward a couple of days and the tides have changed drastically. With the outbreak of novel COVID-19, our lifestyles have had to adjust to the situation and no longer do we have the luxury of acting like a well-programmed machine, maximizing utility by ticking off the next box on the to-do-list, rather we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. It seems as though that aura of being a student-athlete, what we once took for granted has no relevance or purpose in our lives for the foreseeable future and who knows how long we have to be accustomed to this lifestyle. All of a sudden that student-athlete chip on our shoulder is falling off and it seems a little silly to label ourselves as one anymore as the physical distancing orders prolong, instead further detaching ourselves from our past identity.

That’s not to say our identity isn’t of any value anymore, because if we fail to embrace that uniqueness we once had, we run the fatal risk of lacking a sense of purpose in our everyday lives. It might be easy to fall into that trap of feeling a little lethargic with each day that passes by, no longer getting prepared for that crunch game on the weekend, no longer doing all you can to get an edge on your studies so you can focus more time and energy into your sport.

In reality, we may wake up in the morning not knowing what to do. All that’s really left on that to-do-list now is that tedious zoom class where you can barely comprehend a thing between the dodgy internet connection and the artistic handwriting of the professor on Microsoft Paint which the professor substitutes for a white board. I can’t help but have a little giggle and think to myself:

“How the heck did I get myself up for all of these classes during the semester?”

The only thing we really got to train for now is the potential for a final exam as education institutions play catchup with the process of trying to implement a respectable virtual environment for students to learn in. So, in reality, there’s not much to worry about in regard to school. All that’s left is what we once thought we would never be able to enjoy in our usual lives, an abundance of time. So, what can we do to regain our purpose during this time when the very label we identified as for the last couple of years seems to have no meaning in the current social climate?

What can we do?

Although physical distancing may have forced us to feel a bit out of place or disheartened about what our purpose is, there’s plenty of reasons to stay upbeat and reap the benefits from being a student-athlete in the past. The skills of a student-athlete are very much transferrable to the setting of our lives today. As student-athletes we overcome challenges every day, whether that be the challenge of overcoming a loss that cost a playoffs berth when you know you could have done better and then having to turn up to class the next day with a brave face, hiding the inner hollowness, or whether it be the first day of pre-season and you just want to get off the mark quickly and let everyone know you mean business this year.

These instances, minuscule as they may be in nature­­ are exactly why now is a time in which we can prosper with the tool kit we have developed over time as student-athletes. There’s no reason that the lessons learned and the skills we have built up from that demeanour of our life cannot play a role in the challenges we face today. If anything, student-athletes are great at developing an emotional IQ by dealing with adversity and challenges from all dimensions of the student-athlete environment. If anyone’s well equipped to take on the challenges that lie upon us for the foreseeable future, it’s our student-athletes.

The very habits we are required to preach as a student-athlete in order to give the best of ourselves are the very habits that we can apply now to keep moving forward. It’s tempting to feel demotivated and get complacent during a time like this but maintaining order is essential to get the best out of oneself. We practice maintaining routines all semester and even prolonging that into the summer at times so it’s important to practice what we preach and maintain a routine throughout this lockdown. Whether that be waking up at the same time every day or acting on certain tasks at particular times it is vital to have a structured day to get the best out of oneself. That’s not too say one has to go through obnoxious lengths to win the day such as lifting at 5 a.m. (also fine and commend anyone for doing so!), but you know what I mean. Why not try something new and test out what works for you? Perhaps you can try mediating for 10 minutes every morning and write down three little things you want to accomplish for the day and week. Set yourselves tasks and goals for this quarantine period and come back to your writing and measure the feats achieved and analyze where you can improve.

Now is a great time to ask yourself some key questions:

* How can you benefit from the situation and how can you look back at this time frame later in life and view it as some of the most productive and prosperous times?

* What can you do now that will allow you to look back on this time period later in life with grace?

Sometimes when we’re at our lows we can ponder the cost and trade-off from dedicating three-four hours into our sport every day, which takes away from many other, perhaps meaningful things that we value. For those things that you always wanted to do but thought you didn’t have time for, now is the perfect opportunity to fulfil those desires that seemed all so impossible during regular life. Dig into that book that you only ever touched while on the bus for an away game, work on that hobby you never got the time for, upskill in that domain which you could improve on or simply just leave some time out for your mates and family that never get the time they deserve in your hectic schedule. In our everyday lives we are guilty of putting things aside however meaningful they be, and subconsciously telling ourselves we don’t have the time. This gives us a sensation of comfort and puts us at ease knowing that we can’t do anything about it because we have so much on our plate.

Stay positive

Positivity and high energy shape our experience as student-athletes. Whether we’re feeling angry, sad, reflective, ecstatic, or humiliated we have learnt to comeback from whatever hits us with positivity and high energy because that’s what works. We lose games, hit setbacks, but we bounce back and move on. Individually, we’ve all had days where we’re going through the motions, not up for that lift, or practice drags on and you just want to be done with it, daydreaming about how you’re going to make it back in time for class but at the end of the day we still get through it, feeding off each other’s positivity and good energy. It’s what allows us to strengthen our emotional IQ and be mindful in whatever situation or challenge we find ourselves in. Our past mental and physical challenges have shaped us well to combat the COVID-19 hangover and chip away to better ourselves each day.

In a recent Tim-Ferris Podcast, it was revealed that American author, life coach and philanthropist, Tony Robbins once asked Nelson Mandela about how he survived in prison and the response from Nelson Mandela was that he wasn’t in fact surviving, rather preparing for life after prison educating himself in the process. Similarly, although very different in context, student-athletes have a similar challenge, when forced to be sidelined after an injury out of one’s control, but the very process of coming back involves a rigorous rehabilitation program to prepare and come back better and stronger. This juxtaposition applies to us today where we now find ourselves with nothing but time on the sidelines for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, we don’t control the situation we find ourselves in, but the silver lining is that how we use that time is at our discretion and that’s what’s important.

Time for a bit of reflection

Last but not least, we find ourselves with a great opportunity to reflect. At times when all we’re focused on is not missing a beat in life we humbly forget where we are and why we’re there. The glow of being a student-athlete, what we once took for granted can be taken away by something starting halfway across the world, something that’s hard to fathom. Sometimes we take our status for granted and only cherish the experience once it’s taken away from us.

Humans are silly like that. This break from society provides us with the opportunity to meditate on our thoughts, reflect on our triumphs, our failures and embrace the journey itself. Personally, I have one more semester and another chance to live out the euphoric highs and heartbreaking lows, but for a lot of student-athletes out there, a lot of my friends included, their last semester or their last season came to a pre-mature end and that’s the end of their story. Be grateful for the precious time you spend with people you meet along this journey because you never know when that last laugh with your mates is going to ambush you. As my time comes to an end, I have no intention but to cherish the final stretch.

For all those student-athletes affected whether it be your senior season or a run into the playoffs, it sucks that it all came to an abrupt end, but don’t let that be the end of the journey, for you are all student-athletes who have overcome many challenges to get where you are. Just because the nature of the challenge now is different, it doesn’t mean you won’t belt it out of the park for a home run. There will be a brighter side when we turn the corner and I’m excited to see everyone coming back better and stronger and hear everyone’s stories from this hiatus in life.