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Keeping the Competitive Edge in the Age of Social Distancing: Jaime Santer (Team Ontario Beach)

By Ontario Volleyball, 05/12/20, 1:00PM EDT


Upon returning from her first intercontinental competition – a one-star FIVB event in Malaysia – Jaime Santer, who is also the youngest athlete Team Ontario beach had competing at a senior FIVB tournament, could never have predicted the way the world of sports (and frankly, the world) has been turned on it’s head due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The high school senior, along with countless other athletes her age around the world, did not get their long awaited and storied closure on their secondary school careers; instead, they have been listening closely to the news from the safety of indoors in what feels like a race against the clock to the anticipation of re-openings and the passing of summer.

Santer, a Full-Time Training Group beach athlete of Team Ontario, had her work cut out for the upcoming months including key tournaments in the United States: A National bid qualifier in New Jersey and several competitions across Florida and California. These events were ultimately cancelled.

“It’s really frustrating because I thought playing last year in the States really opened my eyes to what my future competition would be, playing in the NCAA, but everyone is going through it so it’s not really something that is personal to me but it is affecting me,” says Santer, who has committed to play for the University of Hawai’i at Manoa beginning in the fall. That routine of consecutive and distant travels, which one might infer as mentally exhausting for an individual in high school, was the norm for Santer and who has known for while what is to be expected given her institution of choice’s location. For that to come to a halt has created an itch. “Especially because this whole thing kind of started when I got back from Malaysia, so I was so motivated to train and improve on the things I noticed when I was there. Just to come back and, you know, stay home was really frustrating.”

The silver lining is that ultimately there will be another day when everything will return to normalcy and once more will be allowed to engage in sports. Though the world is distant at the moment, there are many who have already begun to create some semblance of that normalcy. Additionally for Santer, a new chapter awaits in the fall – post-secondary, which means a new start in Honolulu where she looks to pick up right where she left off in the sand.

“I’m very lucky that NCAA beach volleyball is a spring sport, so at least I have more time to train with my future teammates,” she laughs. “I’m super excited.”

In the meantime, Santer and her fellow Ontarian beach athletes stay on top of the social distance workouts with Team Ontario Beach while balancing commitments to school work, though Santer admits that this semester she was fortunate to have planned her less taxing classes close the year in order to focus on training. Santer has been able to maintain her high work ethic despite the conditions.

“Through Team Ontario we’re still following a schedule with strength and conditioning with Coach Kiri (Langford) twice per week, Re-Gen workouts (mobility exercises) twice per week as well and movement patterns as well as technical practices which were created by Team Ontario athletes,” she lists off the agenda. “It’s been good (the technical practices) to keep my mind in the sports and engaged in the learning instead of doing just reps. I think that keeping a schedule and routine has really helped me; it’s been more of a time to take care of my body and stay physically fit so that when we are able to get back on the sand I’m ready.”

What of the mental strains that could potentially arise from this unprecedented isolation period? Particularly with the indoor season reaching it’s final exclamation point and beach competitions slated to start ramping up.  Santer claims that she was expecting to take the recent events harder mentally and feeling increased stress.

“Honestly, I have just tried to be really forgiving of myself,” she says. “I’m not holding myself to do things because I feel like if I don’t do them, I won’t get better. I’m using it as a time to feel more motivated and be intrinsically motivated.”

She brings up a call Team Ontario Beach had recently with Team Canada beach athlete and Olympian, Heather Bansley.

“One of the things she said that stuck with me was that to love a sport doesn’t mean you have to love every single minute, every single practice,” she recalls. “I don’t always love doing stretches or rolling out or doing really small exercises but in the end it benefits me so my mental state has been great because it’s just been me trying to work on myself and there aren’t many opportunities to do that because I’m always playing and always in a group setting. I’m using this to fine tune the little details and in the future, I will be grateful for this time.”   

Having undergone knee surgery years ago and now that gyms are closed, the avid gym go-er Santer has been focusing on her joints with stretching and mobility exercises more than in previous regiments.

With everyone apart and most activities cut from the checklist, social distancing has allowed for an extended opportunity of self-reflection. During these times Santer has made some realizations about herself and habits.

“One thing that has surprised me is how well I’m able to structure my days,” she states. “I haven’t found myself being extremely bored…yet but I just find things to occupy myself and keep myself feeling accomplished and I think that has also attributed to my positive mental health. It’s just the fact that I’m scheduling things like practices, walking my dog, going for a run and keeping a routine as similar as though this wasn’t happening has helped a lot.”

Normally, Santer wouldn’t have so much free time and when she does, she usually doesn’t know what to do with it. Now that free time is all she essentially has, she has created things to do and creative isn’t a quality that Santer would say is associated with her but when faced in extraordinary circumstances, the opposite has been demonstrated. That creativity has also been applied in the kitchen where her nutrition has also received a reinvigorated focus.

If anything, the pandemic has sharpened Santer’s mindset and she has understood the importance of staying positive in uncertain situations.

“Having a mindset that keeps you motivated is important because that is one thing that you can control – no one can control what’s going on right now and I think everyone feels a little bit lost in that sense because during our lifetime nothing like this has ever happened,” Santer says. “So being able to control the small things in your life like doing a workout or deciding to eat a healthier meal with one hundred percent control over them keeps you in a mindset where you’re able to feel kind of competitive towards yourself. There’s no external competition anywhere, so I’m trying to hold myself to a high standard because I don’t have my coaches around; it’s up to me to not lose any of the progress that I made and it’s an experience that you can keep applying when this is all over.”

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