Have masks hindered athletes’ performance?

The 2020-2021 school year has been an interesting one for the student-athletes at Ransom Everglades. RE athletics began the school year with uncertainty due to the impact of COVID-19. Fall sports such as Football, Swimming, and Cross Country served as the test cases in evaluating all the appropriate precautions for future sports. Teams would have to do their best when off-campus to avoid situations where they could potentially be at risk of catching the virus. While on campus, the Athletics Department had to find ways to keep athletes safe

When sports finally resumed in the fall, RE emphasized that teams would have to follow strict COVID-19 guidelinesHowever, teams were not required to wear masks during practices and games. That quickly changed as the winter sports season came along.  

The athletics department decided it would be best for athletes to always wear masks during practices and even required basketball teams to wear them during games. Many of the athletes were initially skeptical about how this would work and raised concerns such as how well they’d be able to breathe or if it would affect their performance 

Now that the winter season is over and athletes have spent several weeks with these new COVID-19 protocols in place, I spoke to some of RE’s student athletes to hear their thoughts on the protocols  

Walker White 21, who plays for the varsity soccer team, did not have a pleasant experience with wearing masks while playing. “My experience with masks has been horrible. I am constantly thinking about my mask instead of focusing on the sport I am playing. I constantly am more tired than if I were to play with no mask. Some may say that has to do with my fitness but that is false. I am in peak physical condition,” he said.

In terms of performance, White explained that “the mask definitely suppresses my performance. I play much worse in practice when I am wearing a mask.”  

While White only had to wear a mask during practices, Neil Schiff 21, who played for the varsity basketball team, wore one during both practices and games. “It has truly been awful. I have to constantly keep adjusting my mask throughout games and it even interferes with my vision sometimes” Schiff said. 

My acne during basketball season has not been healthy,” he added. “These masks are causing my face to break out like never before.”

Schiff also felt that the masks suppressed his performance on the court. “It makes me feel like I am not my true self. It makes me feel like I am hiding from my opponents. It also affects my shot because there is a black mask in my line of view. That is besides that fact that I can’t breathe for most of the game, and it causes me to be very lightheaded. I have been dealing with a lot of headaches after games.”  

What frustrated several of the varsity basketball players was that some of the teams they played were not required to wear masks. Nick Rubino ’23 felt there was a noticeable difference between the teams who weren’t required to wear masks and RE’s basketball teams.  

“It put our team at a huge disadvantage. Basketball is a fast-paced game that involves lots of running and moving up and down the court. Wearing a mask makes it significantly harder to breathe during the game and it factors into how well we play. 

Playing against other teams that do not require masks for their athletes, you can notice a difference in how much faster and easier they move, compared to our athletes on the court,” he added. 

Rubino also spoke about specific moments where the mask affected his play. “I remember going up for a shot and as I was about to shoot the mask flew up and covered my eyes. Of course, I missed, and that got me very upset.”  

According to WhiteSchiff, and Rubino, they aren’t the only ones who have struggled with masks while playing their respective sports; other teammates haven’t enjoyed the new protocols and are hoping for possible changes in the future.  

However, some athletes had different thoughts about wearing masks during play.  

“The usage of masks isn’t something that drastically affects performance,” said Eliza Arnold ’24, who plays on the girls’ varsity basketball team. “Other than short periods of shortness of breath and things like that, the overall performance of our team hasn’t been affected.”  

When asked whether the mask-wearing rule should be changed, she adamantly insisted that “as long as we are in a global pandemic, I think all schools should push for the usage of masks during games. Protecting everyone during the school day but potentially throwing it all away seems a little unreasonable.”  

When the season started, Mr. Scott Berman, the boys’ varsity basketball head coach, was concerned at first about the impact of mask-wearing. “Initially I was concerned that we would take going into games at a disadvantage, or that the games wouldn’t be fair. Also, conditioning was a big concern of mine,” he said.  

Although he felt “it did have some effect on us” in the early season, however, “our guys got pretty used to them as the season went on.”

Mr. Berman said he made it clear to his team that they were not going to use the masks as an excuse for poor play. “As a team and as a coach we aren’t interested in making excuses. If we get beat, we get beat and that’s that.” Mr. Berman said he wanted to do his best to make sure that was his team’s mentality throughout the season.  

While it is clear some athletes disagree with the rules in place, there are still other student athletes who are not only happy with the protocols but hoping that other schools should follow suitAs the spring sports seasons open, it is up to the administration to make changes to the protocols or continue on the same path.