They didn’t know it was going to be their last time on the court together for a while. Like most seniors across the country, Alia, Mackenzie and Sahara were trying to make the most of their senior year and their final club volleyball season before heading off to college. After finishing 3rd at the Sunshine Qualifier, Houston Juniors 18 Elite had to abruptly hit the pause button on the season. The following day the club suspended all practices and competition to adhere to the region’s decision concerning the current status of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Although their last practice was 3 weeks ago these three seniors have stayed focused on their goals, and maintained a positive, realistic outlook.  There are still emotions felt of fear, worry and uncertainty about the pandemic, but here are 6 keys that continue to help them persevere during this challenging time:

1.  Keep a schedule

Sahara is an outside/right side attacker that will attend Rice University this Fall.  She lives by her schedule because it keeps her focused on her priorities each day and prevents her from getting distracted during the blocks of time when she need to get things done.

“On a typical weekday, I wake up at 7:00 AM, shower, and get dressed. I make breakfast around 7:45 AM and begin to organize myself at my desk for the rest of my workday. Since the school I attend, St. Agnes Academy, runs on a block schedule, the order of my classes varies. I’ll take a lunch break at 12:00 PM to talk with my family, play with my 5-year-old brother, and eat. Ideally, I’d like to end my days at 4:00 PM, but sometimes I work over. At 5:00 PM, I walk with my family for an hour, come back to the house, do ab workouts with my sister, and do yoga. After getting showered, my family and I will eat together and have a movie night. I am typically in bed by 10:30 PM. The weekends are different but include a lot of family time and different circuits of workouts.”

Mackenzie, is an outside/right side attacker who will attend Texas Tech this Fall. She writes out her schedule for the following day before she goes to bed the night before.

“During this time, physical health is huge to be able to go back and continue playing without any setbacks, so I personally try to workout as many days out of the week that I can.”

Alia has been able to stick to a schedule for majority of her time at home but admits it’s definitely not the easiest thing she’s done.

“A typical quarantine day for me starts anywhere from 7:30-10:30. I’ll wake up and change into some gym clothes to eat some breakfast and get a workout in before it gets too late. Then I have some free time to get whatever house project done that I’ve come up with or read a book. Then comes lunch and schoolwork. Then come chores and dinner, followed by the rest of the night to watch movies or just relax.”

2.  Hold Yourself Accountable

Mackenzie believes self discipline is one of the most important keys to success.

“One day in the future you’re not going to have someone in your ear telling what to do and when to do it. Your own self growth is 100% dependent on you. Right now as high school and (future) college athletes we have someone to keep track of our health and to guide us in our workouts, but one day that is all going to go away and you will be all on your own. Learning that now and processing it now will help you greatly in the future.”

3.  Stay connected

18 Elite Coach Kara Pratt has organized virtual team trainings twice a week on the nights when the team has scheduled practices. Catching up with teammates, classmates and close friends helps keep a sense of normalcy, reminds us that we are in this together, and can rely on each other to get through it.

“Coach has fortunately been able to insert some normalcy into our lives by introducing us to a virtual “practice” for an hour twice a week. This has been a great way to keep our team and coaching staff connected through this time of social distancing” shares Alia.

“The person who has helped me adjust the most is probably Kara Pratt, my club volleyball coach. We all know that this is a difficult time and kind of a bummer to all of us seniors when things are getting cancelled left and right. Kara has helped me a lot even though she may not even know, she is a huge influence” adds Mackenzie.

4.  Have a Growth Mindset

This experience has forced most everyone to be uncomfortable. Alia, Mackenzie and Sahara have responded by keeping a growth mindset, and learning from the challenge. As a result they’ve been able to stay motivated and learn a lot about themselves.

Alia’s time management has drastically gotten better because that is the one thing she does have control over.

“What I’ve learned about myself through this quick change in lifestyle is that keeping myself accountable is a lot of work, especially when there’s nobody else to count on for motivation. I realize that this is the perfect opportunity to better learn how to keep myself accountable and motivated on my own time, without my whole week being drawn out for me ahead of time.”

Sahara has learned that she loves schedules. And she’s adapted by changing her routine and trying new things.

“There are five people in my house, and we function on very tight schedules. But with the coronavirus, I have learned to be flexible and not to be hard on myself when situations change. I was the complete opposite pre-quarantine with my regular day-to-day schedule. At home, I’ve learned how to do yoga. In this upcoming week, my mom is going teach me how to cook some of her favorite dishes. I’ve learned how to appreciate internal and external growth by mediating and nurturing a flower in the front of my house.”

5. Be Grateful

This experience has influenced Mackenzie to appreciate the little things, most of all her volleyball family and immediate family.

“You never really appreciate them until they are gone. Not being able to go to practice twice a week and seeing all of my teammates is really devastating. When you go to practice every week and tournaments every weekend you take for granted being with all of your best friends and the thought of this ever happening never even crosses your mind. Not only that but it gives you a real life experience of what it will be like going off to college when you’re going to have to keep track of your own workouts and how you eat, when there isn’t someone in your ear constantly reminding you. This time has definitely made me realize how grateful I am for my family. Although I had already been close with my mom and sister, this time at home has brought us even closer together as a family.”

Alia is most grateful for the resources she has at home, which allow her to sustain healthy eating and self hygiene habits, because she understands that not everyone can be so fortunate.

Now, Sahara has an entirely different view on all of her commitments and responsibilities as a student athlete.

“Academically, I am grateful that I have the resources at home to continue my education. Athletically, I am reminded of the reason why I play volleyball, and how much of a blessing it is that this sport has created both academic and athletic opportunities for me to attend Rice University this impending school year.”

6. Set Goals

There are so many things that are out of our control, however Sahara, Mackenzie and Alia are focusing on the things they can control, which includes keeping a focus on their goals.

“One short term goal that I’ve set for myself is to cook something new every week. This is a great way for me to bond with my family and it’s something that we all enjoy” shares Alia.

Mackenzie has kept the same goals from before rather than setting new goals.

“I always tell myself to keep pushing and to keep working because one day everything is going to go back to normal and I want to go back better than I was before all this happened.”

Sahara advises other student athletes to take this time to evaluate yourself and where you stand in retrospect to your goals academically and athletically. Find a different way to motivate and push yourself to be better. Remember to give yourself rest mentally, physically, and emotionally when needed.

“One of my short-term goals is to create an academic schedule at night for the next work day. Another goal that I have is to create a daily workout plan that includes cardio, ab and lower body exercises, exercises that incorporate smaller muscles groups, and some volleyball drills.”

From one student-athlete to another:

“The best advice I could give to other student athletes is that everything will get better soon. You just have to keep working and pushing yourself no matter how down you get or how much you don’t want to workout or do something you had planned, just keep pushing.”

Let’s all remember this advice and continue to remain positive, stay focused on our goals, and persevere during this challenging time.

Thank you to Kara Pratt, Recruiting Coordinator and Houston Juniors 18 Elite Head Coach, along with her athletes Sahara Maruska, Mackenzie Morgan and Alia Williams. Houston Juniors (Houston, TX) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization focused entirely on improving the junior volleyball experience for directors, coaches, athletes and families.