Coping & Connecting: Field Hockey

May 21, 2020, 2:20 p.m. (ET)
Content Courtesy of Central Michigan Athletics

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - May 21, 2020 - Unquestionably, the quarantine necessitated by the coronavirus has made it difficult for student-athletes to make dramatic improvements to the skills required for their specific sport.

Emotional growth? Learning to overcome obstacles and playing the hand you've been dealt? Now there is something to be learned, digested and implemented all the way around.

Members of the Central Michigan field hockey team, like those in all of the Chippewas' 17 other varsity sports, have met regularly via video conference and kept in touch through texts and group chats since campus was closed and all were sent home in mid-March.

Coach Catherine Ostoich immediately set up a schedule of twice-weekly video conference meetings with the entire team, one on Mondays, the other on Fridays. Players, divided by position group, also meet on Wednesdays.

"We are a team that very much likes a schedule," Ostoich said.

The Friday meetings are designed for field hockey and include the likes of film study and scouting reports. That has served to keep the student-athletes connected to their sport.

The Monday meetings, during which nothing regarding field hockey or conditioning is discussed, are designed for a different kind of growth.

"We asked everybody to read a book," Ostoich said. "The majority of the team was like, 'Why are we reading a book? You've got to be kidding me.' But it became probably the best conversations that we've had."

It wasn't necessarily the book subject that was important, but rather that the players tackled the task and finished it. For some, reading opened doors and minds, giving them a fresh outlook.

That was the idea, Ostoich said.

Senior Samantha Glapinski said she re-read Dale Carnegie's iconic "How to Win Friends & Influence People." She read it at age 17. Now, she's 22 and heading into her fifth year in college.

The changes in her life and in her attitude were underscored in the reading of the book.

"Reading it the second time, I really was able to connect the dots and understand that being part of a team and putting into practice the 10 steps (outlined in the book) and really how to connect and communicate with others," said Glapinski, a team captain who is home with her family in Wisconsin. "It really played a huge role in how I communicated with my team especially during the quarantine because nothing was more crucial than making sure that all of us are staying connected and talking regardless if that was a text a day or having a facetime call.

"You kind of start to realize the different mindset you have from freshman year to now. It's kind of like you get a new perspective on college and what's important. You start putting together the puzzle pieces that everybody's been prepping you for your entire life."

Sophomore-to-be Lauren Buffington, who is also home with her family in Wisconsin, said she read "Make Your Bed: Little Things That Change Your Life … And Maybe the World."

The book was an eye-opener for Buffington, who said she received a copy more than a year ago as a gift. She never opened it until Ostoich insisted some two months ago that her players read.

"I took (the book's message) as doing one little thing a day that will make you feel accomplished," Buffington said. "No matter what bad things happened that were out of your control, you still did that one thing that you can come back to."

She also took to heart a passage in the book about risk taking.

"Not being afraid about jumping all in on something, if it's something you really want," she said.

Ostoich said her players, like so many others at CMU, have taken advantage of what they have available to work out and stay in shape, from running stairs at home, to bike rides, to lifting whatever they may have at their disposal. Each player has an accountability partner.

"We really just said do what you can realizing that you need to work at the level of intensity of a Division I athlete," said Ostoich, who added that there is no time for self-pity. "We've said as much as you can do with a stick in your hand it's going to help you, even if the only space you have is the 5 yards in your family room. They all understand that and they want to get better. They have to put the time in.

"Even though there's a lot of adversity right now, it's kind of on us if we want to push through it or not."

The Chippewas have adopted "grit" as their word of the year as they look to the 2020 season. It's appropriate given the circumstances of the quarantine.

"When you think you're pushing yourself and you think you can't go any more, push yourself harder and do one more rep," Glapinski said. "That one more rep is going to mean so much more now and it's going to carry over into the fall, when we're on the line and it's the last five minutes of the game and we're tied. Those extra reps that you found within yourself and to push forward is going to make all the difference in our season and in your performance individually."

Which goes back to the lessons that so many have drawn from their readings. Making the best of it and keeping a positive attitude are critical.

"I just really felt like I needed to reassure (teammates) that nothing changes with the point that we're at right now," said Glapinski, who, at 22 years old said, said she feels like the team mom. "What's important is what we have in front of us, which is the summer and staying focused, doing our skill work, preparing for the fall. The minute we take our foot off the gas pedal, it's going to be twice as hard to start back up.

"We've been working so hard to continue to build the program. … I care a lot for the program, and I care a lot for my teammates, and I want them to succeed and I want to be able to leave CMU knowing that my team is going to be OK."